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uses for wood ash

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15425
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
So I was recently filling an email with info about wood ash and before smacking "send" I thought a bit of copy and paste was in order ....

Wood ash should never be stored inside.  It could have hot embers in it that could survive for days and cause all sorts of problems.

Never let a bucket of wood ash get wet.  This is how lye is made.  If you have seen "fight club" - that kiss on the hand was done with lye.  Extremely high toxicity and dangerous to boot. 

Once wood ash is cooled, it is loaded with great stuff for a farm.  When sifted, it usually gives up lots of goodies: chunks of coal for burning;  nails, screws and other interesting bits of hardware;  the sifted ash can be used in some gardens to raise the pH (make sure it is dusted thin enough so that you don't get that lye thing).

Anybody know of more uses for wood ash?


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Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Don't collect ashes in plastic buckets. This story came from a friend who is an insurance claims adjuster.

The family had had a fire in the fireplace. Mom decided to clean out the fireplace. She stuck her hand in the ashes and couldn't feel any heat, so she scooped them up and dumped them into a plastic bucket.  Some hot embers melted a couple of holes in the bucket and dumped the ashes on the carpet. She got the vacuum (rushing air, paper bag... you know where this is going, right?) and vacuumed them up. Almost instantly, the vacuum bag was smoking and then caught fire. Afraid to grab the handle, she yanked the cord out of the wall and tried to drag the vacuum to the door. The flaming vacuum swerved against the drapes and set them on fire. At that moment the UPS man knocked on the door and heard her call for help. He grabbed the vacuum and threw it out the door onto the wet lawn, then yanked the draped down and threw them outside, too.  Burned carpet, burned drapes, burned vacuum, scorched wall...

BUY A METAL BUCKET AND DEDICATE IT TO FIREPLACE/WOOD STOVE DUTY.  It's a lot cheaper than an increase in your insurance premiums.

When you're sifting ashes, get one of those cheap magnets that are build into a one-piece plastic handle. [They look like this: http://www.teachersource.com/ElectricityAndMagnetism/Magnets/MagneticWands.aspx]

Stir your ashes with it and it will pick out all the nails, screws, staples, etc.

Collect all the charcoal bits and add to your compost pile or soil.  Charcoal has the ability to absorb and hold soil nutrients. Google 'terra preta' for more info on this Amazonian Dark Earth.

Hardwood ashes are a good source of potassium (aka potash) if your soil needs it, but use it carefully if your soil is acidic, and probably not at all if your soil is alkaline (it will make it worse).  A commercial soil test will tell you if you need it.  Find your local Cooperative Extension Service here http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ and give them a call or send an email asking for info. If they don't do it themselves, they will know who does. A basic soil test should be about $8-10.

Sue
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
They are supposed to effectively repel carrot maggots. I think Kelda has a thread about a maggot free garden that likely ended up being so do to ashes.


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Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
I wouldn't be a bit surprised that they repel the maggots.

I read that it's a good idea to dust your carrot plantings with a thin film of ashes as they grow.  And I've also read of pelletizing carrot seeds with ashes.

I wonder what other crops have this affinity for ashes?

Sue
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15425
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I think I read somewhere about using it for insulation? 

And I I read somewhere else about it being used for something cement-like? 

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15425
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
researching ...

Using it for a polishing solution:  "polishing plow bottoms"

tanning hides.

rubbing on your face for camouflage (it takes the shine off).

Making lye:  and with lye you can make soap and lots of other things.

to unclog drains

I read something about dipping the cut part of a potato in ash before planting the potato.

preserving fish?

a dust bath for chickens - killing lice and mites

traction on ice.

apparently, when used right, it can act a bit like a bleach with clothes.

Here is an article that talks about ash vs. lime on soils: http://www.tbars.net/lime.pdf

Some people put wood ash on fresh wood when pruning trees - to help the tree heal.



Dave Boehnlein


Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 291
Location: Orcas Island, WA
    
    2
The University of Illinois Extension had an article about using wood ash in the garden at http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/regions/newsletters/archive/tgt/pdf/tgt-02-07.pdf.

