More on compost

Some time ago I discussed here my plan for composting the whole of the back garden. Given that I have abundant raw materials - grass clippings and straw - but less time than I would like I decided to compost in situ.
The piles heat up *very* nicely and reduce their volume just like they are supposed to but first they seemed to run dry and now that the big rains have started (hopefully) I am worried about the other extreme - waterlogging.
At the moment the piles are thoroughly soaked and there is some very minor worm activity in one part and a reasonable amount of fungal activity.
Am I safe in thinking that a large pile of compostable material will, in the course of say 3-4 months, just decompose, be eaten by worms and fungi and turn in to reasonably good soil ? The alternative to just leaving it is to regularly turn the whole lot but that's rather a problem given the amount of material I have - about 140 square metres.
Thanks for the assistance.
Ivan.
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Ivan McDonagh wrote:

You are somewhat short on details but let me take a stab at this anyways.
First, the presence of worm activity indicates that the pile has stopped working intensely. In the interest of self-preservation, worms will not enter a hot pile. Nor will any exit it. Once in, always in. There also won't be much apparent fungal activity. There IS activity, but it's concentrated on the inside where the moisture remains somewhat constant.
At this point, give consideration to scraping the outside, barely beginning to decompose, parts off and begin a new pile with them. Allow the inside, which should differ dramatically in appearance from the outside, to cool off and let the earthworms frolic away, helped by watering as needed to keep the pile somewhat moist. The pile will also be colonized by spiders, millipedes, sow bugs and possibly ground-dwelling bees (the big fat bumble-bees). Unfortunately, slugs and earwigs will also find the pile to their liking.
I don't know if 3-4 months is a reasonable time frame, but I would tend to believe that this time next year will find you in possession of some really nice looking compost.
You might also consider tilling / plowing / digging it in in its unfinished state and letting it finish working in the ground. That solves the time problem. Within a week or two the soil will be plantable again and all is golden.
Bill If you have really hot temps and keep the pile consistently moist, you will probably find that you have a very useable product as early as this fall. But consider letting it freeze anyways (if your temps permit) for spring 2005 application.
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All such good information I couldn't figure what to snip so I've left it all :)
Thanks very much for the response - exactly what I was looking for.
I'm not sure what details you wanted but here's a bit more info...
I have an area about 140 square metres (12x12) that needs some serious attention. In order to minimise effort and my actual time (as opposed to waiting time) I am building a series of piles of compostable material each touching the other and each about 1.2m x 1.2m x 1.2m which,as I said, is easily enough to start a serious "bacterial bonfire" :) The other benefits of this is that the sand here is solid as if it had been compacted so by building and curing the compost where it is needed I am hoping that the various small things (bugs, worms) that like compost will at least do some tilling of this now underlayer. The final theory behind this is that any leaching of nutrients that does occur will result, in the short term, in the goodies staying relatively local to where I will be planting.
Now, here in Perth, Australia, the autumn rain has just started and hopefully is a lead up to a really wet winter (we are *desperate* for water). Never mind freezing we, fortunately, rarely drop below about 5C :)
So far the early piles of stuff have heated, cooled and at least halved in volume. It is in these piles that I noticed some slight native worm activity. On the edges of all but the latest piles the fungi are beginning to fruit - primarily in the partially decayed grass clippings rather than in the pile itself which leads me to suspect that this is more of a grass gobbler than a more generalised fungi - that's fine, it all helps :)
At the rate I'm going, I hope to have the whole area covered with this "not-quite-compost" in the next couple of months. I'll probably wait a couple of months after that to catch the very last of the rains and then level it out by hand and hire a rotary hoe to mix the whole lot up.
So, thanks very much for the answers and information - I hope that you agree that my plan is workable at least in theory :)
Ivan.
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