Humans have known the benefits of wood ash for thousands of years. Even today wood ash can be used in a surprising number of ways. So, don’t throw out those ashes when the cozy fires in the fireplace or fire pit have burned themselves out.
Here are ten ways to put wood ash to use:
Make the Soil Sweet
Use in the garden to sweeten acidic soil if there are plants that like the soil a bit alkaline, says Oregon State University. But wood ash has so many nutrients that even acid loving plants such as tomatoes and blueberries can benefit from a sprinkling of it just because of the nutrients wood ash holds.
Check the soil’s pH before applying and don’t use more than 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Soil that’s too acidic, and soil that’s too alkaline can keep plants from getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Bid Slugs and Snails Goodbye
Use wood ash to discourage snails, slugs and unfriendly bugs from visiting the garden, says This Old House. Wood ash dries them out and eventually kills them.
Apply at the base of plants or around the border of the garden plot. Be a bit careful not to put too much around very young plants, because the potassium carbonate salt in the wood ash can injure them. Refresh the ashes after it rains.
For the Compost Pile
Toss some in the compost pile. The potassium in wood ash encourages plants to flower and set fruit.
A Spot of Tea
Make a wood ash tea fertilizer. This supports the growth of plants and keeps leaves from turning spotty or yellow. To make the tea, take 5 pounds of ash and tie in a cheesecloth bag.
Close it up, put it in a 50 gallon barrel and fill it with fresh water. Steep for a few days, then feed a cupful to the plants every week.
People have been making a primitive soap out of wood ash mixed with tallow, or animal fat for thousands of years. The process is interesting if a bit involved and uses a leaching barrel to extract lye from the wood ash, according to Mother Earth News.
The lye is not only good for making soap, but for boiling hominy, which is traditionally done outdoors over a fire in great old pots.
Make sure that the wood ash is made from hardwood trees such as oak, birch, beech, ash or sugar maple. Softwood ash that comes from pines and firs is too resinous.
One recipe for soap follows:
4 ounces of lye10 ounces water24 ounces of tallow
- Two stainless steel meat thermometers, one for the lye and one for the tallow
- Pots, pans and bowls
- Put on rubber gloves and mix the water with the lye in a bowl.
- The mix will heat up; allow it to cool.
- Melt the fat over low heat, then put the pot in a pan of cold water.
- Let the tallow cool to between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s cooling, put the bowl of lye solution in a pan of water.
- When it cools to between 85 and 95 degrees F., combine it with the fat with care.
- Stir constantly but carefully until the mixture is as thick as honey.
- Pour into soap molds lined with wax paper, and set overnight wrapped in a towel.
- Let the cake age at least two weeks before using.
Chicken Beauty Bath
Chickens are some of the easiest barnyard animals to keep. They need only food, water, grit to grind up food in their gullets, a place to run around in and wood ash.
Wood ash makes a fantastic dust bath for chickens. Chickens love to fluff themselves up in a mix of wood ash and sand to clean their feathers and get rid of parasites.
Let’s Melt the Ice
Wood ash is ideal for melting snow and ice on wintry days, claims Permaculture. The potassium carbonate that helps melt the ice is more environmentally friendly than rock salt.
The run-off doesn’t raise the salinity of bodies of fresh water to dangerous levels, pit metal, ruin concrete, kill plants or burn the feet of dogs and cats.
Use wood ash as an odor eater. It can be used much the same way as an open box of baking soda. Put a small bowl of it in the fridge to absorb those refrigerator odors. Change it out every few days or so.
Make It Shine
Bob Vila claims wood ash can be used to polish the silver and other metals. Take one cup of wood ash and add just enough water to make a paste.
Put on some rubber gloves, and rub the paste over the metal. Let it sit for a few minutes, and wipe off with a lint cotton free cloth or two.
Feed Your Lawn
Wood ash can also be used to fertilize the lawn. The minerals in the wood ash are perfect for keeping the grass green, lush and free of diseases and pests.
Again, make sure the ash used is from hardwoods, for it has many more nutrients than ash from softwoods, including phosphorus, potassium and calcium carbonate. Water in well.
Start Using Wood Ash in Your Garden Today!
As with everything else, safety is important when dealing with wood ash. Besides using hardwoods, the wood that’s used needs to be free of chemicals.
It should not be pressure treated, painted, lacquered, stained or the type that comes in a log that can burn all day long. The ash must not come from pellets or charcoal briquets.
When collecting wood ash, remember that though the surface may be cool, it may still be smoldering inside and may continue to smolder for a very long time.
The best place to store wood ash is in an ash container with a lid says Farmer’s Almanac. Make sure that it’s kept away from anything flammable. Wear rubber gloves and safety glasses when handling wood ash.
Wood ash generally has no nitrogen and shouldn’t be combined with nitrogen fertilizer. This can create ammonia gas.
But the great news is that wood ash is a wonderful product that you probably have on hand, so use it today! It is eco-friendly, amazingly versatile and free.
For more information about the uses for wood ash, watch this video below.