The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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Ewwwww, What’s That Smell?


The marketers of the rain barrel say this is a good spot for a plant. I don’t think so. It would block the overflow hole (see picture below). Also the front has a lip of sorts to also allow rain to cascade down the front. 

Here’s a rain barrel update. The water stinks.

In about one short month’s time, I have noticed that the water coming from  each of the two barrels has an malodorous quality. There’s also a slight greenish/yellowish tinge to the water. This was not the case the first couple of weeks of use.


The barrel relieves itself of water when full. The lip at the top also releases water when full.

While I knew there’d be some maintenance needed, I didn’t think it would be so soon.The barrels have a small screen in the top where the water drains in. Other than that, the system is completely enclosed. There is no removable lid, which in hindsight may not be ideal for dealing with clean out issues. I do know that there is no critter in there and there is no leaf/treat/plant debris in there because the opening in the screen is too small.


It’s amazing the amount of debris that comes off the roof.

I immediately turned to the Internet for help in diagnosing this problem.Probably causes: pollen in the water, algae growing in the water. Apparently it is not uncommon for the barrels to take on an odor during the spring pollen season as the pollens are deposited in the barrel along with the rain. The common antidote seems to be to drain the rain barrels or to quickly use the water following a rain.

I’m not going to do that. Both remedies seem counterintuitive to having them in the first place. I don’t want to get rid of all that water I am capturing in an effort to keep it out of the sewer system. And, my garden doesn’t typically need to be watered right after it rains. Especially in the spring when the temperatures are mild.

Another common cause for stinky barrel syndrome, as I’ve decided to call it, is standing water at the bottom of the barrel. Obviously that is not my problem. My barrel has two spigots–one up high and one down low. The lower spigot is near the bottom so that should not be a problem as I get into the dog days of summer and am draining them to water my thirsty garden.

What to do? What to do? I needed to find a remedy for the smell before it became too awful. And there are lots of ideas out there. Add baking soda to the barrel. Add vinegar to the barrel. Add baking soda AND vinegar. Add bleach. Install the barrels in a shady spot (now you tell me!). Add cedar oil or cedar chips to the barrel.Use a commercial algae killer. And there are those who say leave it alone, the microorganisms in the water are good for the plants.

Further research poo-poo’d the vinegar idea, saying it will only make the problem worse. I decided to add 1/4 cup of bleach to the barrel. It seemed the quickest solution I have on hand. I have only taken a small amount of water from them since I did this because we’ve had lots of rain (about 2 inches this week) but I didn’t notice an odor. Is it because of the fresh water coming in and displacing the funky water or is it the bleach? Time will tell.

How do you keep stinky rain barrel syndrome in check?





Knock-Knock–Your Weekly Flowers Have Arrived

I subscribe to our daily newspaper The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to the nearby YMCA, to all sorts of professional magazines and newsletters, to home and gardening magazines (of course!), and to an assortment of other services. But I don’t subscribe to a weekly floral delivery.

If I lived in Toronto I just might.

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Sarah Nixon, owner of My Luscious Backyard, arranges a bouquet for demonstration.

You see, for the very reasonable base price of $45 per week you can enjoy fresh, sustainably grown flowers on your desk or dining room table. I could move the clutter aside for that, I really could. Your weekly vase is personally delivered and retrieved by Sarah Nixon, owner/operator of My Luscious Backyard, a homegrown business built in her downtown Toronto backyard.

Sarah’s small and intensely managed organic backyard flower farm was the first stop on a whirlwind extravaganza of Toronto area gardens, courtesy of the Garden Bloggers Fling. Before escorting the 70-plus bloggers to tour her backyard, Sarah reminded us that small as it may be, hers is a working farm. Indeed it is. Equipped with a potting table, a small shed with grow lights and a yard that is nearly fully void of turf, My Luscious Backyard is an urban farm where she employs a manual no-tillage production practice to reduce soil erosion.

Sarah's backyard, which she estimates to be 1/16 of an acre.

Sarah’s backyard, which she estimates to be 1/16 of an acre.

Sarah began the business in 2001 and through a unique business model has expanded beyond her backyard by scouting area yards, contacting homeowners and turning their patch of turf into a flower bed. Currently, she is working with 10 area homeowners where she is growing a wide assortment of annuals. This is small-space gardening at its utmost. A steady rotation of seed is started and planted to meet the demand of clients who enjoy her fresh bouquets.Her clients include individuals, as well as florists who seek locally grown flowers.

Making the most of limited space.

Making the most of limited space.

All in all, her annual season consists of about 100 varieties from her perennial yard and her partners. She starts seeds in a small shed she dubs “the barn.”Those agreeing to turn their yard into a flower farm reap of the benefits of the beauty flowers provide but not the privilege of cuttings for their personal enjoyment. Also Sarah said she may ask them to purchase planting mix and help with turf removal but she does all the rest, which includes planting, watering, caring and harvesting the flowers.

I don’t know what happens when the flower season is over, however. I imagine those yards as large patches of brown dirt. Would you be willing to turn your yard into a flower garden?

A neighborhood city lot turned into a flower garden.

A neighborhood city lot turned into a flower garden.