Step 6: Q & A
The following is a helpful "Q and A" following this project. Questions by inquiring hobbist , answers by me, (Surf Monkey Coconut)!.
Q: Cool setup- never seen it done like that before. Any concerns of the foam smell transferring to the tobacco?
A: I know the foam smell you are talking about, Its an undeniable chemically semi-sweet smell...I've experienced it in the past when using a hot wire to cut foam blocks...no doubt very toxic!
In my past experience as well as experiences in this fermenter, insulating foam is for the most part stable and inert; It won't off-gas unless it is melting. In terms of my fermentation chamber, there is no problems with overheating or melting...yet!
There are several websites dealing with curing chambers and the standard home made type is made of foam wall insulation and an oil heater. All I can think of is fire hazard!! Dedicated home growers use old refrigerators with a heat source.
I did see a fermenter made of ply-wood, and i can tell ya, that one would most definitely off gas formaldehyde and other such chemicals found in the adhesives.
Q: So you haven't noticed any sort of ammonia smell coming from the tobacco?
A: I really haven't! Although I may not be identifying the ammonia as released from tobacco leaves correctly.
When I think of ammonia, I think of a sharp biting smell, the chemical smell from either a bottle of windex or urine..(I once had mice as pets, which had that horrible smell...)
When I was researching tobacco fermentation I pictured those fermentation barns in central America to be awful, perhaps like walking into a tear gas chamber...Taking this into consideration I have my fermentation cooler in an unused bathroom which has the ceiling vent on a timer (it turns on for 10 mins every hour). But really, there are no unpleasant smells to be vented. I even leave the bathroom door open.
I did miss a stage in my above aromatic observations...between the wet grass and raisin stage there was a strong cereal smell..like toasted corn flakes, which probably lasted for the entire 2nd week. But to me, all of these smells were delicious!! I wanted to just bury my nose in the leaves during the raisin stage, but for purposes sterility, i resisted!
Q: I wouldn't imagine such a small batch would give off an overwhelming smell of ammonia.
A: Very true! This is just 3 hands of tobacco and it does have quite the aroma associated with it! A factory barn with hundreds of thousands of hands fermenting, well...that would be a whole different level of aroma.
Q: Surf Monkey Coconut, your insurance agent called me looking for you. He said he needs to do a random check inside your house but you keep on ignoring his calls.....
Anyway that is soo cool. Also how do you keep the humidity. I realize the leaves are moist at first but after the moisture evaporates do you have to have any humidification device in there?
A: yeah, as you can imagine, lamp is very similar to an oven, where the dry heat generated constantly takes away the humidity. I don't really monitor the humidity too much, I just give it 15-20 distilled water misting on and between the hands about 2-3 times a day, just to keep the leaves semi-moist.
On one end you want to keep the leaves from getting soggy to avoid mold and decay, and at the other end you want to keep the leaves from becoming dry and brittle without moisture, fermentation not will occur.
Keeping it right in the middle keeping the leaves are warm and supple seems to be the goal..The layer of wet napkins and saran wrap helps a little to hold in moisture between mistings. Also, in the images above you can see the vent holes I cut in the top and bottom of the cooler...I have since plugged them up to hold in the humidity...there was too much ventilation going on.
That being said it is taxing to spray the leaves so often. In the next batch I think I will see if placing the leaves in a large plastic bag will work better.
The essential pieces for fermentation is 120 degree heat and humidity. The fermentation cooler I built is, in my humble opinion, is a very cheap and affordable chamber for the home enthusiast.
since taking the pics, I have modified and refined the design making it even simpler...ive plugged the holes, and took out the aluminum foil, and put the second batch of leaves in a large plastic bag with a twist tie on the top to better hold in the moisture.
Really its just a foam cooler with a $5 light from Home Depot now...
Oct. 26, 2011 UPDATE:
In the final version of this fermenter, a (I simply used a cooler with no air holes, just one hole punched at the top for the light fixture). I've found this setup makes the temperature get much too high, (due to the excellent insulation of the cooler, the cooler gets cumulatively hotter and hotter). To counteract this situation, I have replace the bulb with a lower wattage, 32 watt and put the light on a timer, set to go on for 30 mins then off for 45. This seems to be the right amount of heat!