Also, I've heard that applications of wood ash can help improve flowering of ornamentals and, presumably, fruit trees as well.

Dave


Principal - Terra Phoenix Design
http://TerraPhoenixDesign.com
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15425
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
From all of my reading about using wood ash in the garden or on fruit trees - for every two or three people that experienced happiness, there was one person where things went bad. 

So, as with many things, it would be wise to first have some idea of whether wood ash would be good for your growies. 

Sepp doesn't test his soil anymore, but that's just because he has done so many soil tests that he can now figure out what the soil test would say just by looking at what is growing there now.

But for me:  I'm not that far yet.  I think I have another few dozen soil tests to do.

Wood ash contains (or can contain) Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Manganese, Iron, Copper, Cobalt, Molybdenum

If a soil test shows that you already have toxic or near toxic levels of one of these, wood ash is probably not going to be your friend.  Plus, if your soil is already over 7.0, you probably don't want to use ash.
                              


Joined: May 02, 2009
Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
I just want to say that where I am (coast range, yamhill county OR the soil tends acidic) I put all my wood ash on my garden, it does wonders for my soil,  seems like it can't get enough. I do it all winter long, gets a good soaking. I scratch it in around plants, careful not to touch. It's clean fir and oak ash, from the land, back to the land.


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Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    9
a thin spreading of wood ash is good for a lot of garden soils and lawns..but avoid it for your acid lovers as it will kill them..and never allow it to pile as it will burn the soil..trust me with a husband with a head injury and we have always heated with wood..we get a lot of stuff killed


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
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Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2349
Location: FL
    
  71
Wood ash is rich in potassium(K).  Great for blossoms.

The sulfur content gives rise to healthy alliums-onions, garlic, chives, shallots

The Indore compost method makes full use of ash as a compost ingredient.  The method helps to neutralize the pH.

Wood ash spread around plants/beds/gardens serves as a barrier to slugs.

This stuff is a resource not a waste product.


Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
http://farmwhisperer.com
                                        


Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 19
Location: Medford Oregon
One of the most common questions I hear (as a soil & compost instructor for OSU Extension) is "should I add ashes to my compost"?
The answer is both yes and no.
First, do NOT put wood ash into raw compost feedstock.  It will react chemically with organic nitrogen, converting it to ammonia gas, and you will lose your nitrogen into the atmosphere.  The effect is amplified if the material goes anaerobic (no oxygen).  Add the ash only to finished (mature) compost.
Add ash only if you want to raise the pH, since it displaces hydrogen (the main soil acidifier).  Get a good quality pH tester (from LaMotte) and research to find what pH is ideal for specific plants.  Add the ash gradually, like once/week, so as not to over-amend or "shock" the soil.
If you happen to over-amend, the best you can do is dilute with more soil or compost.  Trying to lower the pH with sulfur or alum is usually not effective, at least not in the short term.  You can end up with a very toxic soil.  Good luck.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2349
Location: FL
    
  71
The Indore composting method developed by Albert Howard has wood ash added to the heap as one of the alternating layers.  The entire heap is covered with an inch of soil.  I think this method would limit the interaction of the ash with the nitrates, at least until the heap is turned, and the cap of soil would serve as a barrier for ammonia vapors to escape.

I don't generate much ash here at all.  Once a year I burn a pile of woody brush.  Adding small amounts gradually sounds reasonable, the stuff can be pretty strong.

I tend to gather far more browns than greens.  Over with the hens I have a pile of just leaves.  Greens go into the main heap.  If the brown pile was amended with the ash dumped out all at once so I can get my bucket back, would there be an advantage?  Being low in N, I would not expect much NH3 production. 

