Bonfire night is on its way and we’re clinging onto our patio and outdoor spaces for social occasions. Luckily, at this time of year, our garden goes hand in hand with the warming glows of candle-lit dinners and fire-flickering parties. Here’s how to build the perfect fire for your outdoor party, to guarantee that firework night goes off with a bang.
How to build a bonfire
Building your family or guests a crackling bonfire at this time of year can be incredibly rewarding. For guests it’s a warming, soothing and nostalgic addition to the party’s proceedings. If space is an issue, this aesthetic can be replicated using a contained fire pit or BBQ. Lighting like this on a chilly autumn evening creates a real ambience, so it’s well worth the effort. The other advantage is that, for gardeners, a bonfire is a great way to dispose of garden refuse that’s been deemed unsuitable for the compost heap.
When building your bonfire, begin by considering a few things:
- Your garden space—how large do you want the fire to be?
- The fuel you’ll be burning—have you got enough of the right material?
- How might it affect others (including wildlife)—have you completed safety checks?
There are some sure-fire ways to secure a night filled with safe fire fun and it all starts with the build. Here are my top tips for the best bonfire build:
Top Tip: Don’t add logs with a width larger than 5 inches before the fire’s lit or it will reduce oxygen from circulating and smother the flame—larger logs can be added later.
- A bare patch of ground makes a perfect location, especially one that’s away from fences and foliage.
- If you’re building it on grass, create a circular boundary out of rocks and layer them so that the stone overlaps in places until you’re left with a ring of rocks large enough to stop any part of the fire from spreading outwards.
- In the centre of the space start layering the material with tinder first—these are easy-to-burn additions like leaves, paper and pine cones. Then add in your kindling, like garden trimmings and twigs that are no wider than 1-2 inches in diameter.
- Add on some larger logs that are about the width of your wrist so that they can get hot enough to keep the fire going once the rest has burnt away.
What to burn
Thick, thorny material like rose trimmings, brambles and thorn hedges are fine to burn—a pair of ‘Thornmaster’ gardening gloves will come in really handy when handling garden material like this. Really persistent weeds, such as couch grass, ground elder and bindweed need to be disposed of carefully, so these can be saved up and added to your bonfire heap. Though perennial weeds can be composted, it’s at risk of contaminating your whole compost—just an inch of root could result in it spreading throughout.
You can keep the fire stoked by adding any yew or holly hedge trimmings and leaves or deadhead clippings you’ve gathered up. Wood too large to be burned inside the house can get burnt externally too. Larger material will keep the fire going as it takes longer to catch, but once it does it’ll amp up the temperature nicely.
As well as assisting with the garden cleanse, a good bonfire will create leftover ash which, when sprinkled onto the compost heap, raises the alkalinity. The alkaline levels of your heap keep red worms (an essential part of the composting process) thriving. In fact, compost heaps filled with kitchen waste and lawn cuttings are often too acidic—your bonfire ash will help to level this out.
Top safety tips
Preparing and building your bonfire can take some time and requires a large amount of elbow grease. Ensure you’re wrapped up nicely and pop on your gardening gloves when picking up logs to avoid splinters and give you a good grip when positioning them. I always go for a thermal glove as this time of year, like SHOWA’s 451 gardening gloves, but if the weather is unseasonably warm, I’ll use something like my SHOWA 310 pair. These keep hands protected but don’t overheat them while you’re working up a sweat.
If you need any more guidance on hosting a bonfire night party, take a look at the Fire Service’s ‘Bonfire code’ to advise you what to do.
Top tip: If you’re planning fireworks, ensure to look for fireworks marked BS 7114 as these comply with British safety standards.
Check for guests
As an ambassador for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, I recommend spending an hour or so before your guests arrive to check for hedgehogs. Even if you’ve assembled the fire the same day, hedgehogs may have wandered into the pile in search for shelter. At this time of year, despite people’s best efforts, many hedgehogs are injured during bonfire night, so I’ve put together a guide on how to check thoroughly for our four-legged friends. Keep an eye out for grass snakes and toads too, which may have also become inhabitants of your bonfire heap.
- If material is stored on open ground in advance of lighting the bonfire, aim to dismantle it and move it to another spot just before lighting.
- If you are lighting it in the same spot it’s been standing, use a broom handle to check the bonfire by gently lifting section by section and using a torch to look and listen for hedgehogs.
- Have a listen online to the sounds hedgehogs make so it’s recognisable first—they may rustle or even grunt.
- Light one side of the bonfire at a time. This gives any surprise visitors a chance to escape out of the other side if they need to.
With all these preparations in place, you’re set to have a terrifically toasty night with nothing but fun!