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Smelly Whiskey Barrel and other issues....

Cat

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Hello,
I've had a water lily in a half whiskey barrel for about 10 years it's always been beautiful but the wood had started to go so I bought a couple of new barrels to replace the old one and start a new one off. I think these barrels have come fairly fresh from the brewery (guessing here ) because its been about 2-3 months and the water is constantly slightly white and stinks. I didn't have any water pump going in the old barrels, they were fine without it, but I thought maybe things are just getting a bit anaerobic in there so I put a air stone pump thing in there from one of my fish tanks but that just seemed to make things worse. So I emptied it, bleached the inside of it and then re-charred the wood on the inside and refilled it. I only did this to one barrel because I didn't know what sort of effect it would have. I stuck a load of plants I already had in it, I thought that might help, a Schizostylis and a few other dwarf lilies.

Anyway a month on they both still stink, they are both a bit cloudy and now they have crazy amounts of rat-tailed maggots and mosquito larvae in them. I have a 3 year old and he used to play in the old barrel quite a lot, I'm worried it will be bad for him to play in them, the smell might put him off I don't know. I don't know whether to try and kill everything, which goes against all my normal instincts, I've read that rat-tails are actually quite hard to kill anyway. I think you can put washing up liquid in to kill the mozy larvae or oil, not sure! The water lilies are started to produce quite a lot of new leaves so they don't seemed bothered?

I just don't know what I can do to speed up all this, I don't even know whats really happening there, wondered if anyone has any experience of this or suggestions as to what I should do going forward? I assume with enough time they will settle down........
 

LisaAston

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19 Jul 2021
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Well... it is still ongoing as it happens. I have 2 barrels but I've had to move the one from my front garden because the barrel has actually etched the top layer of my grey limestone cobbles off, so I've got a giant pale circle now annoyingly. I tested the water with my pH pen and it has a neutral pH and not particularly high PPM so that threw me a bit. I, like you, have a water lily in one of them and I, like you, found that although the leaves were fine when submerged they rotted at the surface. So I started doing daily water changes, reusing the water seems fine. This has helped a lot and it is considerably less gross than the other barrel, but it still stinks and if I don't do it every day it forms a film on the surface of the water. Rat-tailed maggots don't seem to like it anymore but still have a few mosses. The other barrel I've done very few water changes with and the water has a milky look, a staggering amount of mosquito larvae and some rat-tails. The hover flies appear to also die at the surface once they emerge from the water, bit like the water lily leaves. I'm assuming its' a whiskey related problem. I've had water in them for at least 6 months now, I assume its just going to take time for whatever it is to leech out of the wood and I'm hoping winter will fix it ultimately....
Thanks so much for your reply although I'm gutted for you (and me) it is still ongoing! I'll definitely keep up the water changes. I've lost around 5 plants so far so it's starting to cost money. I'm not going to buy anymore until I've sorted this
 

Cat

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I haven't lost any plants but I think thats because I started started doing the water changes as soon as saw those rotting leaves, my dwarf water lilies cost £15 so really didn't want to loose it, plus I've had it about 10 years oh and I just took the Iris out because it was new and looked peaky. Whatever fumes are coming off that water its gotta be pretty toxic! Surprised me that the pH was neutral, I guess we've gotta just keep diluting water ever is in that wood. It's never happened to me before so I was wondering if it might have something to do with Covid, I thought with the shops being shut maybe they hadn't been sitting outside being "seasoned"as they normally would? who knows!
 

LisaAston

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Hi @Cat thought I'd update you...I couldn't take the stench any longer so I bought this black 50cm tub from amazon (Amazon product) and have packed soil and stones around the outside and tbh I think it looks really nice. Smell has gone and I have lovely clear water. Thought it could be an idea for you if it gets too much
pond.jpg
 

Cat

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My mother suggested this too! And to be fair it looks good, pebbles help give it a rustic charm. My water lillies are doing well, got 2 flowers and 3 buds but a staggering amount of mosquito larvae. But it still smells awful and the other tub is quite a lot worse bc I haven't changed the water as often. I've got this far but if winter doesn't season them I might have to have a rethink!
 

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goto10

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I am also going to chime in here...I had the exact same problem - but with a wooden wine barrel. After a month or so the water was green/cloudy with lots of mosquito larvae and ring tailed worms (which personally make my skin crawl!) and, worst of all, a horrible stench. For a month I have been trying the same approach of regular water changes (every 2-3 days) with my fingers crossed hoping things would get better. I do think it was helping but after going away for a week the stench returned quite badly.

