Uses for Wood Ash

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.

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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.

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Love your pond but hate algae? Told you we would come back to algae. Then one tablespoon added to 1,000 gallons of water (not a watering can, unless you're Hercules you'll have to figure out how much water your pond holds) adds potassium which helps other aquatic plants bash algae into submission or at least slows its growth. You'll never get rid of algae but wood ash keeps it at bay. Wood ash is great in the house too. At Pig Row we use wood ash to clean the glass of our stove. We simply wet a balled up piece of newspaper with a mix of water and vinegar, then dip into the wood ashes and scrub the fire stove glass. This mild abrasive takes away soot marks, bringing the glass up crystal clear. Wood ash also takes away oil and grease stains off stone and concrete. We know, we've done that, spilling fat on the slate tiles in our kitchen before we sealed them. We simply scattered wood ash onto the tiles and left for an hour and then swept up the ashes. No fat stain. No cooking fried eggs until the floor was sealed. Told off. Sat at the bottom of the stairs. Never did that again. You may have to repeat if necessary. Not being told off. Getting the grease stain out. That's a few ways to use wood ash but if you don't want to do that, if you're just to lazy, or hygge, or frankly just knacked after a day at work then just warm your toes for a little but longer by the roar of a good fire. Sometimes stoves just need enjoying as the wind rattles the windows.


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