Garden bonfires: ashes to ashes

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Everybody loves a bonfire: it's one of those autumn things. Smoke that is both acrid and nut sweet, flames lighting up the gloom...

jas_18112008_bonfireEverybody loves a bonfire: it's one of those autumn things. Smoke that is both acrid and nut sweet, flames lighting up the gloom of an encircling dusk and the delicious sensation of having a hot face and cold toes. Since we moved here, however, I've resisted burning much in the way of garden refuse as I compost everything I can.

Once a year I rent a great big shredder for a weekend and the peace of the countryside is completely disrupted as I spend a couple of happy days half-deafened and covered in dust. The result is a great big pile of chipped debris just perfect for the compost heap.

That, at least, is the plan. Unfortunately, due a mixture of disorganisation, rushing about and inertia I failed to rent the machine last year, so I have two years' worth of detritus sitting in an open shed. Now, some of you may have seen pictures of my garden before and will have realised that there are lots of plants crammed in here. As a result there is a small mountain of stuff that I need to shred.

This brings us to another problem. There are certain things that don't agree with either compost heaps or shredders. Diseased plant material shouldn't be composted, as the process might not kill the spores of, for example, potato blight or rust. Rose clippings should also be avoided; it's no fun to run your hand through a pile of compost and end up with a whopping great thorn in your finger.

The mortal enemies of every shredder are grasses. They are almost guaranteed to block the machine and lead to time spent lying on the floor cutting out bits of recalcitrant fibre from the mechanism, while swearing and bruising tender areas of one's person. Even the ever-efficient Alys Fowler has the same problem at Berryfields! My solution to this is to have a bonfire.

Much more fun, less noisy and the ash will add a bit of oomph to the compost heap - provided you use it in moderation. I'm lucky that I live in the countryside and nobody is likely to grumble. Those of you in towns and cities need, obviously, to consider wind direction and time of day before getting out the matches. Lighting up on a sunny Saturday with a light breeze just after one neighbour has hung out the sheets and the other is having a party is unlikely to make you terribly popular.

Finally, if you ever come into contact with any of these excrescences, do everybody a favour and burn them immediately!

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Gardeners' World Web User 19/11/2008 at 16:18

What utter nonsense. Think of the CO2 put out by a bonfire! Any 'unsuitable' diseased plant material should be taken to your local municipal compost heap, where the higher temperatures generated (compared with your average garden heap) will destroy all pathogens. There's never any need to burn garden waste.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/11/2008 at 08:27

Running a shredder, whether electric or non-green petrol, costs money, a bonfire is the price of a match

Gardeners' World Web User 21/11/2008 at 16:42

My best childhood memories are of having a bonfire with my dad to burn garden waste. I wounder how many children of today will have such happy memories of such a simple task.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/11/2008 at 15:54

There are so many pros and cons as with everything, e.g. some countries rely on our travels to support their tourist industry, or the export to us of crops such as bananas to support their farmers. On balance I think an occasional bonfire at the right time of day, and using material as dry as possible to reduce smoke, produces useful ash - and a warm glow for the family to enjoy. We have an old water tank with cover, to keep everything as dry as possible, and no hedgehogs can get in.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/08/2010 at 15:02

Can you spread ash from bonfires and dig it into the soil?

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