While the plants (above water) were doing quite well the leaves/stems of my plants under water were turning black. Except my lily which also seems to love the stinky water! I had a plant completely turn black which I revived by putting it in small tub of fresh water in the greenhouse. This made me seriously consider if the water changes were enough.

So yesterday I bit the bullet and started over. I emptied the barrel and lined it with pond liner and refilled. It was an easy job and my fingers are crossed that the stench doesn't return. At the bottom of the barrel was the source of the stink - a thick layer of grey sludge will a smell that made my eyes water. The water must have had something in there that was killing some of the plants (but not the lily!). I had put in some oxygenating plants in there and these have completely gone (turned into sludge).
 

Cat

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First time I had a barrel I lined it and the water just found it's way round it so I just took it out but that's why I didn't bother trying that this time. I found my hover fly larvae just died on the surface but now I do water changes there aren't any in there anymore. I reckon after winter it'll be alright, I'm hoping anyway!
 

alicherry

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8 Sep 2021
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So glad I found this thread! I'm on my 3rd go at a whisky barrel pond, the first 2 did exactly what the OP described- went cloudy and full of rat tailed maggots and mosquitos, plus a really unpleasant smell. I then took the best part of a day emptying and lining with butyl, (which is really tricky with a round surface area) and replacing the plants. It looked great for 3 weeks until the heavens opened, the container overflowed and water got underneath the liner. I'm back to square 1 with cloudy/black water, rotting plants and an army of mosquitoes. I have seen some tiny aquatic snails that must have hitched a ride surviving in there, so not sure whether to wait patiently and endure the smell over winter to see if it resolves or start again. Most disappointing is all the tv shows encouraging you to have water in your garden make it look far too easy!
 

Cat

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Hi,

To be honest it normally is really easy, I've had several water filled whiskey barrels over the years and normally everything is fine, no troubles at all. I think it's most likely something to do with the pandemic. All the pubs shut, the movement of barrels would have changed, so maybe none were seasoned as normal? But I'm just guessing....
 

martin-green

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Just saying.......... looking round the internet it seems that most people who buy a genuine half whiskey barrel with the idea of turning it into a water feature actually do put a liner in it as they are known to cause problems. Smelly / dark coloured water, one person I was reading about was hoping to solve the problem in a couple of months :oops:

Whiskey barrels are "seasoned" when they are constructed, not later, so unless it is a new barrel it will have already been seasoned.

I also note that in normal use (Storing whiskey etc) the barrel can not dry out, and if a barrel does dry out the timber contracts and as a result the metal bands holding the barrel together fall off, no more barrel, :oops: although how long this takes I know not.

You can get a variety of plastic "sumps" from the likes of ebay or Amazon that have no such problems and you can even bury them, and in most cases they cost less than a wooden barrel.
 

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Cat

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Joined
24 Jan 2013
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107
Location
Cambridge
Just saying.......... looking round the internet it seems that most people who buy a genuine half whiskey barrel with the idea of turning it into a water feature actually do put a liner in it as they are known to cause problems. Smelly / dark coloured water, one person I was reading about was hoping to solve the problem in a couple of months :oops:

Whiskey barrels are "seasoned" when they are constructed, not later, so unless it is a new barrel it will have already been seasoned.

I also note that in normal use (Storing whiskey etc) the barrel can not dry out, and if a barrel does dry out the timber contracts and as a result the metal bands holding the barrel together fall off, no more barrel, :oops: although how long this takes I know not.

You can get a variety of plastic "sumps" from the likes of ebay or Amazon that have no such problems and you can even bury them, and in most cases they cost less than a wooden barrel.
I've never lined them, never needed too, never had this problem before. I've never had to get the water moving with a pump or anything before either the waters always been crystal clear. The barrels do dry out put if you put water back in they inflate again, so it's not catastrophic. If you're maturing whiskey in them there's probably all sorts of requirements for the flavourful seasoning of them that I don't know about. But my understanding of seasoned wood is that Its just left outside for a while so it can get wet and dry and do it's contracting and inflating for a while, and find a more stable shape for the long term but clearly I'm not a wood expert! I'm sure someone on here knows this stuff...
 
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