This article is not finished, I need to add pictures that I have and am missing some sizes, and information).
I recently have built two Garden Barrels; one for me and one for my mother. This was not an original idea. This is based on the original Garden Tower design, and other people (Half-Pint Homestead, _____, _____). The basic idea is a barrel on a movable wooden base with a compost tube in the middle and a tray to catch compost tea (nutrient dense water) or worm castings from the compost tube.
The original Garden Tower design had less holes in it. I am working on a template for this as well. If you have any thoughts leave some comments below. I know I have seen a video where the took a round post cut in half length-wise and with a wedge at one end and use that to pry the backside of the pouch first and then heated up the front and used a whole post with a wedge to finish off the hole. A larger wine bottle may work as well. I prefer the bottles.
List of items that you will need to assemble the parts:
- one or two heat guns or a blow torch; I used heat guns, you will find these in the painting section of the hardware store
- miter saw or circular saw to cut wood
- various drill bits
- drill bit for pilot holes in the wood
- drill bit for drilling holes into the barrel (the size needs to be larger than the blade for cutting the slots)
- ___ drill bit for creating holes in the PVC pipe
- Phillips screwdriver bit for assembling the wood cart
- a jigsaw or reciprocating saw to cut the top of the barrel off, cutting the slots for the holes and cutting the PVC pipe insert in the bottom, I think the reciprocating saw would be better for the top (I was able to use the jigsaw but it was not easier. Another option would be a drill bit that cuts or a Dremel type tool
- hacksaw for cutting the coupling and PVC pipe
- 3 yards of vinyl for template (this is optional but highly recommended if you are going to do more than one plus I found this to be a lot easier than trying to draw the lines on the barrel, you can get this from Michaels)
- a tape measure
- straight edge
- PVC cement and primer
- Welch’s Sparkling Grape juice bottles (4 minimum; 12 recommended; will greatly speed up the process)
- couple of beer or rootbeer bottles (3 recommended)
- duct tape or bungie cords
- (3) clamps
- (optional) Clothing tape measure
- Gorilla glue
- Water proof silicone
- flat head screw driver, hammer or crowbar (or combination of the 3)
- Worms, these are not optional (European night crawlers or Red Wigglers) You can order them online, or get European night crawlers at the bait shop (they are known as red worms or trout worms there usually sold in batches of 30 to 48, if you look at the worm it will be red and banded). You will need about 150 worms to start. This is about $18 from the bait shop, you can get about 1000 of them online for about $35-40. If you look on craigslist you may find a local provider for cheaper.
List of parts and locations
- (1) 55 gallon food grade barrel – I found this on craigslist anywhere from $10 to $20
- (1) 4-inch PVC pipe 5-foot or 10-foot section
- (2) 4″ PVC MPT Plug Sewer & Drain Lid
- (2) 4″ PVC Fitting Cleanout SPT x FPT (The cap above will fit screw in; this should fit over the end of the PVC pipe)
- (1) 4″ PVC Coupling (Hub x Hub) Sewer & Drain
- (5) caster wheels
- (2) 2″ x 4″ (8 foot; recommend cedar, dogwood, treated wood, pine in that order)
- (1) 4″ x 4″ (4 feet; recommend cedar, dogwood, treated wood pine in that order)
- (40) #__ 2-1/2″ packs of screws
- (20) #__ 2-1/2″ pack of screws
- (1) 2″ x 2″ (optional 8 feet; recommend cedar, dogwood or treated wood, pine in that order)
- (1) tray for water collection (kitty litter box, throwaway cooking pan
- some rocks for the pan
- 9 cubic feet of dirt (I recommend you buy bags to keep it as weed free as possible
- 25 foot soaker hose (optional, but highly recommended)
Cut the PVC pipe to approximately ____ inches
- Cut the vinyl to size of the barrel
- Draw template onto the vinyl with marker
- Draw first row with 5 inch slots with 4 inches between slots starting 5 inches from the top and ___ inches from the side; this gives you a total of 9 slots; I would start with drawing dots where the lines begin and end and then use a straight edge to draw the lines
- Draw second row 4 inches down with a 4.5 inch offset from the first slot and
- Continue drawing rows alternating back and forth
- Cut the top of the barrel as close to the edge as you can
- Attach the template with clamps and ducting the two ends together or strapping a bungie cord (I haven’t tried this, but I think it should work) or do all 3; you will notice there are two ‘rings’ on the barrel, align the template so that the slots are at the bottom of the rings
- Drill holes where the slots start and stop
- Remove template
- (Optional) Draw lines between holes with a marker
- Cut the slots with ____ saw
- On the bottom of the barrel there is a line left behind from the form for the Barrel, the barrel should be 22 inches across, mark the middle of the barrel, approximately 11 inches
- place the tape measure perpendicular to this at the 11 inch mark
- Place the PVC pipe on the bottom of barrel and draw a circle around it doesn’t have to be exactly in the middle
- Drill a hole in the center and cut out the circle, you’ll want to make this tight so that most of the circle touches the PVC pipe
Now, I would have all your tools plugged in and ready to go, if you have 2 heat guns it will make this process faster as it will heat the plastic up quicker. Get your wood barrel base materials close together and your compost tube close together. I recommend this because there will be significant time between heating up the slots and placing the bottles into the slots and for the slots to cool off. You can use the time in between for a break or work on the other pieces of the barrel.
Tips for heating the barrel slots
- It takes about 3-5 minutes with two heat guns, the top slots and the bottom slots tend to be the thickest part of the plastic on the barrel
- Work 3 columns from top to bottom.
