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Solar heating with 55 gallon drums of water

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Here's information for how many gallons of water in a greenhouse that it takes for partial or full-season heating. http://aes.missouri.edu/bradford/education/solar-greenhouse/solar-greenhouse.php

Keep in mind this is a university in Missouri's findings, and places such as where I live get much more sunshine/heat from the sun, so it might not take as many barrels where you are. Dry climates get more solar radiation, due to there being little 'water/humidity' in between the sun and the plants. That's why here in the San Luis Valley the sun seems so intense.

Brigham City, UT(Zone 5b)

thank you, I needed this.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

I got six barrels leveled, placed, and filled today. The leveling is the most time consuming part, as you need to be level both ways, on the cement blocks, so any settling when (55 gallons x 8 lbs=440 lbs per gallon) the drums are filled won't cause them to lean (or worse, fall on someone). The blocks are in place with the piers, stanchions on the ends, but still have to pound in the rebar in the block holes to secure them. The boards on top will have angle iron with holes cut in the ends to accomodate the rebar that will go down through the blocks into the ground and hold the angle iron steady. The four cattle panels will set in the rebar and the whole thing will be anchored with large screw-into-the-ground type anchors on the inside of the greenhouse (to compensate for the tension of the hoops and the incredible 50 to 70mph wind we get off the mountains here. It's definitely a work in progress, and I'm hoping to beat the big freeze coming soon here. Should see frost before the weekend's over. Meanwhile, my "babies" are all covered in sheets, plastic, and blankets at night. It's a real trick to cover corn in a straw bale, too, let me tell you, lol. I will tell you, too, I am worn out. But frost is coming, so, don't have time to be tired. I am sure appreciating Eric's help on this project, especially the lifting and digging out elm roots/trees.

You're very welcome, MyRee. I hope this all helps some others who want greenhouses. This is my first one that I've designed, so we'll see how it goes. I'll try to put more pics as it progresses.

This message was edited Sep 13, 2012 11:15 PM

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Here are some pictures:
1. Finally, some green beans!
2. The first barrel is in, the corn, okra, tomatoes, squash, and three watermelon plants are in this bed (probably will get pretty crowded in there, but oh well). There will be another smaller bed to the west of it, and many containers in this little 14x16 greenhouse. Igloo style, there will be a smaller 'hoop' cattle panel at the entrance to make room for more plants. I'll just move the current one I'm using as a hothouse right now. Not sure how my avocados trees are going to like this, though. They may end up in the house. LOL.
3. Beginnings
4. Sunset from my back yard. Ahhhh, thank you, Lord, for all things good.

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Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

The six barrels are placed on level cement blocks, three per barrel and three of the four cattle panels are up.
1.Drums of water all lined up on the north side atop cement blocks, I ran rope behind a couple of big nails down around some of the barrels just in case of high winds. Due to pressure from the hoops, more support was placed behind the corner piers that already had rebar down in them into the ground. The angle iron had two 1" laser cut holes (done at the place where the angle iron was purchased, and nails were driven into those holes and bent over the edge of the angle iron in three places/three directions, again, in case of wind, which can blow 70 mph here at times.)
2. Three cattle panels are up, with zip ties to even them out. Panels are resting in the two 8' rails of angle iron with 1" sides.

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Dahlonega, GA

Whewww !

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

There's been progress with the greenhouse for the last couple of weeks: Plastic is on top and sides but still needs to be attached on the bottom (ground level at bottom of cement blocks and barrels. Since the 20' wide 6 mil plastic that was ordered from Big R in Alamosa did not come in (they said it was the warehouse's fault), we applied the money that we had paid to two rolls of 4 mil plastic that was only 16 wide. That created kind of a nightmare that we lived through, patching in a piece to span the hoop on top, with only one ladder and uneven ground outside. (On my wish list, now, is portable scaffolding for things that might come up). Despite the setbacks, we got-er-done. I decided to use a good spray glue to attach the end pieces to the hoop (which had strips of felt over the ends to soften contact of metal and plastic) and to the top piece(s). I used Loctite Spray glue, 200 grade, whatever that means. I got another one, 3M Super 77 Multipurpose Adhesive, just in case. I only had to use the Loctite, which was a brand I was familiar with after working in upholstery industry since my teens and working at Napa stores in my younger years. Now I have an extra can of spray glue. I'm sure there will be a need for it, as that's how the Lord works in my life- He provides things ahead of time for future needs ;) The barrels are not hot, but they are keeping a steady lukewarmness.

