How to screen my neighbor's stench?

kayan(10 San Francisco, CA)June 13, 2010

Every other morning they've got the gas-run leaf blower or weed wacker out while I'm trying to get some gardening done before it gets too hot. Why, I'm only inside now because I can't stand the fumes. Far as I can tell, the guy wielding the tools is hired help, so talking to him will do nothing.

Ah, and sometimes they'll stand there and smoke too. Wonderful.

Any suggestions for something I can plant along my 7' redwood fence to screen out some of the noise and smell?


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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

welcome to my world.
I have somewhat the same dilemma .
I live next to Hillbilly Bob . Suffice to say I planted a fast growing dense hedge of Rhamnus alaternus ( Italian Buckthron) .
I also live in the same zone as you ( in Marin) and the Rhamnus gave me almost immediate gratification within a year.
It is 10 years later and I can't see a washing machine or a broken down car in his front yard.
I can sometimes smell his smoking but not nearly as much as when the hedge wasn't there.
Other fast dense growing plants to explore for your area is :
Pittosprorum tenuifolium, Photinia, and or a mixed shrub and tree border.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 3:08PM
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shadygrove(z7 VA)

This is an interesting topic for me, as I have a not dissimilar problem from quite a dissimilar source. Far from Marin County, I live in rural central Virginia with a farm across the small country road in front of my house---I love the farm, but the owners spread fresh manure on their hayfields every year, which I think is horticulturally questionable but never mind, and stockpile small mountains of it about five hundred feet from my front garden. I've requested that they consider putting it back farther from the road to no avail ("why, we can't store it on the OTHER side of the barn all winter") we actually think that a thick hedge has anti-aroma-whafting properties? I'd love to think so.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 4:26PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

My privets are in bloom: all 20 of them, 12' tall, inherited from the original owner. The bees and bumblebees and butterflies are in ecstasy, busy all day long. It's not a bad smell, but it is a strong one, even 40' or more from the house.

Now the Bradford pears across the street (and to my south beyond the privets and the neighbor's Great Wall of Leyland Cypress) are a different matter. They are too many to count and when they bloom, the whole neighborhood stinks. This spring I think the smell lasted for two weeks ... or maybe it was three.

If you don't dislike the smell of roses, I would think they might mitigate the odors of smoke and manure. Gardenias? Clematis? Jasmine? Citrus? Sweet alyssum? And many suggestions on this thread:

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 5:18PM
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There is no solution that doesn't involve violence, that is bullets and stuff. You exaggerate with your "every other morning" so what it is is you have to do is get on with your life.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 8:26PM
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kayan(10 San Francisco, CA)

Ah, the things we learn about what to look for the next time we move.

Thanks for the suggestions, except INKOGNITO's.

Don't know where the hostility is coming from, but I'm not exaggerating. If it were once a week I would take a break and just stay indoors instead. I'd invite you to my house to tick off the days but bullets and stuff don't sound very appealing to me. Thanks anyway. ;)

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 9:35PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

There really ISN'T anyway to screen out smells. I suppose one could plant a highly scented vine on the a jasmine...but that's just going to add another layer scent.

Think about young men who douse themselves in Axe body-spray rather than shower...

It's not an improvement.

My experience (limited, admittedly!) with lots in Redwood City is that they are 1/4 of an acre or long are the mow-and-blow people out there?

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 7:15AM
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How fast do weeds grow and how often do leaves fall in Cali that this has to be done every other morning?

If you are really desparate, then check your local ordinances about nuisance noises and air quality.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 8:40AM
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I agree with other posters, particularly mjsee. If stench, rather than sound, is the main issue, then maybe the answer isn't a material change (plant material) but a shift in time.

Because I particularly don't like sound pollution (lawnmowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers and the like), I take advantage of the fact that I am a very early riser. No one's out mowing the lawn at 5:00a.m. or even 6:00a.m. That's my time to truly commune in the garden. I'm out there more than that, so get plenty of exposure to noise, but I sort of know the rhythm of the neighborhood and I take advantage of those times when I'm pretty much alone with nature.

Don't know if getting up a little earlier works for you. My basic point is that there are still times when the gas and smoke aren't out there. Take advantage of those times, as best you can. You already do ... hence your retreat indoors to write the OP.

