Blaze of glory: Building a bonfire is one of autumn's great joys
It's also a useful way to prepare the garden for winter
Sunday 21 November 2010
November is a month for tidying, for putting to bed. The garden now turns dark and primal: fire and fungi go to work, each adding their own distinctive scent to the air. (And when it gets really miserable out, remember that this time of year is also sometimes for staying inside: The Curious Gardener, the new book from The Independent Magazine's Anna Pavord, is organised by months, and November alone has six delicious essays for a rainy day.)
A dry day, though, and a bonfire is one of autumn's greatest joys. Watching little flames from rolled newspaper balls as they grow higher; feeling the air heat and rise in the darkness; knowing you're being, er, a bit dangerous with that stick you keep poking it all with. Yep, there's nothing like a fire to make you act like a five-year-old. And you instantly make that huge pile of branches and leaves you were dreading taking to the tip disappear in smoke.
An incinerator is a good buy, as the fire is contained, and there's no problem with starting it on wet ground. It also means the fire is visible as a grid of Damien Hirst-style spots through the undergrowth, a map of the metal container's aeration holes, which I really like. But other people's aesthetics make them plump for an old-fashioned fire retained by bricks, or even a home-dug firepit. Either way, the next morning, there's an excellent by-product for gardeners: a pile of ashes full of powerful nutrients ready for your use. (Unless it rained after you went to bed, in which case you may just have a Pompeii-style lump of indeterminate grey matter. Put the lid on your incinerator before going to bed to avoid this outcome.)
Meanwhile, fungi will go to work in your compost. There's more incentive to compost now than ever, when many local authorities provide tiny worktop bins for kitchen waste, generally leaving a rotting mess by the end of a week. Make compost in the garden instead, and you avoid any of the stink. Though you might need to run out in bare feet with the potato peelings if you're running the system rigorously.
The final weapon in the armoury is leaf mould. You can, in theory, put your garden leaves in with the compost, but they will take much longer to rot down than peelings. Try a separate bin for leaves, or pile them in knotted black sacks that you can leave somewhere to rot down without anyone complaining about how ugly they are. Add some of that bonfire ash for even more richness. The leaf mould that comes out after 12 months is beautiful, dark stuff that you can spread straight on to flower and vegetable beds with great results, with not a weed seed in sight. A great payoff for your diligence.
'The Curious Gardener' by Anna Pavord is published by Bloomsbury, priced £20
The big tidy-up
There are many biodegradable compost bin "liners" on sale now, but Alina's brown-paper bags are the only ones that don't start rotting before they hit the compost heap. I now keep one open in one of my fridge drawers, and brave the outside once it's full. £1.57 for six, tesco.com
Jute leaf mould sacks
These elegant, spidery bags will have you looking like something out of Vogue as you sweep up the leaves (well, probably), and will then themselves rot down along with their contents. £1.95, gardenboutique.co.uk
My favourite incinerator, which is also the cheapest I've found, is from Wickes (inset right). Simply screw on the legs and away you go. Just a note of caution: please do remember to unreel the hosepipe before you start, in case of escaped flames. £19.99, wickes.co.uk
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