Wood Ash in the Garden – and other places!

Now that the dust has settled I can write about ash.  Nothing as exciting as volcanic ash I’m afraid, just wood ash from our fires.  It’s been a cold winter and we’ve burnt a lot of timber.  When I was researching for my post about recycling clothes I found an interesting graph illustrating how household waste has changed.  In the nineteenth century 85% of household waste consisted of ash, presumably because any other rubbish was burned on fires anyway.  Waste ash was sieved by women and children in dust yards, any metals or glass found in it were recycled, ash was then generally used either for building materials or as a soil conditioner.  Dustbins, which local councils were required to remove, were introduced in 1875.   

Living off-road we don’t have dustbin men but even if we did we probably wouldn’t be filling our bins with ash.  Wood ash is useful stuff especially in the garden, although you do need to exercise some caution.  You really do need to avoid burning other rubbish on your wood fires, no nasty plastics or anything of a toxic nature.  You need also to be aware of any preservatives the wood may have been treated with.

We spread our ash on the garden both as a soil conditioner and as a potash fertilizer.    The final chemical composition of your ash will really depend on the types of wood burned, hard woods yielding a higher potash product.  Over the last few weeks as you can see I’ve been spreading it around my garlic which appreciates a potash feed in Spring.  Once spread I just gently fork it into the soil.  Do be aware that ash has a high PH and is lime, so don’t put it around your blueberries or other lime haters!

The alkalinity of the ash is useful on our acidic clay soil and is good for preparing any beds that are intended for brassicas and can be used as a substitute for garden lime.  It is also good practice to add ash to your compost heap, much of the waste in these, especially from the kitchen, will be acidic.  Neutralizing the PH with ash ensures optimum working conditions for your heap.  You might also spread ash around plants as a deterrent to slugs although wet conditions will ruin your efforts!

Woodash can also be used for cleaning purposes.  Lye for many centuries was derived from woodash, do wear gloves when using it to clean, it will have similar caustic properties.  You can dip a damp rag into woodash and use it to polish glass, brass and silver – if you’re that posh! You can also add ash to any scouring preparations that you might use for sinks and baths, rinse well, I always like to follow with a swoosh of vinegar to neutralize again.  Try this the next time you have a really greasy pan to clean.  Pop your ashes into the pan, add just enough water to form a paste and then scrub.  The greasier the pan the better as the fat and ash undergo a chemcial reaction effectively making soap.

Oh and if we have another bad winter, save your ashes to spread on your paths.  They make for a more environmentally friendly anti-skid agent than grit salt, which will probably be in short supply anyway. 

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2 comments to Wood Ash in the Garden – and other places!

  • I have a slightly irrational fear of amendments that can change my pH — I avoid them entirely instead of learning how to use them right. Your ash post has inspired me to find out the correct application for my area. I enjoyed the historic facts about household waste as well!

  • goo

    Hi Eliza, thanks for dropping by I’m glad you found the post useful. I understand your reluctance to change what nature has provided, every time I do anything in the garden I am aware that I’m tampering and that this may have unforseen and far reaching consequences. To be honest, we have to do something with the ash and it kind of seems logical to use it as a soil conditoner.

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