Up in smoke

After I’d had lunch today I smelled burning.

I’m here on my own at the moment as Mr Snail-of-happiness has gone off to help our friend Perkin hang a door (apparently it takes two). Now, I have been known to forget to turn the rings off on the cooker, so I very carefully checked that the cooker was off at the wall and the toaster wasn’t gently incinerating the remains of my toast. Nothing there, but I could still smell something burning… I sniffed the computers, and the printer (sometimes that smells warm), and the washing machine (we once had a molten socket adaptor there), but found nothing. I knew the Kelly kettle wasn’t still burning since, being on my own, I hadn’t had it lit since 10am and it was definitely out when I went to collect eggs about 11am. But still I could smell smoke.

In the end I decided that I was imagining it and what I could smell was the toaster, which I had used earlier.

Then I went out of the front door with the dogs for our afternoon walk and I could hardly see the other side of the street for all the smoke. Fortunately it was coming from next door. I double-checked to make sure that their house wasn’t on fire and was relieved to see that it wasn’t. In fact, they were having a bonfire in their garden. I could see that they had cut back their Leylandii hedge and so they must have been burning the branches and generating a surprising amount of smoke.

The closest we get to a bonfire in our garden!

The closest we get to a bonfire in our garden!

Which got me to thinking about garden bonfires… we haven’t burnt garden waste for many years now, unless it’s being used to power the Kelly kettle – and then it isn’t waste, it’s fuel. Having a bonfire used to be the standard way to get rid of all sorts of stuff in the garden, but these days, with local authorities providing composting facilities, it seems fairly unnecessary. It used to be woody debris or diseased plant material that was burnt, but with the large-scale hot composting used by municipal composting facilities, the latter is sterilised and so shouldn’t be problematic. In our garden we never throw out woody material – it’s either used as fuel or chipped to go in the compost or on the beds as mulch. The only thing we ever take to the council to be composted is bramble because it has a nasty habit of rooting whilst you’re waiting for it to dry out and because the combination of its fibrous stems and prickles make shredding it well nigh impossible.

Leylandii can be a bit of a problem. It takes ages to break down in a compost heap and the sap can cause allergic reactions. It does make a great fuel, though – there is so much resin in it that (especially when dry) it burns very fast and hot. Fortunately, we don’t have any in our garden, but if we did I would be saving it to use as fuel.

In permaculture you learn to treat everything as a potential resource rather than a ‘pollutant’ or waste product… even to the extent that ‘every problem is a solution’. It seems to me that gardeners are progressively adopting this attitude and that in the not too distant future garden bonfires will be history. But, for the time being, I must remeber to look outside when I smell burning, it might save me a lot of time!

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2 Comments

  1. Am I right in thinking that bonfires in gardens are banned these days? We just have a small incinerator for burning confidential waste to prevent identity theft. I used to love a good bonfire, very satisfying!

    Reply
    • In fact, bonfires are legal in the UK, but you can get in trouble if they cause nuisance, such as smoke across roads or regularly upsetting your neighbours.
      I have a friend who gets rid of confidential waste by shredding it, putting it in the compost heap and then peeing on it! He says if anyone is desperate enough to reconstruct his identity after that, they are welcome!

      Reply

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