It was 23 degrees outside this morning when I went into the greenhouse to check things out, and, with a little milk house heater setting on concrete blocks running last night (greenhouse is 14 x 16) it was 40 degrees inside. The sun is shining today, so it should heat it up to about 72, which is what it was yesterday.

The little hothouse, a cattle panel covered with a cheap painter's tarp from Alco, 3 mil, and a thin bedspread on the north side of it, housing all the avocado trees and an assortment of seedlings, was also 40 degrees without a heater. That's due to the straw bales surrounding the hoop all around and halfway up the hoop - probably providing some CO2 as the hay breaks down slowly. Sooooooo, my plan, now, is to get as much hay as possible inside the bigger greenhouse around the walls and inside the trenches around the beds, to provide CO 2 and warmth/insulation/growing surfaces. I will put bales against the plastic walls outside, too, for more insulation. I still have some gluing to do, the bottom of the plastic to the cement blocks (it will take extra, due to porous surface).

This has definitely been a learning experience, but I hope my design and our work will result in winter harvests. I dug up all the frost-bitten tomatoes and green beans/flowers from the north bed, tore off the frozen blackened leaves, transplanted them into pots and they are blossoming and putting on fruit in the new greenhouse. The corn is about a foot tall, the okra is growing, and now there's baby squash...YAY!!

If I can do this, anyone can, believe me.... ;-)

I'll get more pics, soon. Stay tuned.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Well, now I know. The little hothouse is good for about 30 degrees, but not much lower- I lost some melons that got frost, but most of the rest of the stuff was okay. Those straw bales work wonders for heating. I moved everything but the lettuce over to the new greenhouse. It hasn't gotten below 40 degrees in there, yet, and all the lower walls need to be sealed, yet. The plastic is just propped in with boards, etc. to keep it from flapping, but the air gets through. This week, Lord willing, everything will be fastened down to keep the wind out. Picked the first yellow pear tomatoes today and had them for dinner, out in the greenhouse, from one of the plants that got 'frosted' and transplanted the other day. The 'first fruits' are still on the vines in the house and are destined for a widowed neighbor down the road. A couple of the roosters are picking on the third one, Winchester, who will hide in any corner handy to keep them from picking his comb bloody, so I'll have to figure what to do with them, short of coq au vin.

Sterilized a bunch of soil, today, in preparation for getting some seed started indoors. Some neighbors have an interest, now, in a little greenhouse, so I want to go through my seeds and see what I can share with them for their garden. After touring the new greenhouse, they went home and their little granddaughter was so excited about the greenhouse that my new friends went out and bought her a tiny little greenhouse where she is growing celery. :) God works all things together for good...

Blessings, all, and pics soon...


So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

DJ, you have rekindled my interest in having a greenhouse, despite the personal odds for me.

The only viable spot for it will have to double-duty... shield the house from strong summer sun, and provide GH heat in winter. I'm not yet quite sure how to accommodate both scenarios, but I've been fiddling around with passive solar since 1975... surely there's an answer in my brain cells somewhere.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

This might be something useful to you, Darius - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a62mZMIMpc0&feature=related