It's not a very satisfying answer, I'm sure, but where will it get you to fight the inevitable? There must be many hours when this isn't happening. Some of those hours are bound to be in the cooler parts of the 24 hours of the day.

Change your schedule. Be out there on the mornings after and before they get going on the days you expect them. Then, be thankful that they are whacking the weeds and trimming ... Some folks are living beside foreclosed and abandonned homes with lawns gone to seed and weeds taking over.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 10:52AM
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littledog(z7 OK)

"I've requested that they consider putting it back farther from the road to no avail ("why, we can't store it on the OTHER side of the barn all winter")"

They probably can't. i could be wrong, but I'd be willing to bet the manure is where it is because it's convenient to THEM, not specifically to be a nuisance to you. There are lots of reasons to put something on one side of the barn as opposed to the other. They might want their livestock pens on the shady side, or to keep them out of the prevailing wind. Perhaps there's better access to the road, or more space to turn their equipment around?

Besides, even if they could move it, stacking it on the other side of the barn isn't going to make it stink any less. The point is, as picturesque as a farm can be, it is a worksite, complete with all the activity and dust and smells and noise you would expect from any other place outside of an office where people are working.

P.S. As long as it's applied at the right time of year and not put on too thick, spreading manure on hayfields *is* a time honored, horticulturally sound practice. But perhaps you'd prefer the risk of drift from a crop duster spraying some chemical combo of pre-emergent/fertilizer instead?

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 3:48PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

We don't BBQ, but often the smell comes in our leaky old house from both sides. And it's not predominantly the smell of meat cooking, but the smoke.

I think Rhodium is right, you may be able to get them on noise.

There might even be some ordinances about farms adjacent to residential areas. Issues like that also often go to court - if there is a solution that they just aren't using, the fact that they are making you suffer and know it might be a winnable case. Note the IF.

Other than that, just read some other threads here about neighbours and think of pit bulls, drug shacks, grow-ops, ATVs, and loud music, and count your blessings. I know it's hard to do, as I spend a lot of time in my yard fuming about things that really, when I think about it, pale in comparison to what others suffer.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2010 at 1:58PM
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littledog(z7 OK)

"There might even be some ordinances about farms adjacent to residential areas. Issues like that also often go to court - if there is a solution that they just aren't using, the fact that they are making you suffer and know it might be a winnable case. Note the IF. "

Actually, there are lots of ordinances about farms that now find themselves adjacent to sprawl; all 50 states have enacted "Right to Farm" legislation specifically to protect *the farms* from complaints and endless court battles about the noise, smell, dust, etc generated by a working farm. The fact that the homeowner across the street is "suffering" from having to smell manure piled by the barn or spread on the hayfields might get them sympathy here on the forum, but in court they'll have to prove specifically that a "nuisance results from the negligent or improper operation of any such agricultural operation or any of its appurtenances" to make it a "winnable" case. If the manure stored by the barn washes down the hill into a nearby creek, or out across the road and into the ditches everytime it rains, you have a case. If the farmer is stacking that manure one side of the barn to prevent it from washing, or storing it under an open sided shed to protect it from the weather, you probably don't. Spreading too much manure or applying it too often to a hayfield will also result in runoff, which is a huge environmental problem and grounds for a lawsuit, BUT spreading the right amount at the right time would be considered "in accordance with existing best management practices" and would be protected.

Your county FSA agent should know how far from the road the barn and manure pit/stack has to be as well as the recommended rates for applying manure to hayfield. That's who they should call first.

Here is a link that might be useful: Virginia's Right to Farm Law

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 2:58PM
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jollyrd(Richmond VA)

agreed with littledog.
shadygrove - unless you plan to try and ban the wind too, you can't control the smell.
I take small amount of manure from my neighbor once a week - thus helping her clean the barn. When I dont take it, she piles it right next to the barn. How far do you expect a person to move this heavy stuff? Just far enough out of the way and not an inch further.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 4:02PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Not that I don't decry the gradual encroachment of residential onto farmland, but let's not jump into the quicksand of "farmers hard done by" too enthusiastically here, though I appreciate the fact that nearby homeowners asking too much of them is likely how "right to farm" legislation came about. Sure it's a working farm, but that doesn't mean it has to be maximally irritating. Here in the city, working operations such as chicken slaughterhouses and rendering plants and paint factories (all of which I have near me) have to accommodate the neighbours too.

