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Gardeners Advice

Bonfires – love ’em or loathe ’em!
3 Nov

Bonfires – love ’em or loathe ’em!

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Seasonal Tips

I have to confess that I love having a good bonfire. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a large garden which my parents would tackle with great gusto from time to time - vigorous weeding and clearing of overgrown flowerbeds, pruning the multitude of shrubs and trees, cutting long grass, raking up leaves, tasks determined by the seasons. Regardless of the work done, the day would generally end with a good blaze. As darkness fell, the glow of the fire was clearly visible at the top of the garden, our traditional spot for bonfires, always referred to as ‘The Bonfire Site’. Garden fires feature prominently in my memories of childhood: baking potatoes in ‘ovens’ made from discarded bricks and large stones, charcoal-blackened hands and hair and clothes reeking of wood smoke - ‘being kippered’ as my father called it.

My mother was a dab hand at getting a bonfire going, her proud boast being that she would only need to light one match, so when I was old enough to light bonfires of my own, I had been well taught. First, a small pyramid of kindling, spilt from discarded timber using a carpenter’s axe on the stump of what had been a large flowering cherry tree. Then, some twists of dry newspaper tucked inside the pyramid, followed by a carefully constructed pile of thin twigs and a few larger branches. Once properly alight, more wood could be added as the flames climbed higher and higher towards the branches of a massive prunus growing nearby. The heat generated from these conflagrations could be immense. When it came to adding more fuel or raking up the ends of branches whose middle sections had been consumed in the flames, the unburnt pieces forming a ring round the core of the fire, I still remember the prickling sensation on my face, eyes watering from the heat and the blinding effect of wood smoke. I’m ashamed to recount that when it came to ‘having a good bonfire’, neither of my parents showed much respect for their neighbours. Fires were lit to consume dead matter which could easily have been left to rot down. Instead, freshly-fallen, still damp leaves were heaped onto the glowing core of the fire, resulting in a dense core of thick, choking, pale grey smoke. On a still day, the smoke was relatively well-behaved, rising vertically into the sky; on a breezy day, the smoke would head off, either over the adjacent field causing few problems, or across neighbouring gardens to the intense annoyance of the resident/s who would complain bitterly, sometimes coming to our house to grumble to my mother – more often than not, shouting across the lane: ‘Put that blessed fire out!’ My mother remained impassive to all pleas...

It’s bonfire season, ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November’ and all that. Those of you who have an allotment and enjoy having the occasional fire may be pleased to know that the ban which Bristol City Council operates on allotment sites across the city is now lifted until the start of March. Bonfires, including fires in incinerators, on allotments are an emotive subject, so if you are itching to light a fire and burn that heap of accumulated ‘rubbish’, please bear a few things in mind before you strike a match. Most garden waste can and should be recycled rather than burnt: green matter turned into excellent compost; woody matter, prunings, bits of timber and the like, left to rot down in a convenient corner and create a perfect hideaway for beetles, bugs, hedgehogs and other wildlife. OK …wood ash is a good by-product from a bonfire, but hardly a justification for endless burn-ups.

If you simply must light a bonfire, on your allotment or in your garden, only burn dry materials that will burn readily and create the minimum of smoke, and then only on a day when the bonfire doesn’t cause a nuisance to nearby allotment gardeners or neighbouring properties. It goes without saying that only organic matter should be burnt.

Unless those of us who light the occasional bonfire take care, the day might come when a total ban on bonfires is imposed across Bristol.


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