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Uses for Wood Ash

15 ways to use wood ashes around the homestead
Thursday, November 14, 2013, 2:58 PM

With the colder winter months in front of us, fireplaces and woodstoves will start to get more use.  With woodburning, ash is always an end product that needs to be disposed of.  With a little pre-planning and the tips from this article, you can turn a waste product into a valuable resource around the homestead and in the garden. 

Before we begin our discussion of the uses of ash, a special note of caution needs to be mentioned.  Take wood ash away from the woodstove or fire­place in a metal bucket. Never store it in plastic, at least not until the ash is absolutely cool. This way, you avoid burning down buildings (a potentially devastating risk) or damaging surfaces in your house. 

Use only high-quality wood ash. No ashes from BBQ grills, card­board, ply­wood, painted, or pressure-treated wood. Hard­wood ash (oak) is superior to softwood (pine) ash.

Using Ash in the Garden - Three Caveats

1. DO NOT USE ASH IF YOUR SOIL HAS AN ALKALINE pH of 7.5 or higher. It will make the soil too alkaline or salty. Alkaline soils are found in low rain­fall areas in the Western U.S. Use wood ash only in locations where soils are acidic, like forest soils and mountain soils, or places where there is adequate rain­fall in the warm sea­son…not in alkaline soils like the desert. If in doubt, con­tact your local Master Gardeners http://www.ahs.org/master_gardeners/

If you have been farming or gardening with chemicals, check your soil pH. Most chemicals increase the pH and will eventually salt the soil

On the pH scale, 7 is neutral (like pure water), below 7 is acidic with 1 being the most acidic (like battery acid); and above 7 is alkaline with 14 being the most alkaline (like liquid drain cleaner). Nor­mal gar­den soil is typically 5.5 to 7.5 pH. Wood ash is typically 10.4 pH

2. Don’t use wood ash near these and other acid lovers: azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, mums, marigolds, mountain laurel, oak, pecan, and sweet potato plants.

3. Sprinkle wood ash on soil before plants emerge, in winter or very early spring. Don’t plant seeds or seedlings until at least two weeks after ash has been applied, or wait until new plants are a few weeks old to spread it. The smaller they are, the more dramatically plants may react to the sudden increase in pH.

Wood ash has the same composition as lime­stone. Use it where you would use lime. If you put a pile of wood ash out­side, and it rains, it will turn to limestone.

The secret to using wood ash is to SPRINKLE IT or DUST IT.

Use Wood Ashes To:

1. Spread finely on the soil on your property. Use a large coffee can or a box with nail holes punched into the bot­tom. Spread so that it looks like fine baby powder on the soil.

2. Enrich com­post. Enhance com­post nutrients by sprinkling in a few ashes so that it looks like a fine powder. Adding too much, though, ruins compost.

3. Composting citrus rinds. In a bucket of wood ash, place rinds of citrus or any­thing that is hard to break ­down. Make sure to cover the bucket.

4. Calcium loving plants. For calcium-loving plants like tomatoes, sprinkle and spread out 1/4 to 1/8 cup (NOT MORE) right in the hole when planting. More is not better. It should look like a powdered baby’s butt.

5. Block gar­den pests. Spread evenly around gar­den beds, ash repels slugs and snails.

6. Control pond algae. One table­spoon per 1,000 gallons adds enough potassium to strengthen other aquatic plants that compete with algae, slowing its growth.

7. De-skunk pets. A handful rubbed on your dog’s coat neutralizes that familiar lingering odor.

8. Hide stains on paving. This Old House technical editor Mark Powers absorbs wet paint spatters on cement by sprinkling ash directly on the spot; it blends in with a scuff of his boot,

9. Clean glass fire­place doors. A damp sponge dipped in the dust scrubs away sooty residue.

10. Make soap. Soaking ashes in water makes lye, which can be mixed with animal fat and then boiled to pro­duce soap. Salt makes it harden as it cools.

