How to put wood ashes to work for you

  • Wednesday, March 6, 2013 8:08pm
  • Life

By James and Morris Carey

If you burn wood, for warmth, cooking or whatever, the ashes that result can be unbelievably useful. And that’s a good thing because a cord of firewood will leave behind approximately 20 pounds of ash.

By the way, the use of wood ashes is not new. More than 5,000 years ago, people made lye by running water through ashes. Lye was combined with animal fat to make soap. It worked pretty well, too. So well that lye water was used for scrubbing wooden floors and laundering clothing.

Nearly 50 centuries later, we grew up using homemade lye soap that our great-grandfather sold in his grocery store.

There are tons of other uses for wood ashes in and around your home. Here are a few:

Ashes contain calcium, potassium and a variety of trace minerals important for plant health. They also work well as a lime substitute to raise the pH of acidic soils.

However, unlike limestone, which can take six months or more to change soil pH, wood ash is water-soluble and changes the soil pH rapidly.

Apply roughly twice as much ash by weight as the recommendation for limestone. And don’t apply ashes around acid-loving plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas or hollies.

Wear eye protection, gloves and a dust mask, and spread the ashes evenly on a dry, windless day. Mix them into the soil thoroughly. Hose off any ashes that settle on actively growing plants to prevent burning the foliage.

Caution: Don’t apply wood ashes to your garden, lawn or ornamental plantings without first having a soil test.

Wood ashes will irritate a slug’s moist body and send it running. Sprinkle the wood ash lightly around all susceptible plants. The repellent effect will disappear after rain or irrigation dissolves the ashes.

You can get traction on icy walks and driveways with a sprinkle of wood ash. Wood ash will melt ice and provide a safer walking surface.

Ash doesn’t work quite as well as salt, and ashes tracked into the house can make a mess. So, it’s important to take steps to prevent the ashes from being tracked into the house.

But ashes are free, and they won’t damage plants, animal paws or paved surfaces, or cause rust.

For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to www.onthehouse.com or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.

More in Life

Co-owner Jason Parzyk carries two growlers to fill as he serves up beer at Lake Stevens Brewing Co. The first brewery in the city is celebrating one-year anniversary this weekend. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Beer of the Week: Lake Stevens Brewing Co.’s Sour Imperial

The beer has a depth and a complex flavor profile that goes beyond just another barrel-aged stout.

Legendary bluesman Curtis Salgado to play Arlington show

The Northwest blues-soul-funk-R&B living legend performs with Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons Nov. 18.

This year’s Snohomish Blues Invasion has an all-star lineup

Proceeds send the CD Woodbury Trio and the Benton-Townsend Duo to the International Blues Challenge.

Schack holiday show features Northwest watercolor artists

The free exhibit also will have three-dimensional works, such as jewelry, glass, ceramic and wood.

‘Three Billboards’ rooted in Frances McDormand’s rigid role

The actress of “Fargo” fame gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this black comedy on human nature.

‘The Hate U Give’ shows the burden of being black in America

Angie Thomas’ story of a teen girl covers the challenging experience of African Americans.

A merry Christmas concert with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

The Christian music stars will perform at Xfinity Arena with Jordan Smith of “The Voice” on Nov. 18.

‘Veep’ production postponed during Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ treatment

The 56-year-old star has been documenting her breast cancer fight on social media.

The Rucker Hill house is featured in the Twin Peaks series in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Living happily ever after in the ‘Twin Peaks’ house

Everett homeowners snagged a role in the recent reboot of the 1990s cult classic show.

Most Read