                                        


Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 19
Location: Medford Oregon
Well... the old Indore method is really considered out-dated.  More modern methods focus on trying to obtain peak efficiency.  While layering is a good way to begin the process, all the material needs to be mixed together in order to achieve any real efficiency.  Layering isn't going to decrease nitrogen losses because the moisture in the pile is going to melt the ash and raw nitrogen together anyway, and without moisture there's virtually no decomposition taking place.  We've refined this now to where we add various supplements at specific stages of the composting process, just like a good chef adds various ingredients to the recipe at the correct times.
In some ecosystems the nitrogen issue isn't such a big deal.  But in regions where nitrogen management is a problem, we do have to conserve as much as we can -- it's expensive.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Seems like I've heard of ash being used as part of the process for making hominy?

Kathleen
Alison Thomas
volunteer

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
    
    8
Whoops, looks like we'll need to reassess our 'adding to the current compost heap' policy then.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
It's very good insulation, as Paul already mentioned.

I've read that it encourages germination of legume seeds.

It is an ingredient in water glass: wood ash plus sand, or wood ash plus rice husk ash, or similar recipes. Must be heated in a kiln; the formula is Na2SiO3 or K2SiO3, so a little research and high-school chemistry calculations would be worth doing.

It is used in food preparation, sometimes as a matter of life or death. It can make niacin more available from hominy (quicklime works, too), which can help corn-fed livestock as much as corn-fed humans. It also features in some olive recipes, neutralizing the bitter acids. Same story for acorns.

Like other alkalis, it can slow the corrosion of steel in some circumstances. It can etch aluminum.

I think in the Indore method uses very light sprinklings of ash on browns, not greens, or on soil. In either case, it seems part of its important function is as a sink for nitrate, allowing the nitrate bacteria to work more quickly and probably keeping a greater proportion of the nitrogen mineralized for greater availability. I imagine charcoal would be better at this task.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15425
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I have heard of a lot of folks using it in compost or in outhouses, and I've heard from even more folks that it isn't good for the compost pile and does nothing in the outhouse

I've been conveying the latter even though I have no significant knowledge in this space.  Basically, the first group seems unaware of the second group and the second group seems aware of the first group - that makes me think that the second group is probably more knowledgeable.    I'll admit that that's not a lot to go on.

Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Ash on compost:

I think it might make sense to use very sparingly if you're in a huge hurry to mineralize your nitrogen. Most of this forum seems to be well beyond that, adding enough compost that we wouldn't mind if mineralization took, literally, years.

It is also part of a prescribed method that biodynamic growers have been known to follow, in which case it might have ritual significance, regardless of what chemistry might say.

In either case, it's probably a bad idea to use a compost pile to get rid of your wood ashes. The sources I've read are more in the spirit that some small portion of your ash production can go to a particular use in some of your compost piles.

Ash in outhouses:

It will definitely do something. If nothing else, it will kill fly larvae. Speaking from technical education and not from experience, it seems like it would be good as a minor addition to fill material, as a way to stretch it.
                                


Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Posts: 148
I never thought of ashes as good composting material. There is no nitrogen and altho some carbon chunks might be there, it's not in a form to help the compost. I add them to the soil in the fall and winter, then add compost in the spring and summer.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15425
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Thanks Joel. 

I think I'm gonna stick to not using ash on compost or in the outhouse.  But I now feel like I'm making a more informed choice.
                            


Joined: Aug 07, 2010
Posts: 271
Recently there have been several huge burns of slash piles in my neck of the woods. Lots of ash..... any suggestions for possible uses?

Owners had given me permission to cut firewood, I developed tendonitis in my arm and didn't finish cutting. I could have cried as I watched "my" winter fuel supply go up in flames!
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
I use wood ash to speed up the melting of snow in the spring. This opens our fields a month earlier than would otherwise happen. My own little private local warming. The ash darkens the snow which soaks up more solar energy and melts. I stand at the up wind side of the field and toss scoops of ash into the air. The wind carries the ash across the fields. Our winds are pretty steady so this works well. The ash also helps to raise the pH of the soil. Our soil tends to be too acidic from the acid rain.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
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Warren David


Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
Feral wrote:
I developed tendonitis in my arm
Whereabouts in your arm? I have a very effective tensing exercise that may help you.
                            


