Many people understand the various merits  of collecting rainwater for their gardens as  valuable but also environmentally green thing to do but, if you have installed a water butt on your patch there is a danger that , after a while , the stagnant  water within it may become  very smelly and at a point where it is very unwise to use it to  water any of  your precious plants.

What conditions make  the water in your butt smell so bad?

Invariably the awful smell is caused by the decomposition of  vegetable matter like dead leaves and algae spores getting into the water via your guttering and downpipe and rotting, making the water stink.  Water butts should be covered anyway with a lid but you need to prevent unwanted vegetable materials getting in there too. I had this problem last year and until I sought expert advice thought it was OK to use what actually has to be seen as polluted water unfit for plant watering.

How to put it right

If the water in your butt smells firstly empty and thoroughly clean the inside of your butt with warm soapy water then rinse with clean cold water. Next you need to find a way of filtering water coming from the guttering to the down pipe so the debris doesn’t find its way in.

(Click on any image to see it a larger size )


Checking down pipe with gauze is tight fit to gutter

I recently replaced my greenhouse/ workshop  guttering and used an off-cut of  40mm PVC piping for the down pipe. I used a 40 mm hole saw to cut a hole in the bottom of the gutter but put gauze , held in place by and elastic band,  over the pipe end and then pushed the pipe into the gutter from below.


40mm whole cutter drill attachment   (white ) & gauze filter in place

Despite the fact that the hole was cut precisely to the correct diameter of the downpipe , there was no problem pushing the gauze covered pipe end into the hole. I used a broken small pond net butyou could use tight weave material from, for example  a pair of old tights. (Alternatively you could perhaps  use a fine meshed plastic tea strainer if you can work out a  way of fixing it in place.)


Guttering with downpipe showing gauze filter in place


40mm hole in butt lid cut to ensure really tight fit

Once installed you will have to check your guttering periodically to clear any debris and also remove any over your make-shift  filter to make sure it remains un-clogged. I have seen advice too about suspending a quantity of charcoal in the leg of a pair of tights to act as an additional filter ( just as charcoal is used in aquarium water filters) BBQ charcoal is handy for that. This idea is one I intend to try if my improvised gauze filter alone doesn’t have the desired effect. Overflow ? I tend to keep things I find and therefore have saved a number of concertina flexible washing machine water pipes and thus have been able to direct my water butt overflow into my greenhouse where I have a large open cylindrical container. This makes it easy and quick to fill a watering can by simply dipping it into the container rather than drawing water from outside via the water cock at the base of the butt.


flexible overflow pipe- ex old washing machine  waste pipe

Footnote : I built my greenhouse/workshop entirely from reclaimed materials including a number of exterior glazed doors and literally found lengths of brown square profile PVC  guttering discarded near my home. I had to buy the connecting bracket to join two pieces effectively but made an end stop from an off-cut of wood. 3

Marking out end stop on scrap of pine

  I simply placed the open profile of the gutter over the wood, drew along the internal edge of the gutter end, but it out accurately and screwed it in place. I used waterproof silicone sealant on the inside where the wood edges met the guttering as shown in the photo here. (To cut the wood I used a very fine toothed saw so the cut  edges were smoother and therefore less porous ) I pre-drilled the holes for the screws to prevent the PVC guttering cracking when the screws were driven in. DSC_1246

Wooden internal gutter end stop screwed in place


Sealing end stop using silicone gun

Coming next – Find out how to make seedling planters from re-cycled off cuts of guttering by clicking on this link.  See also via this link how to make simple planters using decking board and a very simple box construction technique.

Ideas for Making Planters and Window Boxes from Decking boards and other materials.

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