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 -
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.
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
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
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
All such good information I couldn't figure what to snip so I've left it
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 :)
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