Building a successful bonfire is an essential allotment skill to master. A flaming pyre is just what you need to save you numerous trips to the dump to clear your patch. However, it’s not just a case of waving a match and hoping for the best. Attaining a half-decent blaze can be a fraught affair for the uninitiated. To save your curses, here are seven steps to achieve a roaring fire.

1. Mark out your bonfire base

Use a layer of medium-sized sticks. This will keep your kindling dry—helpful for when you are attempting to build a bonfire on cold, damp autumnal days when roaring flames are less than forthcoming.

Read more: How to keep your pet calm during bonfire night

 

2. Bunch up your kindling and seat it on the platform

Dead, dry leaves should do the trick but if you can’t lay your hands on any, scrunched up newspapers make fine firestarters.

It’s hugely important to use dry tinder—this comes from someone who was once the laughing stock of summer scout camp for getting through three boxes of Swan Vestas whilst trying to light the campfire for breakfast. (It was cornflakes instead of sausages that fateful morning and the memory still hurts…)

Read more: The ultimate guide to chopping wood

 

3. Arrange smaller twigs in a teepee shape around the kindling

Alternatively, surround your kindling with a twiggy, Jenga-like tower, building up the layers as you go.

Read more: 8 Treats to eat around the campfire

 

4. Build it up

Build up larger wood and branches around your woody teepee/Jenga tower, but don’t pack it too tight… your fire needs oxygen to thrive.

 

5. Time to ignite!

You can get all Raymond Mears with a flint and stone if you like, but we prefer the traditional approach—a Bic lighter or a long-handled match.

If you are having trouble lighting your kindling, try a  firelighter to help get things going. Strictly speaking, this is cheating, but we won’t tell…

 

6. Feed your bonfire gradually

Don’t be tempted to cast on your entire stock of sticks onto the fire—you’ll probably smother the flames, and if they do catch light, your fire may get out of hand and spread to places you’d rather it didn’t 

 

7. Safety first

Now we don’t want to get overtly "Health And Safety" here, but it’s worth keeping a bucket of water to hand, just in case things get out of control.

A sudden gust of wind could whip your bonfire flames to unmanageable proportions, and your prized shed could be reduced to ash in a matter of moments. Stay safe! Be prepared!

 

Essential bonfire dos and don’ts

Do

Use dry fuel

Dry is best, and dead wood burns better than freshly cut twigs.

Store any potential bonfire fuel under a tarpaulin on your allotment, ready to whip out when the pyromaniac urge is strong.

 

Build it tall

A flatly assembled fire will tend to smoulder, whilst a tall, well-constructed bonfire will blaze away gloriously. Spend time building your structure.

 

Check for wildlife

Hedgehogs and rodents have an inbuilt, suicidal desire to crawl under pending bonfires, so check before ignition and remove any furry friends you discover.

Read more: How to make your garden a sanctuary for nature

 

Save the ash

You can feed alkaline loving plants with wood ash, so collect and save. Just make sure you store it in a metal bucket—ash remains hot long after the fire has died.

 

Don't

Add too much greenery

Adding greenery to a bonfire will cause billowing smoke and almost certainly label you "allotment enemy number one" as your stinking plume wafts across neighbouring plots.

Save the green stuff for dusk, or at the very least, check the wind direction before lighting.

 

Pack it too tight

Ensure your woody construction is open enough to allow oxygen to flow through and feed the flames, yet close enough to allow heat to transfer from one stick to the next.

 

Leave it unattended

A seemingly dead bonfire can spring to life with the slightest gust of wind, so make sure your flaming pile has been fully extinguished before leaving it.

Woe betide the allotmenteer who leaves an unattended fire for the allotment inspector to discover.

 

Don’t be foolish

Never use petrol or any other flammable liquid to ‘get it going’. Never. EVER.

 

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Nick and Rich run the website twothirstygardeners.co.uk and their homegrown booze recipe book, Brew it Yourself, is out now

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