Joined: Aug 07, 2010
Posts: 271
Right forearm, just below my elbow. Hit me right in the middle of getting my firewood in. I hear that using a chainsaw is one of the more common causes. Anything that helps is really appreciated!
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
It's a good source of potassium - add it to the soil, compost, etc.

Mixing it with water forms lye (potassium hydroxide) - can burn plants or skin if too concentrated.

Traditionally used to make lye for soap.
                                      


Joined: Mar 15, 2010
Posts: 67
Wood ash is the best thing I can think of to insulate the spaces within a rocket stove that you don't want to get really hot.  Makes it possible to build the actual structure out of earthblocks or cob, which would simply melt over time if you used them without insulation from the intense heat of the rocket.

This has application in forge and foundery work as well.

Ash is also a good item to have around if you are a potter.  Some of the best hand made pottery I've ever seen were glazed with wood ash.  It's a surprise and a pleasure each time one of these comes out of the kiln because you don't know what you'll get.  Because of the diverse elements in slash ash, as you describe, this could be very exciting indeed.

                        


Joined: May 26, 2010
Posts: 278
Location: Iowa, border of regions 5 and 6
Jonathan Byron wrote:
It's a good source of potassium - add it to the soil, compost, etc.

Mixing it with water forms lye (potassium hydroxide) - can burn plants or skin if too concentrated.

Traditionally used to make lye for soap.


I wouldn't recommend making lye out of this ash, unless you know EXACTLY what kind of trees were burned to make the ash.  According to what I've been told, ash from soft wood is used to make soft soap, while ash from hard wood is used to make hard soap.  The reason is that the softer woods have higher levels of potassium -- potassium hydroxide is used to make soft or liquid soap; while hard wood has higher levels of sodium -- sodium hydroxide is used to make firm or hard soap.  Generally, the colonists used whatever ash was on hand, which produced a yellowish soap that you scooped out with a dipper.

Warren David


Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
Feral wrote:
Right forearm, just below my elbow. Hit me right in the middle of getting my firewood in. I hear that using a chainsaw is one of the more common causes. Anything that helps is really appreciated!
OK. You will have to excuse my poor writing skills.
I got this from a martial arts guy on a fitness message board years ago. I sometimes have repetitive strains from using chainsaws, plastering trowels, sledgehammers etc if I have been doing the same thing for too many days in a row.
This exercise is effective at rehabbing all the muscles at the elbow end of the forearm (I know that's not a medical term!). So this is good for tennis elbow, golfers elbow etc and can be done anywhere. I have shown it to guys I have worked with and had good reports back.

Have your arm straight but not ramrod straight. Tense the forearm muscles ONLY just a little. Do not tense the shoulder or hand. The hand should be open and relaxed as possible. This might take a little practice. Hold the tension for a few seconds. Relax and then repeat but use a little more tension each repetition until you are really giving it your all but without pain. Do this for several repetition. Do it whenever you think about during the day.
What this will do is sort out any muscular imbalances.
Massage the aching muscle quite firmly across its width. Do not massage along the length

btw. Just a thought on the chainsaw. Are you holding the handle and trigger just a little too hard and trying to force the chainsaw rather than letting the chain do the work? 
Sometimes we use far too much muscular tension in some tasks and that sometimes sets us up for repetitive strains.
                                                                    


Joined: Jul 10, 2010
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Only use razor sharp chains.
It is a lot less work.
Then I switch between cutting and splitting every few minutes.


We live in Nashville, Tennessee, USA
www.permavations.com
                        


Joined: Sep 13, 2010
Posts: 148
Location: South Central Idaho
All great suggestions ..

As you get older .. use smaller chain saws and keep them sharp as noted. At 73, I just trimmed my six 6x6 pressure treated posts .. 1/2 inch below where my roof line will run. If you think some of those cuts didn't require some awkward stances .. they did .. with one foot on the ladder which was on ice .. one on a 2x8 siding support .. watching my T-square marks and eyeballing 1/2 inch below that and keeping the saw out of the ring shank nails that were an inch away but always a worry .. and then there was Mr. Tom Cat Manx .. darting around above and below me .. neighbor's driving by and honking (like I could stop and wave back). I use a Stihl 180c Mini Boss .. crap for big logs .. so I don't gather any.