After I peeled plastic off some leaf lettuce I bought at the local supermarket, I decided that I'm not going to eat that garbage anymore. It will be so nice to be able to have fresh vegetables in the winter, especially lettuce and tomatoes, and to be able to provide them for others who need them, too. I wish you well with your greenhouse, Darius, and whether we have large or small greenhouses, it's better than no greenhouse. The way the price of food is going up, a little greenhouse will pay for itself in no time at all (including fewer doctor bills for the illness the corporate foods cause). I read an article today at http://www.Mercola.com about how the elite will eat nothing but organic, but yet push for genetically engineered food for the rest of us. Our only answer is to grow our own.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

The film is on the hoop and walls, but not permanently anchored, yet on the walls. The barrels have helped keep the temperature stable, despite 23 degrees a few nights ago. Plans are to put crushed cinder rock behind the barrels under the plastic for insulation. The east end is just plastic hanging down to the ground and held in place by a pvc pipe, cement blocks, and whatever's handy. It sustained a high wind last week, up to 50 mph gusts and a rainstorm. So far so good. It will be a lot better when all the plastic is attached around the side walls and a doorway is built. There needs to be an arbor down the center to support snow loads, so that is planned also.
1. Inside the tunnel, barrels of water on the right, foreground is raised bed and in the back avocado trees and tomatoes
2. Inside, southwest corner- green beans planted inside the cement block holes, foreground is raised bed in which is growing corn, okra, tomatoes, squash, and a couple of watermelons - next to it, not shown, are more squash, strawberries,tomatoes, transplanted from the outside garden and growing back after a bad frost.
3. The first dozen eggs from the hens!

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Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Seed starts in my indoor homemade "bookcase greenhouse":

1. Smoke Signals (native heirloom) corn, six days old
2. Brussel Sprouts (first time I've grown them) seedlings
3. Moon & Stars watermelons (they're supposed to have spotted leaves, there's even one leaf with a big "moon" spot on it, so cool)

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Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Here's an update on the greenhouse project. The corn is tasseling! Watch it, here: http://youtu.be/pIll6NQohTQ

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Cool. Is the "roof" standard cattle panels (in length, abt 16 feet)? I don't see a seam where you may have added extra length to give enough headroom inside.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Yes, it's the standard 4x16 cattle panel. We put it up on 4' high piers made of stacked cement blocks. The span is wide, so the actual hoop is about 4' high at the highest point, with the overall height around 8'. I have a ditch dug around the one bed, adding even more headroom (not really needed) but it may get filled with gravel or cinder rock to help with heat storage. There's re-bar through the blocks into the ground and it's also anchored with ropes to stakes inside the greenhouse, just so it would be stable in the wind, since the bent cattle panels add sideways pressure anyway. A person could even drive fence posts on each corner to further secure it, but we just added an extra stanchion of blocks on the corners. I'm running two heaters and a fan in there, now, but I want to build a rocket mass heater (only uses a cord per season and the thermal mass bench would be great to start seedlings on (or take naps on, lol). I want one in my house, too, to save on the energy bill.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

I think rocket mass stoves are awesome, but I wonder how often you'd have to feed one since they don't have nearly the storage volume of the huge interior Swedish/Russian residential stoves that also contain an oven.

I have a folder of collected rocket stove designs, must be 30 or more stoves in it.

Dahlonega, GA

Solace , wish I was there to see it in person . Wonderful video . What you do is a treasure .

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Thank you, Sally!

Clinton, IN

Drrius, could we get you to share the rocketstove designs you have? Iam gathering materials to build one, any help would be great. Fred

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Fred, you have dmail.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Fred, I'd like to see what darius has gathered, too. For daytime, I'd like to add a simple heat exchange wherein air is heated up and sent into the greenhouse/colder air is recirculated and heated up again. At night, though, I'd like to have an RMH. Here are some links I've been visiting about the Rocket Mass Heater:

Rocket Mass Heater Information site

Wood stove vs. Rocket Mass Heater

I like this one a lot, but also would like the bench for seed starting:
Geodesic Dome Greenhouse - Part 10 - ROCKET MASS HEATER

Geodesic Dome Greenhouse Rocket Mass Heater update

Greenhouse Rocket Mass Heater (RMH)

