The Systems Administrator made an extra compost bin using some sections of the planks from the old pot shed floor that were not too rotten, and a stray fence post that was lying about. I painted it with the odd end of a tub of wood preservative left over from the garden railway, and found a couple of short lengths of chicken wire that must once have been fastened round shrubs to keep the rabbits off them that were just long enough to fit across the bottom and staple to the sides so that rats would not be able to dig their way in. I was rather pleased with the bin, which cost us nothing, and after giving the wood stain a day to dry off I turned the contents of the next door bin into it.
The neighbouring bin was made out of recycled decking, and already had a wire bottom. The SA fastened a couple of planks that had come loose at the back with a fresh batten, and I painted that bin as well, except that two thirds of the way across the outside of the bin at the back I ran out of stain. The following day I was able to turn the contents of the neighbouring bin into the newly refurbished one. Then I had to invest some money in the compost bin restoration project and buy a new tub of preservative. This afternoon I painted the bits of the freshly emptied bin that had not rotted away, and asked the SA to mend the large hole in the back. There should be some more serviceable wood among the old floor boards.
I am out tomorrow, but on Saturday morning if it's dry I will paint the SA's repairs and fasten wire across the base of the empty bin, then in the afternoon turn the next heap and so on until I get to the end of the row. I don't know if the preservative really makes much difference given that unlike a garden fence the sides of the bins are going to be in constant contact with a heap of damp and decaying compost, and you traditionally avoid setting your wooden fence in direct contact with the soil, but it seemed worth the effort to try to make them last as long as possible. And it gives the outside of the bins a sort of pleasing visual unity, in a bodged and rustic way. You can get very fancy with compost bins. The plant centre used to sell fancy ones shaped like oversized traditional beehives painted in a fetching shade of duck egg blue, and the John Lewis website will sell you a beehive composter (though its corners owe more to the art of the log cabin) for £159. But I am now up to six compost bays, and five of them are already full. That would be a lot of money to spend on compost bins. Actually, I think I am going to need a seventh but I thought that if I finished tidying up the rest of the utility area first to show that I was serious, maybe then afterwards if the compost still hadn't rotted down I could ask the SA very nicely to see if one more bin's worth of planks could be salvaged from the pile.
I have a dark suspicion that rats are or have been living in or under the bins at the far end, towards which I am gradually working my way. I have been digging the as yet uncomposted plant remains out of each bin with a fork, wearing gloves, wellington boots and at least two layers of clothing on all limbs, keeping a keen eye out for rats. I haven't seen any yet, but there is a suspicious hole and something has been digging. Of course some of it could be moles in search of worms. I pulled the weeds out of one of the wire netting leaf bins while I was at it, and there was a mysterious mound of earth topped with nettles. I removed them gingerly, but did not find any rats, moles or anything else except a vast quantity of stones. Molehills are sometimes trumpeted as sources of good, tilled and aerated soil but I'm afraid that depends on the quality of the soil the moles are digging in. In our garden they are mainly a source of stones.
I don't know why the contents of the bins hasn't rotted down more. The usual mixture of old flower stems, spent potting compost, poultry litter from the hen house, vegetable peelings from the kitchen and a few light woody prunings went in, but they haven't done much. We don't add grass cuttings because the lawns are so weedy, so the compost is probably a bit light on nitrogen, and I wonder if it was too dry over the summer since we had barely any rain for the best part of ten weeks. I could water it. I could add something like 6X concentrated poultry manure to boost the nitrogen content, though rather like building the bins I grudge spending money on making the compost. I could just wait. And persuade the Systems Administrator to build yet another bin.