Uses for wood ash? Try elm ash for a rich light to dark brown in Pottery. Also, try exercising before any work activity and afterwards .. like for several days .. to get into shape and not over do what your muscles can take. Before I get under a horse to trim feet .. I have a whole routine that mother nature has taught me .. mainly my legs, arms and back muscles.

Where ever you screw up on exercising .. will be pointed out to you the day after you do a job.


If you get too far from the stone age .. things go haywire.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
The arm strap for tendonitis does help a lot. 


Idle dreamer

Warren David


Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
The problem with straps and supports is they tend to be a quick fix but don't do a lot to correct the muscular imbalance.
                        


Joined: Sep 13, 2010
Posts: 148
Location: South Central Idaho
Warren are you referring to .. "muscles have memory" and they will not heal until relaxed or exercised. My buddy that is a Masus  told me about this and I never understood all the in's and out's of the subject.

A good masus will feel your muscle imbalance while oiling you and running his hands up and down your frame. A lot of what he is doing is judging where you are hurting etc. He can feel your imbalance. Then, .. to keep you coming back because he didn't cause you severe pain .. he will say .. now these muscles are really tight and I'm going to take it easy on them.
Warren David


Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
DustyTrails wrote:
Warren are you referring to .. "muscles have memory" and they will not heal until relaxed or exercised. My buddy that is a Masus  told me about this and I never understood all the in's and out's of the subject.
Something like that. I'll use the lower back as an example because back ache is probably the most common joint problem that some many us here have no doubt experienced.
Supports like a lumbar belt that supports the lower back will help you when bending and lifting but the lower back muscles that are supposed to be doing the work will get an easy ride and if they don't get enough work will start to shrink a little which then makes them even weaker than before. The belt can be helpful to protect the lower  back but you should be doing some sort of rehab exercise to strengthen the area.

Tennis and golfers elbow seem to be some of the trickiest problems to rehab. It think it's partly because people just wrap the forearm up and expect it to get better on it's own. The exercise I posted above works all of the muscles against each other but doesn't allow one to overpower any of the others. This is what brings them all back into balance.
                        


Joined: Sep 13, 2010
Posts: 148
Location: South Central Idaho
I take Cat's Claw Powder about once a week .. and that has helped me quite a bit with ligament ailments. I have a high school pen pal .. gal in Georgia .. that just goes to church socials, the store and out to eat.

This summer she busted her rotator cuff without doing one thing .. except been far too inactive.

Old farts breaking their hips and elbows, huge bellies, riding golf carts .. are just what they have done to themselves. They should be in good physical condition.

Had a neighbor that was crippled and one day at the store he walked right past me. I stopped him and asked him what happened. He heard a noise out on his farm one moonlit night and went out to his garden and his bull was in there eating everything in sight. He shouted, prodded and finally hit him so hard in the back quarters that his crutch. The bull never looked up .. so he hauled off and kicked him with his bad leg. Stars and he could walk. An old injury hurt when he tried to rehabilitate so he had stopped and all his ligaments had frozen. The kick cured him.
Warren David


Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
Dusty we should have started another topic. 
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
My chemist friend told me that I can use lye water (soak some ashes in water) to clean out milk buckets.  The fat in the milk and the lye form their own soap, he says.  And the lye is so alkaline that it kills all worrisome microbes.  I'll let you know how it works when I get to try it.  (cow's gonna calve here in a few weeks) 

Any feedback about this from other chemistry minded folks? 
                        


Joined: May 26, 2010
Posts: 278
Location: Iowa, border of regions 5 and 6
Just remember to wear rubber gloves and eye protection if you're doing that.  Lye water is what was used to disinfect before the ready availability of Clorox.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Well, of course I'm not going to expose my skin to it.  I was asking him what I could use instead of bleach, because that is the gold standard of dairy cleanliness nowadays. 

What about lye water in a grey water system?  Just as bad as bleach? 
 
 
subject: uses for wood ash
 
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