And the farmers may be moving this stuff with equipment, not by hand. If the situation is some variant on the farm is big and only one end of it has residential neighbours, and they choose to store the manure right by the neighbours, I would argue that there is some degree of willful nuisance going on.

I don't see the farmers so much as victims since, if the land around is becoming residential, their pay out when they sell is not going to be too bad. If you are asking them to move the manure to the other side of the barn, the improvement in your property value will probably eventually land in their pockets.

Anyway, I thought I had edited my comments above further prior to posting but must have neglected to hit "preview" again before hitting "submit." What I meant to add was a little more qualification of the idea of a winnable lawsuit. Obviously, get your own advice and maybe see what case law says on the subject. In Canada we have an excellent searchable on-line database of legal cases accessible to the public. But you might also have some luck lobbying local politicians for ordinances that help YOU.

As for the OP's question, I wonder if in fact a thick hedge would delay or diffuse or deflect air movement somewhat.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 11:51PM
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peachymomo(Ca 8)

To get back to the plants aspect of the question... I've seen things recently about 'air-filtering house plants' that are supposed to work well indoors, I wonder if there are landscape plants that are better air filters than others. I'm not posing this as an actual solution but it would be an interesting experiment to see if they would have an effect. A large enough hedgerow will help block the prevailing winds and perhaps the right mix of plants will effectively filter the air. Although the winds that blow over and around the hedgerow will be unfiltered and probably more prevalent. If you have the time, money and inclination I think it would be fun to see if it would work.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 12:43PM
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Have you simply tried to talk to them in an open and non-confrontational manner?

Maybe if you befriended them by sharing a love of a nice kept landscape, then the topic of noisze and smell could come up later after a few visits and beers?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 1:28PM
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littledog(z7 OK)

"I don't see the farmers so much as victims since, if the land around is becoming residential, their pay out when they sell is not going to be too bad. If you are asking them to move the manure to the other side of the barn, the improvement in your property value will probably eventually land in their pockets. "

Looking at it from the farmer's side of the fence, I don't see how one can say that without making a few assumptions:
#1, That "becoming residential" means surrounded by subdivisions; even one "landless" house can be a problem, depending on who lives there, and what they expected from moving to "the country". How much you would be willing to change your lifestyle, your job, your home, even to the point of selling your childrens' inheritance for less than 1/2 of it's actual value for the sake of a "new neighbor" who finds your perfectly legal operation to be "irritating"?

#2, That the farmer has no special ties to the land that would make him or her reluctant to sell out; has it been in the family for generations, is it some of the best farmland in the county, irreplaceable in terms of yield? Does it sit in what has long been the best school district in the area, the one he went to, the one he has paid taxes all his life to support, the one he'd like *his* children to attend as well? Even if one assumes the farmer *wants* to sell out and is willing to put up with the nuisance of strangling urban sprawl while paying higher property taxes until he's priced out of not just his home, but his livelihood, he's probably never going to see anywhere near 1/2 of what the land is worth for all his trouble; it will more than likely end up sold to a developer - that's the guy who's going to reap the rewards of the farmer having held on to the land. And oh, BTW, when the farmer does sell out, all those lovely views that everyone moved to "the country" for will be swept away forever by a tidal wave of new houses. Just think; identical roofs and SUVs and Bradfod Pear trees as far as the eye can see. But hey, it won't smell bad, unless you count exhaust fumes from the traffic or the chemicals all the neighbors are now putting on the yard in order to turn their little scrap of the former hayfield into a "lawn". Welcome to the New Suburbia; just like the Old Suburbia, only farther from the City and no municipal water or sewage treatment.

#3, That if the farm is "big" (defined as ?), that the farmer has someplace else to put the manure or whatever other aspect of farming someone objects to that is environmentally safe, and economically feasible. They may or may not, depending on the topography, the local watershed and the way the farm is laid out to use. In Virginia, the watershed determines placement of everything, *especially* manure piles and anything that might wash in a rain.

and #4, which gets to the heart of the post, that moving manure to the other side of the barn is somehow going to make it better. It won't. It's still going to stink.