- I would start at the top with two of the Welch’s bottles and then do the bottom two with two beer bottles.
- At the bottom, I shoved the bottles all the way down to the base of the bottle (note to self, the plastic is hot.
- Work the slot open with flat head and then a hammer or crowbar after about a minute or two; this also gives you an idea of how flexibility of the plastic.
- The plastic becomes a bit shiny/glossy when it gets hot enough, you’ll be able to see that if you look close enough
- I work the two outside rows (outside row are the slots closest to the top and where your beer bottles are) first and then the inside row (this is where 12 Welch’s bottle comes in handy)
- Wait until the outside row is cooled off, once it has, shift over to the next ‘outside’ row and work on the bottom and insert the 3rd beer bottle
- Slowly move the outside row over and then work the inside row once it is done.
Wood base (this is how I did it, but I thought of a modification afterwards that will affect these sizes, so if you want you can modify the sizes)
Modification idea for wood base:
Modify the length of the pieces to the width of a kitty litter box plus the width of 2″ x 2″ boards that you would screw in at the base of the box for rails. Another option would be to put metal corner brackets in to hold up the box. Keep in mind that the Clean out will be poking through the bottom so you will need to be able to clear that with the box which may be possible by slanting the box and then bring it back up, however, you will need to slant it back to get the water back out.
- Cut the 2 x 4’s for the following pieces:
- (3) 20 inch sections
- (2) 16-1/2 inch sections
- (2) 13 inch sections
- Cut the 4 x4 for the following pieces:
- (1) 20 inch minus 2 times the width section
- (2) 20 inch sections
- Take the 4×4 pieces and make a ‘U’ out of it
- Take one 20-inch section and place it on the bottom of the U
- Take another 20-inch section and place it at the top of the U
- Take the two 13-inch sections and place it at the sides of the U
- They should all align and make a perfect box with a space under it at one end.
- Drill pilot holes in a ‘V’ manner where the wood overlays at the corners
- Drill pilot holes in an inverse ‘V’ manner where the wood overlays in the middle
- Screw the wood pieces together
- Flip the Wood over so the 4 x 4 pieces are on top again
- Take the remaining 2 x2 pieces and overlay the ‘U’, leaving the top of the ‘U’ open
- Place the wheels on top of the 2 x 2 pieces as to get an idea where you want pilot holes for that and mark those holes
- Drill pilot holes for both the wheels and elsewhere to solidify the frame before adding the wheels
- Screw the wood pieces together
- Put the wheels back over the pilot holes and loosely screw all 4 screws down first and then tight them up from alternating corners
- Cut the PVC pipe to approximately ___ inches with a hacksaw
- Measure the inside of the clean-out fitting up to the point where the PVC pipe should end (should be about ___ inches)
- Make a few marks around both ends of the PVC ___ inches from the end and draw a line around the pipe
- Cut the coupling with a hacksaw so that you can slightly pull it apart
- Place the coupling at one end of the 4 inch PVC pipe so that the coupling is in the middle and lines up with one of the previous marked lines
- Draw a line at the other side of the coupling ring
- Take the coupling off
- Prep both the inside of the coupling and the outside of the with the PVC between the lines with the PVC cement purple primer; should be applied twice, a second time after the first time dries out
- While the second application of the primer is mostly wet apply cement to the PVC pipe
- Slide the coupling back in place and let set for a while
- Prime one of the clean out fittings and the PVC pipe at the end away from the coupling
- Apply cement to the fitting and attach to the PVC pipe and let set for a while
- Place PVC pipe inside the barrel through the hole at the bottom (prop the barrel on top of your wood block or something so the coupling touches the bottom of the barrel)
- Mark the PVC pipe with a straight edge placed across the top of the barrel
- Drill holes randomly between the coupling and the line; I drilled all the way down the side and then worked my way back up again, staggered from the first set of holes and continued all the way around it (continued below)
Do the following steps after all the slots are done on the barrel
- Place the pipe back in the barrel, turn the barrel over so that it is balancing on the compost tube
- Prime the PVC pipe and the other clean out fitting with the purple primer
- Apply cement to the clean out fitting and attach the fitting and let set
- Screw in the cap loosely, so you can get it back off, you won’t be able to turn the barrel on it’s side once the dirt is in place
- Use Gorilla Glue at the seam both on the outside and inside the barrel, this is a water proof glue and takes a few hours to harden
- Apply a silicone layer over the top of this and allow it to dry
- Place the barrel on the wooden base to get an idea where to drill holes around the bottom of the barrel for drainage.
NOTE: find a location where you can roll the barrel around, this will be a permanent location until you empty it of dirt, once that barrel is filled with dirt it is probably close to 400 pounds. The location should get sun most of the day and should have very little overhead shade, this helps light get to the side of the barrel that doesn’t get any direct sun (aka, partial shade). You will be able to rotate the barrel if needed; lettuce does well in partial shade during the heat of the summer, you can also plant something that could shade it as well.
- Drop in some leaves, paper or compost material up to the first worm holes on the compost tube.
- Place 3/4 to 1 cubic foot of soil in the bottom of the barrel
- Place the end of the soaker hose on top of that soil, trying to keep it centered between the inside of the barrel to the outside of the compost tube, with one whole loop.
- Before getting too far layering the soaker hose and soil, ensure you have enough soaker hose so the end of the hose sticks out of the top; alternate dropping in soil and layering the soaker hose in a ring. I would also try to “firm” up the soil so that the pouches have soil in it and it doesnt compress later.
- Place some vegetable food scraps into the compost tube
- Add your worms to the compost tube and loosely screw on the lid.
- Plant your seeds or transplants!