11. Shine silver. A paste of ash and water makes a non­-toxic metal polisher.

12. Kill moss in the lawn. Sprinkle lightly over lawns that have moss problems.

13. Tooth­paste. In the old days before toothpaste, ash was used to clean teeth. The potential bio-hazards in the modern world are the chemicals used in fire starters, newsprint, and magazine inks. Using baking soda instead tastes much better and is a common practice.

14. Cleaning white boards. Ashes are good for cleaning whiteboards that have been marked by grease pencil or marker. It even works on permanent marker that has been misapplied to a whiteboard.

15. Melt ice. My personal all time favorite. Keep container of ashes in car (or on the porch for side­walks) in the icy sea­son to add traction and de-ice with­out hurting soil or concrete under­neath. In Alaska, we carried a shoe box of fine screened ash to get vehicles out of ice. Sprinkle handfuls of ashes out about a foot in front of the tires that have power (4-wheel drive – all tires; front-wheel drive – front tires; rear-wheel drive – rear tires). Drive right out of trouble as if you were on dry pavement. Eliminates the use of salt for icy sidewalks.

We hope this gives you some ideas for what to do with all that wood ash from your fireplace or woodstove.  Please share any other uses and tips in the comments section below.  Also check out the composition of elements in wood ash, below, from the University of Georgia.

~ Cathe'


Composition of Elements in Wood Ash

Mean and (range) taken from analysis of 37 ash samples

Macro elements in aver­age % (range of 37 samples) highest %

Calcium 15 (2.5–33) 31

Potassium 2.6 (0.1–13) 0.13

Aluminum 1.6 (0.5–3.2) 0.25

Magnesium 1.0 (0.1–2.5) 5.1

Iron 0.84 (0.2–2.1) 0.29

Phosphorus 0.53 (0.1–1.4) 0.06

Manganese 0.41 (0–1.3) 0.05

Sodium 0.19 (0–0.54) 0.07

Nitro­gen 0.15 (0.02–0.77) 0.01

Micro elements or trace minerals in mg (range of 37 samples)

Arsenic 6 (3–10)

Boron 123 (14–290)

Cadmium 3 (0.2–26) 0.7

Chromium 57 (7–368) 6.0

Cop­per 70 (37–207) 10

Lead 65 (16–137) 55

Mercury 1.9 (0–5)

Molybdenum 19 (0–123)

Nickel 20 (0–63) 20

Selenium 0.9 (0–11)

Zinc 233 (35–1250) 113

Other Chemical Properties

CaCO3 Equivalent 43% (22–92%) 100% pH 10.4 (9–13.5) 9.9

% Total solids 75 (31–100) 100

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3 Comments

digging's picture
digging
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 13 2010
Posts: 20
I wonder has anyone ever used

I wonder has anyone ever used screed wood ash mixed in with cement to reduce the amount of cement powered needed?? I've heard that people will use the ash from coal plants to do this replacing up to 1/3 cement.

Digging

Dan Robinson's picture
Dan Robinson
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 28 2008
Posts: 13
Wood ash to make soap

It's said the pioneers used wood ash, whatever kind of fat, and heat, to make soap. You'll have to look it up for more details.

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 29 2008
Posts: 220
Fertigation and biochar

First, we sift the big hunks of charcoal out. We smash these down until they are under 0.5 cm (3/16th"). We then pre-charge these with urine, then combine them into our potting soil mix. (WARNING: biochar will actually absorb nutrients if you don't pre-charge it!)

Then we soak the fine stuff in water, which gets all the soluates out into the water. After it has settled, we carefully pour the water off through an old bedsheet or rag. Then the water gets combined one part with one part urine and eight parts water to make a lovely 1:1:1 organic fertilizer that we pump through our greenhouse irrigation system.

The remaining sludge gets added in small quantities to potting mixes, bed soil, etc.

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