There is an alternate use for everything, and wood ash is no exception. One of the places it is most versatile is in the garden.
Those lucky enough to have an old-fashioned traditional heating stove may find themselves stymied when they continuously have to clean the fire pit ashes.
What is Wood Ash?
It is the inorganic and organic powder residue that remains after the combustion of wood.
Along with wood-burning stoves, the other main source of wood ash is from industrial power plants that often burn bricks to make electricity.
Although wood is not burnt in every home as a heat source anymore, ashes is an excellent raw resource that boasts a variety of uses and benefits around the home.
The average cord is four feet wide, four feet tall, and eight feet long.
Depending on the type being burnt (the quality and whether it is hard or softwood), this works out to approximately 1%-2% returned in ashes.
If you don’t burn bricks for home heating purposes, making an outdoor pile of dry wood and then burning it is all it takes to get your stack.
Benefits and Uses
Is fire pit ashes good for the garden? Absolutely! Instead of looking for areas to dispose of it safely, consider these 11 practical uses for wood ash in the garden.
1. Natural Fertilizer
Plants need a variety of essential nutrients to thrive and grow. Most of them can be found within this waste product.
Early spring is the best time to till your collection into the garden, preferably when the soil is dry and plant life has not started to grow.
The secret is making sure it is tilled in well. If not, certain areas will have too much salt, and others not enough.
As a rule, for a 1000 square foot garden, you will require about 20 pounds of this organic fertilizer.
2. Add to Compost
Looking for gardens worthy of a magazine spread, of high yields and prize-winning veggies?
A healthy compost pile is what gardeners look towards, and the addition of small amounts of fire pit remains will make a marked difference in this garden staple.
The smell of it also becomes a deterrent to wildlife like bears who would otherwise consider the compost pile a free buffet.
Check the middle of the compost pile before adding it, and again a month later. You should find the center contains greater numbers of worms and insects working hard.
3. Lime Substitute
Lime is used agriculturally for its nutrient value, and to raise soil ph. Instead of paying for lime at the farm supply store, make good use of ashes instead.
The largest portion of the chemical makeup is calcium carbonate or lime. This garden savior mineral makes up roughly 25% of ashes.
4. Slug Repellant
Insects like snails and slugs move around underground with greater ease when the soil contains more moisture.
When the slime and fluid that allows them to easily navigate surfaces is absorbed, it makes free movement difficult.
Ashes will soak up moisture when applied to a damp surface, so the theory is that slugs and snails will be repelled from plants and soil treated with it. They’ll have to look somewhere else for their next meal.
5. Raises Soil pH Levels
The magic happens thanks to the oxides and carbonates left behind when wood burns and these combine to neutralize acidic soil. Except for gasses lost while burning, such as sulfur and nitrogen, this grey gold still enjoys all the elements present in actual wood.
The type of wood does matter. Softwoods do not contain high levels of much-needed calcium and potassium, while hardwoods boast large amounts of these minerals.
You will need to replenish after heavy rain.
Valuable nutrients needed to raise ph. also tend to get into the ground faster than with other options, like limestone.
6. Prevents Blossom End Rot
This condition occurs most frequently when the start of the growing season is very wet and then becomes extremely dry. It’s really an indicator of soil issues.
It will be observed while fruits are still green or when ripening begins and often shows on crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and other fruit crops.
Plants with visible signs of blossom end rot require higher levels of calcium to prevent the problem from recurring, so mixing in some after soil testing could be beneficial.
7. Prevent Frost Damage
Certain crops are not ready for harvest until the time is getting close for frost. Depending on the area you live in, early frosts may be a concern.
If you want to protect your plants and give them the additional time they need to mature, try applying a light dusting of it over them.
Plants freeze and die because their water content raises the freezing point. Using ashes that is chock full of mineral salts lowers the freezing point without causing additional damage to the plant’s tissues.
8. Dust Bathe Chickens
Anyone with chickens knows just how much they enjoy taking a bath in the dust. It is their only way of keeping clean, meaning they also require dust.
You can easily make a bathing box for your chickens and set it inside the coop, or outside where it is protected from the rain. Use either sand or soil and mix in some ashes.
The smell of it will also keep flying insects like mosquitoes away. Parasites like lice, fleas, and mites are likewise deterred.
9. Freshen Up Chicken Coop
Since it is alkaline, when sprinkled throughout a chicken coop it assists in neutralizing fecal ammonia odors.
The same principle is applied to baking soda when it is used to keep odors out of refrigerators. It also keeps away many insects that could otherwise be a nuisance.
10. Ant Repellant
Many persons are looking for non-toxic and safe ways to rid their gardens and homes of ants. Wood ash can help.
Place a thick layer over the opening to ant hills and near cracks insects use to enter various areas. Check daily to make sure the holes are still covered.
If not, simply reapply. The ants will get tired of digging out their hole daily and will move on to easier quarters.
11. Chicken Feed Supplement
Many farmers or homesteaders add calcium to feed for their flock. While this is usually in the form of oyster shell, there are other options.
A free and natural way to give your chickens more calcium and potassium is to add ashes into their food.
Only a small amount is needed — roughly a 1% ratio. By doing this it is possible that manure smells may be reduced, and that a hen’s laying capabilities are extended longer than normal.
You can also add small amounts of charcoal into chicken waterers. Not only will it filter the water and reduce odors, but it will also impede the growth of bacteria and algae.
Which Plants like Wood Ashes?
Some plants thrive with the extra nutrients to the soil, while others do not do well when the ph. of the soil is too high.
Crops like artichokes, cauliflower, chives, and greens like arugula, spinach, lettuce, and collards do well with it.
However, acid-loving plants such as strawberries, radishes, rhubarb, blueberries, onions, potatoes, peppers, and parsley will not thank you for your efforts.
Please note, however, where clubroot disease is present, ash can be used to successfully treat any plant with the disease.
When it comes to stunning flower gardens, especially those planted for bees, here are some plants that would not mind a helping hand:
- Maltese Cross
- Lenten Rose
- Wild Red Columbine
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Black-eyed Susan
- Italian Bugloss
- Bearded Iris
- Autumn Joy
Plants are unable to flourish without certain minerals. When mineral deficiencies exist, plants suffer.
Common signs that your plants are mineral deficient include yellowing and curling of the leaves, stunted growth, and eventual death.
Before adding it to plants or the surrounding soil, purchase an inexpensive soil test kit and check the ph. yourself
Do not use it on rhododendrons, marigolds, nasturtiums, azaleas, and other flowers that thrive well in acidic soil.
If you have any of these plants commonly found in home gardens, save some just for them.
Most people would be surprised to learn just how many nutrients are contained within wood ash.
Far from being a waste product that needs disposal, it has true value around the home and garden.
When referring to plants, ashes contain four important and needed minerals. The four main minerals are:
Some soils naturally lack these minerals in abundance, while others need fortification.
Calcium compounds account for roughly 25% to 40% of fire ash. Also found in it are minerals like potassium (around 4%), sodium, magnesium, aluminum, and phosphorus (around 2% each).
In much smaller amounts you will also find copper, boron, sulfur, zinc, and molybdenum.
While it seems to have a bit of everything, one item it lacks is nitrogen. Areas that have consistently nitrogen-poor soil, a specialty supplement, or fertilizer could be needed.
Even though this substance is rich in many trace and secondary minerals, geography plays a large part in determining which nutrients your particular type contains.
Find a storage spot to keep your fire ashes dry during the winter so there is no nutrient loss.
By the time spring arrives, you should have a decent supply set aside to use in and around the garden area.