In-floor Rocket Mass Heater being built in a greenhouse

Permies.com Stoves forum site

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

I find all of this very interesting. I have cylindars, made of a double wall of heavy plastic, that are ~18" tall.. The double wall has chambers. Put the cylindar over a plant then fill the chambers with water. The plant then grows inside the chamber. Living in MD I could put vegetables out in late March and be picking tomatoes when my neighbors were just planting theirs.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

I currently have a ditch in between the bed and the 55 gallon drums. That would be an ideal place to put an inground outlet from the Rocket Mass Heater, as it would heat up the barrels of water, too. In the spring through fall, the azimuth of the sun is higher and it heats up the barrels, so our cool nights will not phase the greenhouse plants receiving heat from the barrels, but in winter they need a little help so I'd have to run electric heaters less (or not at all) with the Rocket Mass Heater, plus it would add CO2 in the daylight hours, if I place an outlet inside the GH that I can open and close off. The combination of light, water, and CO2 is supposed to be the optimum conditions for plant growth - just a few hours, I'm thinking 10 am to 2 pm. I've read that CO2 makes little difference without the light and water at the same time.

Qwilter, the water chamber idea is very interesting. I suppose a person, in cold areas like this, especially, could build double wall raised beds, place plastic in between the boards, fill with water, then lay plastic across the top when it's chilly in early Spring and late fall, to extend the growing season. I will have to consider this for the outside beds next year. Thank you!

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Well, it was - 22 degrees last night, with a wind chill of -41 at the coldest temp I saw. I lost all the tomatoes, squash, eggplant and anaheim chile seedlings. The corn was tasseling and looking beautiful, not sure how it will fare, but I'm not going to expect anything from them. I had turned the fan toward the roof thinking that since heat rises it might push the hot air from the heaters back down. That may be what did it, but it could just be the -22 degrees, too. I'm very sad, and my soul dog just went into the veterinary hospital today...don't know what's wrong with him, hopefully will find out tomorrow. He's on IVs and staying at the hospital. The chickens survived the night, and that was a blessing. I know my baby dog (well, he weighs about 90 pounds, not a baby anymore, but he'll always be my baby) will come through this if it's the Lord's will.
Sigh... gonna run. Thanks for listening.


Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

Dianne - I can't even think of it being that cold. I'm from up North & anything less than "0" was always brutal. I don't think anything w/out 4 solid walls & heat can withstand those type of temps.

Hope your Puppy is OK.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

He died this morning at 8:35 at the animal hospital. He was truly my soul dog, went with me everywhere, even the bathroom. He was always right beside me. I know he's not suffering now, but life will not be the same without him. The other dog is pacing and looking for him, knows something's wrong, doesn't understand why I'm crying.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

Solace - I am so sorry to hear of your loss. They do find spots in out hearts that are forever holes when they leave us. I'm sure you provided him with fantastic opportunities during the time he was with you.

Dahlonega, GA

Sad for you and your loss . There are loved pets and there are soul mates . All are loved ,but sometimes one stands out because you each can talk and share without a word to each other . They are "different" . My S Mate is getting feeble now and I'm trying to make her last years special .It takes years to build that special bond .

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Thank you both so much. I got to see unconditional love with him. One time I had to run in and pay my bill at the doctor's office, who doesn't allow dogs in her office, and was going to leave him in the truck. While getting out, he leaped over the seats and dashed out, and I couldn't hold him back, since he weighed around 90 pounds. He walked beside me and I managed to convince him to wait in the foyer for me. He thought he had to go with me everywhere. He loved to ride in the back seat of the truck. He was scary to other folks, though, when they came to the door, he would be the first to 'greet' them. He had an imposing presence, being part German Shepherd and part Lab. They'd jump back when they saw him, and no telling how many times he staved off intruders while I was gone. My heart is breaking. But I know I'll see him again, and he won't be sick. I didn't name him, but his coat was a shiny black Lab kind, and all you could see in the dark was his gleeming white teeth, so he was named Spooky. I called him Spooky-do. When I adopted him, he was so wiggly and happy, and the vet at the animal shelter asked me, "He looks like he's part German Shepherd, are you sure you want a dog that's going to be that big?". But he had already captured my heart, and that day I found my soul dog.

