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Setting up my new Blue Barrel Reactor

My biggest holdup has been the rods. I decided that since i will be moving the bin in and out of the garage i would need to bolt the rods in place. I should have gotten the pre threaded rod then used the disk sander to take off the sharp threads inside the barrel, would have been a lot faster. I have seen guys tread rod and pipe and they make it look easy. Its not. My brother came over and discovered me making a mess of it and took them home to thread for me. I have all but two rods back. Its slow going and i think he has lost interest. So i will just add the spare rods i have left and worry about replacing the rods when i harvest.

My bin will be inside my unheated, uninsulated garage during the winter so i am setting the bin up to be heated and insulated. I am using the heater idea that Mark from Kansas introduced in Red Worm Composting. Just beefed it up for -20 F weather.

The door will be open during the warm weather. And closed in the winter with the rest of the bin heavily insulated. And only the vent holes will be exposed. After wondering how to preheat the air coming in the bottom i came up with this removable heating coil idea. If you make one start with the inside and work out.

I will be able to attach the coil top or bottom. Bottom in the winter to heat the bin and top in the summer to cool the bin with my icy well water if needed. I tested the setup and was very happy with how well it worked. However the proof will be how well it works in cold weather.

Well i have been working on this blog for a couple days. It has been going just as slow as building the flow through. But am finally finished. With everything in place for summer running i decided to move the worms into their new home.

I added the two replacement rods tonight and moved all the bin contents. I got a few surprises. The first was that the fabric bin i have been using had been stretching without me noticing. It had stretched down until i was unable to remove compost from the bottom. I must say i never noticed that the bag was getting bigger. When i went back and looked at the photos taken on the day i sewed it the bag was almost half the size it is now. The landscape fabric i used was the fiberglass type material. I am not that sure what it is made of but it stretched out so badly that the fibers were pulling away from the fabric. I found all kinds of worms that were stitching themselves into the fabric. I spent more time tickling the worms out of the fabric than i did moving the bedding. I had planned on saving the bag and using it if needed but I found that worms had been crawling through the fabric and were inside the layers. So i ended up cutting it open to get all those worms out from between the layers. There were some surprisingly large worms in there.

My next surprise was there was so much compost and it was nearly finished just packed full of worms. Every handful chock full of worms for a full foot down. There was a gradually decreasing density of worms. But it was still a healthy amount of worms a foot down. The deeper i went the less worms there were and the more packed the compose. The only exception was near the fabric sides of the bin. About two inches along the sides was still loose all the way down. That loose bedding was still full of worms. But still even nearly at the bottom I was getting a good ratio of worms. Well i should qualify that. It was a lot for being nearly 2 1/2 feet down. I had no idea i had so many worms. I'm so glad i added that bag of steer compost a couple weeks back when i ran of of food.

I should have run the bedding through the sifter so i could have some idea how many pounds of worms i have. But, it was a race between me and the mosquitoes and the mosquitoes won. I had planned to add the bin contents to the new bin in order but i just dumped as fast as i could. The deciding factor was there were a lot of huge clumps of that blanketie blank shredded plastic off the cardboard. All the clumps were just full of tiny little newly hatched worms. So i decided to let the bin work its separation magic.

The next surprise was just how much bedding i had. I ended up fluffing up the bedding to get it out of the bag and expect it will settle a lot fairly quickly. But, there was so much bedding compost mix that it nearly filled the barrel. The dark compost on top is the steer compost very nicely worked so far.

I find i will need to take one more step. Before i had the bin filled wasps were checking out the lower part of the barrel. So i will need to put in some screening. But it looks like i will be harvesting earlier than i expected and its clear sailing ahead.

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Comment by Susan B on May 26, 2009 at 12:53am
I hate to say this after all your work, but I'd think the tube for hot or cold water would work a LOT better on the inside. Plastic doesn't transmit heat very well. Between the plastic of the tubing and the barrel, I'm not sure how well it will work. I guess the water seems too insulated to me to have much of an effect. Was there a reason (besides how hard it was to get it in) that you didn't put it inside?

If you decide to switch, I don't see why it needs to be attached to the inside. I'd just coil some of it around, add a little VC, coil it around again, add more... I'm no expert, but those are my thoughts. Harvesting will mess things up, but I don't think you need the tube carefully spaced out. Maybe you could start with the tubing only in the top half.

The guy that used this method at the very beginning of this forum used copper tubing. He had a HOT shed with a fish pond for farming fish. He ran the water from the pond through the pipes and back to the pond. He went away for the weekend and his pump quit. He came back to find only a few surviving worms in the very center of the VC. If you're still out there, we'd love an update.
Comment by Eve on May 26, 2009 at 4:58am
I did read about the pond guy. I was using the idea proposed by Mark from Kansas,

The reason its not on the inside because everything inside gets pulled down. I experienced this with my fabric bin. I attached a remote thermometer bulb in the bin and found it would rip off and be pulled down lower into the bin as the compost level dropped. For this bin the idea to work properly there is no digging around or at least very little. It would defeat the compacting idea for me to be digging the hoses out of the bin all the time.

The only way i could figure out how to keep the coils of hose from all ending up in the bottom on top of the grate was to put the coils on the outside and insulate over the top of them. I will have to insulate the outside in any case. But the idea is the coil will form a wall of heat between the compost and the subzero temp outside.

I am figuring overlapping layers of Styrofoam in removable sections built up to about 4 inches thick will do it.
Comment by Steven Chow on May 26, 2009 at 10:29am
That is a very cool design. I like the way the tubing wrapped around the barrel, the bolts holding the grate in place and the nice hardware you put on the door make it retro/futuristic.. kinda steam punk-like. You've got me day dreaming about having a bin that is both stylish and functional (my current bin looks like it is most fit for the basement or some where like that where it can be tucked away unseen)
Comment by Susan B on May 26, 2009 at 11:19am
Looks like you're way ahead of me. I don't have cold to deal with, so it's not something I've thought about. No hard freezes in Hawaii ;-)
Comment by Jason on May 26, 2009 at 12:07pm
That is a serious looking setup!

Great work. Susan might be right about the tubing being less effective on the outside, but I understand your reasoning. Even if it doesn't work perfectly, I bet the amount it does help combined with all the bacterial action in the bin as well as the insulating properties of the compost itself added to whatever other insulation you provide will mean the worms will survive some pretty cool temps.

How large is the barrel? It's tough to tell from the pictures.
Comment by Anna Rich on May 26, 2009 at 12:35pm
Wow. Can that thing actually fly? It looks like a space ship!
Comment by Eve on May 26, 2009 at 4:37pm
Susan the barrel needs to stay warm enough to keep the worms going when the dryly highs average 20 below for a couple months in a row. I figure if needed i can add a hose in the top of the barrel or attach the heating coil to bottom of the bars inside. I will just have to wait and see.

Jason its the standard 55 gallon food grade barrel that everyone is using. Mine had had apple juice in it.
Comment by Eve on May 26, 2009 at 6:06pm
Them Revenoors will probably be chargeing me with maken' barrels of Tequela.
Comment by Eve on May 27, 2009 at 4:53am
My heater got tested a little quicker than expected. It got down to forty last night. When i seen the weather report last night i ran out and set up the heater and pump then wrapped the barrel loosely in bubble wrap. This morning the bin was a nice 70*f. That is warmer than it was when i got home last night.
Comment by Jason on May 27, 2009 at 9:00am
It's great to hear about your heater's success Eve. Your worms have it made.


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