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As you pursue a more sustainable lifestyle, you probably are discovering many ways to repurpose items around your home and property. Wood ash is something you may have a lot of, especially if you have a fireplace, woodstove, or campfire. Did you know there are many beneficial ways to use wood ash?
Before we get into our list of 16 uses, let’s define what wood ash is and identify some precautions. Wood ash is the powdery substance left after the combustion of wood, such as when wood has been burned in a fireplace. Wood ash is composed of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium, and it contains trace amounts of iron, sodium, manganese, zinc, copper, boron and molybdenum.
Before you begin to use wood ash around your home, you need to be aware of a few precautions. First, be sure to use ashes only from chemical-free wood. That means avoiding pressure-treated wood, painted or stained wood, charcoal and commercially sold slow-burning fireplace logs.
Next, it is important to realize that buried embers can remain hot for days and even weeks. Store wood ash in a lidded metal container placed on a non-combustible surface (such as wood or concrete). Keep the container a few feet or more away from any flammable materials.
Use caution when handling wood ash. Wear gloves, protect your eyes and if the dust is fine, wear a facemask to avoid breathing in the particles.
Now let’s look at those uses for wood ash.
1. Neutralize Soil – If your garden contains acidic soil, you can use wood ash to maintain a healthy pH range of between 6 to 7.5. Wood ash has up to 70 percent calcium carbonate and is a quick-acting substitute for lime in your garden. Use a pH test before and after you apply wood ash.
2. Strengthen Plants – Calcium loving plants such as tomatoes, carrots, beans, spinach, broccoli, peas, celery, avocados, and garlic will thrive with the application of wood ash. Don’t use wood ash on seedlings, however, as it may damage young plants.
Additionally, do not use wood ash along with nitrogen fertilizers; the combination will produce ammonia gas. Also, do not apply wood ash to plants that need acid such as blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons or to areas where you plant potatoes since wood ash can cause potato scab.
3. Deter Pests – Wood ash sprinkled around your garden is a natural deterrent for slugs and snails, both of which can wreak havoc on your garden. In addition, ants will quickly relocate when they are exposed to wood ash. Sprinkled in the corners of in your basement, shed or garage, wood ash also will deter mice, rats, and cockroaches.
4. Boost Compost – Wood ash increases the potassium levels in your compost pile. Potassium helps promote flowering and fruiting in plants. Add wood ash in moderation, however. Remember that wood ash may damage your young plants.
5. Brew Ash Tea – You can make a wood ash tea that helps to prevent or to correct potassium deficiencies in plants. Signs of a potassium deficiency include brown spots, curling leaves, yellowing in between leaf veins, sluggish plant growth, and reduced yield.
To make tea from wood ash, fill a cloth bag – a pillowcase will do – with five pounds of ash and securely close it with a tie. Then place the bag in a large garbage bin filled with water, allowing the tea to steep for a few days. Pour one cup of the tea around your plants once a week.
6. Create a Dust Bath for Chickens – Chickens bathe in dust in order to clean their feathers from dirt and from parasites such as lice and mites. Mix wood ash with sand, and let your chickens enjoy this healthy ritual.
7. Make Soap – Wood ash has been used for centuries as an ingredient in soap. Soak wood ash in water to make lye (potassium hydroxide), which you can then mix with animal fat and boil to produce soap. Adding salt helps the soap harden as it cools.
8. Clean Fireplace Doors – You can remove the sooty residue on glass fireplace doors by rubbing them with a damp sponge that has been dipped in wood ash.
9. Melt Ice – Wood ash is a safer alternative to the use of rock salt to melt winter ice and snow. Wood ash contains potash (potassium carbonate), a type of salt that won’t corrode concrete or metal surfaces, hurt your pet’s paws or damage your plants. You also can use wood ash to provide traction for your tires when your car gets stuck on snow or ice.
10. Control Pond Algae – Are your pond plants competing with algae for growing space – and losing? You can add one tablespoon of wood ash per 1,000 gallons to your pond to slow the growth of algae and to strengthen other aquatic plants.
11. Polish Metal – Use wood ash, which is a mild abrasive, to polish and clean dull metals and/or tarnished silverware. Simply take one cup of wood ash and combine it with just a pinch of ash to create a thick paste. Let the mixture sit on the metal for a few minutes before wiping the metal with a clean cloth. Buff and shine.
12. Absorb Odors – As an alkaline, wood ash absorbs and neutralizes bad smells. You can place a small bowl of wood ash in your fridge. Leave it there for a few days before replacing it with fresh a bowl of fresh ash.
13. Get Rid of Skunk Smell – If the smell of skunk still lingers after washing your pet in tomato juice or your preferred de-skunk method, add a handful of wood ash to your dog’s coat to neutralize the foul odor.
14. Remove Furniture Stains – Do you have a stain on your coffee table or dining room table? Try removing it by rubbing it with a paste of ash and water.
15. Clean Clothing Stains – Rub the stain with a bit of ash combined with white of bread. After about five minutes wash as you would normally.
16. Clean Up Oil Stains in the Garage and Driveway – As a desiccant, wood ash is useful as a way to clean grease spills and to remove stains from stone, cement, and asphalt. Simply sprinkle some ashes directly onto the stain, allowing it to settle for a few minutes. Afterward, sweep it up with a broom.
Finally, the value of wood ash is dependent on the type of wood you burn. Hardwoods (such as oak or maple) yield more ash per pound of wood burned, and the ash from hardwoods has up to five times as many nutrients per cord as ash from softwoods (such as oak and maple).
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