Emptying the ever-filling ash box might seem like just another chore, but it’s actually another great resource around the home.
As winter arrives, some of us will find ourselves with an abundance of wood ash. As a byproduct of timber, most of us feel okay about small amounts to the compost, but there are other great uses for wood ash around the home.
Know Your Ash
Know the type of timber you’re burning and you will know your ash. If you are burning hardwoods like eucalypt, then you will make a nice dense wood ash that has many of the minerals in it that the trees had. Softwoods like pine are okay, too, but will create a lighter, finer wood ash. Never use wood ash produced from timbers that are treated, stained, painted or otherwise tampered with – they’re very toxic and that kind of ash needs to go in the bin. If you use the commercially available charcoal, briquettes or heat beads in your fire, dispose of that ash, too; they can have added chemicals.
What is wood ash?
During the burning process, the nitrogen and sulphur are lost as gas, but trace elements – the calcium, potassium and magnesium – will remain. The calcium content makes the wood ash perform a similar task as garden lime on acidic soils and the potassium content can be useful to promote flowers. Soil mineral balance is an important factor in plant growth and the nutrient density of your food, so wood ash can be a valuable addition as long as the balance is kept in check.
On The Garden
Sprinkling a small amount of wood ash on your vegetable garden or fruit trees can be beneficial, but only if you know how acidic your soil is. For instance, if your soil is on the acidic side (a pH of less than six), then one handful of wood ash per square metre is okay. If your soil is more alkaline (a pH of more than six) then you might want to refrain from using wood ash at all.
A soil pH test kit from your local nursery should give you a clear indication of your alkalinity levels. The safest way to use wood ash is to do a full soil test each year and know what your potassium levels are. Adding too much wood ash can tip the balance into too much potassium, and this can be damaging to your plants. Wood ash isn’t recommended when seeding, as it contains salts which young plants don’t like.
Around The Home
A shovelful of wood ash layered on your compost every couple of weeks throughout winter is a good addition of minerals and can offset the acidity of food scraps like fruit waste. It’s better not to add a huge amount at once as it will affect the worms and bacteria. Porous chunks of charcoal are great for adding oxygen to your pile. Spread small amounts of wood ash over your main collection areas for chicken manure. A box of wood ash can also be left for chickens to dust-bathe in, helping to deter mites and lice. Wood ash can deter fleas, charcoal can be used in cat-litter boxes and ash on a damp cloth will clean the glass door of your firebox as well as polish your silver. Deoderise your fridge by placing a tin of ash in one corner, wood ash can be used to make soap and ash can even be used in cheesemaking!
When applying wood ash to your garden, use gloves as ash is caustic and sprinkle over your soil. Try to apply it on a day that is dry, as excessive water will change the properties of the ash. Wood ash can be used on garden plants, fruit trees and vegetables. Use it through winter as needed, or store it somewhere dry for use in spring.