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Dahlonega, GA

I had a G S from the Rin Tin Tin line . Sad because they had hip dysplasia , as did mine . I had people come to the door and my Fraulein always "crouched" them . Found out it was a German Sheppard trait .Men would freeze . LOL . Hope this gave you a smile .
Spooky has huge jaw muscles that would make a very bad bite , if he wanted to . I'd wait until he told me it was ok to pet him . He was a beautiful boy and I hope the pain of losing him will dull soon . None of us animal lovers will ever forget our animals when they leave us .

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

My condolences Solace. What a beautiful dog.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Thank you, Sally and Doug. German Shepherd's are so beautiful and BIG! Wonderful guard dogs, but I don't think I could have fed a full-blooded one enough, they're so big. Sure would scare someone with that "crouch" though. For a mixed breed, Spooky was pretty smart. As a puppy I gave him a little ball that had a string that children pull to make it dance around on the floor or table. Spooky held it between his front paws and pulled the string with his teeth, and then just watched it jiggle around on the floor with fascination. On another occasion, I went to turn the back light on, and he reared up on the wall beneath the switch and tried to reach it. I believe had he been taller he'd be turning lights on all over the house. And I'll never forget when he was still a puppy, the time I had guests over, and steaks were being readied for the grill. He walked by quickly and ran out the doggy door with one in his mouth. What a card. I got to wear my new glasses about two days, then they disappeared forever, case and all. He was a chewer. I miss him all the time.

Well...one day at a time. Update on the GH, it can't take the -22 degree temps, I don't guess. Lost most of the tomatoes and squash, and the Hass avocado got a little frost, but it was near the barrels so not so bad. We moved the lettuce, strawberries, a couple of tomatoes I think will come back (hoping), all the brussells sprouts, the medium sized avocado and the three little ones (one footers), the watermelon, and the few seedlings that didn't die into the house. I'm going to build a narrow GH inside the living room with lattice and a stud wall and screen door on the south side near the huge picture window. Will have to add lights, and still trying to figure out a non-drippy kind of system, but I think I have that figured out, too. Sigh. The outside GH will be ready for summer, though, in March, and I will gain two months on the growing season. I'm sooooo disappointed in losing the corn and the tomatoes- was looking so forward to seeing those tassels turn into plump ears. Gonna miss those Cosmos too, cheering me up every day. The Lord must be teaching me something...but plans are to build a simple rocket mass heater out there just below/in front of the barrels to heat up both the GH and the barrels. The rocket mass stove re-ignites the smoke inside the barrel, with an insulated pipe in the barrel, and what's left of the smoke goes through an outlet pipe, through the thermal mass device (benches), doubles back and is vented out. By the time the smoke reaches the end of the pipe, there's only a little carbon dioxide and steam and you can even hold your face over the end of the pipe, since not much heat is escaping. Then, I believe the plants will make it through the worst of winters, with a warming bench on which to put tender plants, as the stove pipe goes through the sand in the bench. The kicker is that it uses very little wood. Meanwhile, there'll be plants in my living room.

