Self Reliance Challenge: Anatomy of a Burn Pile

Anatomy of a Burn Pile

One of the perks of living in the country is that we’re not limited by city regulations. This includes burning trash and debris on our property.

We’re old pros at it. We’ve been burning brush on our property since 1986. Our burn piles have gotten smaller since getting goats and using our fireplace and smoker more often.

We tend to burn only soft woods now, after they’ve been stripped of leaves by the goats. Hardwoods are held back for the fireplace and for Greg’s smoker.

Other food for the fire are things like old bills, or documents with sensitive information. Cardboard boxes that no longer hold up are also fed to the fire. Dead leaves, broken and unusable wood furniture are also fair game.

On our current property, we have two burn piles. I keep a smaller one where only natural materials are burned. I use the ashes for my compost and garden.

The other, larger burn pile is for items that I don’t want mixing with my garden and don’t want to dump in a landfill. This includes plastics and rubber. We don’t have too much of this since we reuse things until they fall apart, but it’s enough that I don’t want it back into the soil I’m trying to improve. These ashes go out into the deep woods.

Burn Pile, Copyright Maria Zannini Burn Pile, Copyright Maria Zannini

There are several tricks to a good burn pile. These are the things we do.

  • Pack your wood densely with the smaller, more easily combustible material in the center. I usually make a nest of leaves, twigs, hay, and dryer lint as my kindling.
  • Let it sit for a while. We burn maybe 3-4 times a year. We let the wood dry for at least three months before we light it. It’ll burn faster if the wood has aged.
  • Make a fire break around the burn pile. I usually rake a bald patch around the pile so it can’t ignite any nearby leaves.
  • Charge your water hose and make sure it’ll reach all around the burn pile.
  • Make some noise and rattle the branches before you burn to scare off any small animals that might’ve hidden there overnight.
  • Never burn when it’s windy.
  • Man your burn pile while it’s burning. Even though we have a dead area, we don’t leave it unattended.
  • Before you go in for the day, hose it down.
  • Don’t move it or use it for at least a week after the fire. Interior embers could still be hot and able to reignite.

We’ve had burn piles burn down to ashes in under two hours, and others that will take all day. It all depends how big the logs are.

In our big pile, we’ve had to drag our sick red photinias for burning. There was a lot of debris already there, but the photinias will keep us particularly busy. If we’ve dried them enough, it should settle down to a smoldering fire within the hour, but the big logs underneath will keep it burning the rest of the day.

What are the regulations about burn piles in your area? Are you allowed to burn on your property?

Out of curiosity, with the holidays coming up, are you allowed to blow firecrackers? I hate firecracker season. My poor Iko suffers tremendously.

If you’d like to follow along with the #self reliance challenge, here is a list of other bloggers who live our grand life. Click on their blogs and check them out!

AnnMarie – 15 Acre Homestead

Nancy – Nancy On The Homefront

Kathi – Oak Hill Homestead

Robin – A Life in the Wild

Candy – Candy’s Farm House Pantry

Farmgal – Just another Day on the Farm

Ashley – Practical Self Reliance

ShawnaLee – Homegrown Self Reliance

Frank – My Green Terra

Lisa Lynn, our Host – The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

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  1. I burn brush, cardboard if it doesn’t fit in our recycle bin, and dried weeds. I don’t burn plastic – that goes in the recycling too, and I’m very careful not to get any poison ivy in the burn pile because the smoke it creates can cause lung complications that can be very bad.

    We don’t set off fireworks. My dogs aren’t particularly bothered by them…but I’m not a fan.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. These are great tips – as you can guess we burn all the time and do feel like a pro at times. I think the biggest lesson I learned was to start at the crack of dawn before the wind kicks up. After a good three hours of burning by the time the wind arrives we just have a small pile to contain. I read online where is recommended not to burn when winders are higher than 13 MPH. Interesting a little wind is nice because it does burn faster.

    • Carole: You probably have a lot more burn piles in your future.

      That was a good observation about needing some wind to stoke the fire. We tend to live in a windy place. I try to burn only if the winds are less than 9 mph.

      And a good point about starting early. We try to start ours as soon as it’s light out, especially the big ones that I know will take all day.

  3. Always lived in the city and most cities have had burn bans, including now Phoenix 🙂 I don’t think there will be fireworks allowed for Memorial Day, but Fourth of July and New Year’s Day they are allowed a week before the event and a few days afteward. I too am not a fan of them from how they scared our dog when we had him.


    • Betty: We see burn bans when it’s been especially dry, but so far we’ve had a fair amount of rain. I always wish for rain on July 4th, even though I know I’m just postponing those fireworks for another day.

  4. Michael Keyton

    To be honest, I’m not aware of any laws banning garden fires in Monmouth. Here it’s just a matter of good manners – important in smallish houses and gardens. We wait until there’ s no washing out drying on either side of us – and we use a cast iron incinerator. Only once, out of ignorance, did I mix paper ash in with the soil. No long term damage but I learnt from the mistake. 🙂

    • Mike: That’s what I disliked when I lived in the suburbs. I like my neighbors but I don’t want to see them every time I walk out the door.

      Living on such a small parcel of land too, makes me feel a little claustrophobic.

  5. Jenny Schwartz

    I used to live in a suburb that opened up a bit after WWII. One day I met one of the original homeowners (he’d popped in to see “his” house next door). Interestingly he was talking about burning rubbish on the block – you had to be careful because the army used to train on the land, and you’d find live bullets in the rubbish you raked up!!

    • Jenny: Wow! Now that’s something I’ve never had to worry about. I’ll bet everyone hit the deck if bullets started exploding.

      I’d be picking through the rubbish to make sure there were no bullets. 😀

  6. We usually burn our oak and pine tree trimmings after letting them sit in the woodpile all spring and summer (really too hot and/or wet here to burn. We also don’t burn during droughts or wildfire season.) We gather around the fire pit on cold nights just to relax, let the kids roast marshmallows, etc. We always share our wood with our next door neighbors for their fall and winter gatherings as they don’t have as many trees.

    After Irma hit us last fall we gathered a huge storm pile and let it dry out for a few weeks before we burned it, then scattered the ashes and hoed them back into the ground. This spring the lawn has been amazing, and since we don’t use chemicals on it I have to give credit to the ashes.

    I’ve never been a fan of firecrackers or fireworks. I mainly spend the Fourth and New Year’s Eve comforting my very nervous dogs. 🙂

    • Lynn: I remember that humongous tree that Irma knocked down last year. That probably had enough logs for a whole season.

      When we lived in east Texas, planning a burn was always a pain because it rained all the time. Here, it dries fairly quickly.

  7. My son Matt ran afoul of our town’s burn regulations last week. He was burning some dead branches and brush in his fire pit with a fire truck showed up. Evidently a neighbor was being pissy and complained about the smoke. The firefighter wasn’t all that impressed by Matt’s “violation” (or the meager amount of smoke it produced) and didn’t cite him, but told him he could only burn aged logs in the pit and he had to put out the fire. Very annoying. I was taking over some marshmallows.

    • Linda:
      re: Evidently a neighbor was being pissy and complained about the smoke.

      People get bent out of shape over the smallest things. What if Matt had been smoking ribs and chicken? Same amount of smoke. I guess then that neighbor would be ticked off he wasn’t invited.

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