The very real "quicksand of "farmers hard done by" is precisely why Right to Farm laws exist. They're designed to counteract the effect of people who moved out to "the country" and started complaining about the smell, the dust, and the noise generated by the people who were there first making a living. I've heard of people threatening to go to court because a farmer planted a windbreak for his livestock ("It's going to block my view!"), or cut trees to clear their own field or put up a building. ("I don't want to look at that big machine shed, he's ruining my view!")

I'm not trying to imply the poster on this forum is anything like that, but I have seen all that happen and more. Sometimes I wonder if people don't realize that wide open field everyone admires needs to be fertilized and mowed to stay that way. Those picturesque horses and cows and sheep and goats grazing across the road need to be fed and watered and housed, and they produce manure that has to be disposed of properly in order to protect the farmer's investment in the livestock and the land not to mention the water quality downstream. "Maximally irritating" is in the eye (or ear, or nose) of the beholder. Ever been to north west Arkansas? The distinct aroma wafting from the commercial broiler houses that are tucked into every avaliable nook and cranny in the mountains will make spreading manure on a hayfield once a year look like a walk in the park. But if you ask the locals, they'll tell you those chicken houses smell like money. As disagreeable as it may be, what is considered a nuisance to one neighbor, might very well be the heart of the livelihood of the local farmer. Right to Farm laws recognize that, which is why they're overwhelmingly written to support the right of the farmer to make a (smelly, dusty, noisy) living off their land, rather than the newly gentrified suburbanite's desire for a pretty view with good resale values.

The poster can spend their money contacting an attorney or they can call the FSA office for free. It's possible to spend months complaining to their state representatives about a farmer spreading manure, and what they'll likely get for their trouble is a first hand lesson on just how strong the Ag lobby is in Virginia, or they can just close the windows for the two weeks or so it takes for all that natural fertilizer to be be incorporated into the soil and start growing the lush, green grass that brightens the landscape, delights the eye and makes "living in the country" not such a bad deal afterall.

And if it's legal to plant there and they have enough room at the property line, both the OP and shadygrove might consider Eastern Red Cedar. Thick, fast growing, fragrant native evergreen that can be sheared like a hedge that will block dust and dirt and to some extent mask odors year round. If the odor is particularly strong during bouts of high humidity, they might try planting spearmint, which releases essential oils as the humidity rises.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 5:52PM
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shadygrove(z7 VA)

Thanks for your perspective and the information, Littledog. I seem to have stirred up a mess of manure of my own here by this posting. I appreciate farms, farm smells and my neighbor's right to spread and store manure--I live in the country on purpose, after all. I certainly never meant any threat by my posting, nor did I say I was "suffering." Its just several huge manure piles near to the road that make gardening in my front yard pretty misery making for a month or so in the fall, and notably fragrant for about half the year. I'm happy to be able to look at a working farm out my front window for twelve months of the year, so its a trade-off. I just wondered whether anybody had any experience with plants blocking odors. Sorry if I offended you and thanks.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2010 at 8:48PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Acres of streets lined with Callery pears in flower would smell as bad or worse than a manure pile.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2010 at 11:05PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Acres of streets lined with Callery pears in flower would smell as bad or worse than a manure pile.

bboy, the neighbors' yards average only about 2-3 Callerys per acre, though the house directly across from me has six or eight along the street (the leaves all blow into my yard a month after my own trees are bare)...

... it's the golf course that has huge numbers of Callerys lining the road, and also rows of them dividing one fairway from another....

The horses who used to live next door were never much of an odor problem (their manure pile was downwind from me).

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 12:55AM
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littledog(z7 OK)

I'm not offended shadygrove. I know you didn't claim you were suffering, that was someone else's term, and I also know that piles of manure *are* unpleasantly fragrant, especially in the heat and humidity of summer. Did you find out anything about the setbacks for the manure piles from the road by calling the FSA? Like I mentioned, the possibility of run off into creeks and streams is the most important aspect of siting a manure pile. You might find out that the neighbor's manure pile is already in the most environmentally safe place to avoid contaminating the watershed, but it never hurts to check.

That said, have you considered honeysuckle and autumn clematis? Just a couple of old fashioned vines you see planted around farms and homesteads out here and around the South. One blooms spring into summer, the other late summer into fall, and they're frequently planted around the outhouse, so that should tell you something. ;^)

    Bookmark   June 24, 2010 at 2:24AM
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