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

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Taylor Johnston waters a philodendron at her home on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Three guidebooks to help the novice houseplant gardener

Indoor plants are popular again — and we’re not talking about your grandma’s African violets.

Plant of Merit: Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata,’ Japanese aralia

What: Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata,’ or variegated Japanese aralia, is an evergreen shrub… Continue reading

Don’t call Justice Brewing owner a gypsy — he’s just ‘homeless’

After an unexpected hardship, owner Nate McLaughlin won’t be moving his brewery to downtown Everett.

A mild December makes for easy winter cleanup in the garden

If you haven’t finished your November gardening tasks, here’s a list of chores to do this month.

Beer of the Week: Justice Brewing’s Outlook F——d, Northeast IPA

The brewery’s new beer with a vulgar name is a tropical IPA that riffs off its Outlook Hazy recipe.

Yummy Banh Mi offers cheap sandwiches with rich flavor

Classic Vietnamese meets fast food at new restaurant in downtown Everett.

Could a law to bring down the mob be used in Weinstein case?

The federal anti-racketeering law was drafted to bring down organized crime but it isn’t limited to it.

This author is throwing a virtual party for book lovers

Jennifer Bardsley is hosting a Facebook get-together for young-adult book authors and readers.

Most Read