Have to get my mind on other things once in a while. Thanks for listening.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Okay. A black cat uses the greenhouse for a sun room. She's very chubby, so I think her owner is in the neighborhood. Lessons learned, so far on this greenhouse in the 7,665 altitude alpine valley:
The 55 gallon drums could not keep enough heat (even though water is the best thermal mass material) even with two small electric heaters and a fan in there, so there will definitely have to be a rocket mass heater in there next winter, using the ground as the thermal mass along with the drums of water. The water froze in the drums, due to our lows of -40 and above, and expanded on the bottom. This lifted the drums, which held up the north side of the hoops, up about an inch above the concrete blocks upon which they were setting. Thankfully, the hoops are anchored to an angle iron rail which is nailed to a 2x12 board along that side. The board is also anchored into the ground. So far, so good. All the glue held except the end on the east side, which caught wind which eventually worked a strip off the top plastic, so will need to reglue that and use some sturdy tape as well. Should have taped it, too. It probably would have held. When we glued the ends onto the hoop where they met, we left the clips. I'm glad we did. The thing has withstood 70 mph winds, lots of snow, ice, freeze and thaws, but next winter if I can manage it, I hope to have a solar pool cover on it for protection and additional insulation. This has been a learning experience. I will probably have to replace the drums and find a use for the freeze-warped ones (suggestions?) but I do want that thermal mass of the water combined with the in-ground rocket mass heater. -40 was really stretching it, but I'm known for trying the impossible. It's already warm in there in the daytime, so I'm tempted to plant some peas, cabbage, and who knows what else and see if they'll live. As long as we have sunshine, it's warm in there. Might put row covers on the first crops though, just to be on the safe side. Live and learn. Isn't gardening fun? :)

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Use the damaged drums as a retort to cook your own biochar.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

I've been looking around in the strawbale gardening forum - http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/f/strawbale/all/

Wonder if you cook start "cooking" the bales inside the greenhouse & use the heat they produce to help with heating a GH? If the inside of those bales gets to be over 120 deg, there has to be a way to use that to your advantage.

Dahlonega, GA

The bales don't keep that heat but 8-10 days , it's the start of the composting process. They are so heavy with water , it would be impossible to move them out .and can't plant in them while they are going through the heat .I only had 2 or 3 bales that got over 95. Hope that answers your question .

Clinton, IN

What if you used the barrels to collect rainwater,or cut them down and used as big planters? Fred

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Fred, the planter idea is a great one. I wonder if one of those little rotary type saw/cutter things would be enough to cut them in half? I don't have one, yet, but they look handy.

Sally, you're right about the heavy bales, it took two people to move the ones I grew in last year. They're now lined up on the outside of the greenhouse, and they won't be moved again unless there's a freak tornado.

Qwilter, yes, I think that's a good idea, in the added heat if I don't move them, ever, lol. I had thought about doing bales around the perimeter last year, but didn't get the organic wheat bales until last fall (and the chickens are now enjoying a wind break around their coop with them). I would like to see if that would make an even bigger barrier to the cold that travels along the ground next winter, as the rocket mass heater I plan to be in the center of the greenhouse with the exhaust pipe under the soil (it reburns the smoke, so most all that travels through the pipe is warm moist air and CO2). If I put hydroponic flood tables in there, it could get crowded, but better crowded and warm than frozen solid, I say.

Darius, thanks, I had to look that up re the biochar, and it's fascinating. If a person had time or could make time to do a project such as that it would be so good to do. I had also thought about doing Hugelculture by stairstepping/stacking a couple of bales along the end walls to help stop wind, and throw some wood and soil on top of the bales and grow vertically. That would certainly stop some wind and maybe add a little heat. The biochar idea would be a good one to implement, as it would help the environment, too. That's the reason I like the rocket mass stoves, they use very few resources and don't pollute. Hugelculture, too, uses 'found' wood/brush/etc. that breaks down over time providing nutrients to the plants, with very little watering.

One other thing I thought about using those drums for- cold storage in the garage for potatoes and other root crops, and maybe apples (I just planted the trees last fall, so I know THAT is some wishful thinking :) I could stack some hay bales around them, and leave the caps off so they could get air. Not sure about the humidity that normal root cellars have that the barrels might not.

It's been very warm in the GH in the middle of sunny days, lately, and the drums don't seem to be leaking, but maybe they're still frozen. Time will tell. Thank you all for the great ideas. My mind is abuzz. -Dianne

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

My friend just cut 10 of those barrels in half with a reciprocating saw. I think a multi tool with round blade would also work. She is going to use them as planters.
I'm hoping to snag 2 to make rain barrels.

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