We're making wood ash today. For those of you who have bonfires at this time of year to get rid of fallen tree limbs or hedge cuttings from earlier in the year, do not underestimate the importance of wood fires. For 'ash wet or ash dry/a king shall warm his slippers by' (Excerpt from 'The firewood poem' written by Celia Congreve, believed to be first published in The Times newspaper, 2nd March, 1930). A good bonfire in winter can warm the bones but wood ash has hundreds of uses, here's a few still known and many forgotten. Before we start though, an important word on safety. If you save wood ash, use common sense and store them in a metal bin when the ashes have cooled and make sure that bin is stored on a patio or path. Basically make sure that the bin is on something where fire cannot spread; so old concrete flags are great to shove under a bin and stop the chance of still warm ashes becoming an inferno. Always respect fire or pay the price.
If you keep chickens, cold wood ash is great in their dust bath, this will control any nasty bugs on your hens and is a free by product of keeping you warm. Wood ash is also a great feed for tomatoes, soft fruit and those trees in the the orchard. A good base dressing around each of them in spring will feed them for months and if you drop some on the path as you move through the garden like a steam train then goodbye slippy paths. Wood ash kills algae dead, we'll come back to that soon. Wood ash contains up to 25% calcium, up to 4% magnesium, 5-15% potassium and up to 3% phosphorus. What does this mean? Well, chuck out that chemical lawn feed and sprinkle some of this around and your lawn will be green. It's also a great substitute for lime and will raise pH from the acidic towards the alkaline. Wood ash is water soluble and changes pH quickly in comparison to lime. It's a turbo charged boost to soil. Remember when scattering on soil or lawns to wear gloves, a mask and goggles; you do not want a mouth full of ash - we are not Biblical gardeners, there is no need for sackcloth either. Wood ash is hated by slugs but we have seen little evidence for this; you would have to put down a lot of ashes each day - which would inevitably raise the pH of your soil into a problematic alkaline area. We use our ashes in our compost heap too, this raises the pH and we swear it speeds up the composting process too. So, we'll stick to drowning our slugs and feeding them to our chickens. It's far more satisfying.