Wood ashes in compost?

micronthecat(7, North Carolina)February 24, 2008

Hey there. We're burning fires almost every night (even when it's not particularly cold - just open the doors so we don't roast to death, LOL.) It's all oak and sycamore, a bit of paper, but nothing with petroleum products (charcoal or starter logs). Can the ash go in the compost pile? I've got several half-grocery-bags I need to dump in, if so.

Thanks!

L

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Wood ash is quite alkaline so used in small amounts it poses no problem. But I wouldn't go overboard and dump it in all at once - unless you have an exceptionally large compost pile ;) - or if you don't plan to use the compost in the near future. That way the rest of the pile will have time to balance it out.

If you have highly acidic soil it can be a good direct soil amendment - common recommendation is 1 lb. for 100 sq. ft.

Dave

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 12:16AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Do not store that ash in paper bags, find a metal container to keep that material in, not just because a hot coal could set the paper on fire but also because moisture in those ashes will create lye, a very caustic sunstance that will eat the paper away. Wood ash, when mixed with water will always produce this very caustic, alkaline, substance and for that reason it is not a good idea to put wood ash in your compost, or garden, unless a good, reliable soil test tells you you need to raise the soil pH and how much to use.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 7:19AM
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bcomplx(z6VA)

Your soil is probably acidic (most are in NC), so you can spread light dustings of wood ashes over your garden or lawn. Use only a little at a time, preferably before rains, because the phosphorus and micronutrients in wood ashes are water soluble. I would not put them in your compost, though. The sudden chemical changes would likely upset the microcritters, causing a work shutdown you don't want.

Here is a link that might be useful: my website

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 9:18AM
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jbest123(Zone 5 PA)

I use to heat my house with a wood stove. Through out winter I would dump 8-10 coal buckets of ash and some charcoal on a compost pile about 3X3X9 ft. There are three tomato plants in the photo and the ripe tomato insert has a quarter setting on it and 3 tomatoes weighed more than 5#. The tomatoes are representative of my other vegies.

John

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 10:32AM
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jbest123(Zone 5 PA)

I use to heat my house with a wood stove. Through out winter I would dump 8-10 coal buckets of ash and some charcoal on a compost pile about 3X3X9 ft. There are three tomato plants in the photo and the ripe tomato insert has a quarter setting on it and 3 tomatoes weighed more than 5#. The tomatoes are representative of my other vegies.

John

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 2:14PM
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david52_gw

We go through 6 cords of firewood a year. I fill a 3 gallon bucket of ash every 7 - 10 days with ash and bits of charcoal. I live on alkaline soils. Where I throw it depends on the prevailing weather conditions on that day - if its dry, windy, and a serious fire risk, I put it in a hole in the ground. If there is snow all over the place, like now, I give the bucket a heave with the wind and scatter it all over the snow. If the compost heap is covered with snow, I toss it on top. We've done this for years and years, and the people who I bought the property from did it for 20 years before that. The 3 ft dia hole where, over the years, dozens of ash buckets have been dumped, is surrounded by dense, lush grass, with an oak tree about 6' away, no ill effects at all.

The only time I have ever had any ill effects from putting ash on anything was last summer, when the ash from "mesquite charcoal" turned the lawn where I dumped it pale for a few weeks.

Anyway, this is a recurring theme on this forum, those who dump ashes think it doesn't do much harm and may help, and those who have never dumped ashes swear it will ruin your soil. :-)

Slash and burn agriculture has been around for thousands of years, for what thats worth. Coal ash is something else all together, and pretty nasty stuff.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 5:59PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Sorry David but the admonition to not put wood ash on soils, without the guidance of a good, reliable soil test, is supported by many years of good scientific research that shows the detrimental affects. Those of you that have not seen any adverse affect have not applied gross quantities, apparently. Some people even use the example of a forest fire to support their contention that applying ash to soil is not terribly harmful when most often you will find that the species of plants growing after a fire may not be what was there before, although in some cases a fire is needed to open the protective hulls of the seeds that should be growing there. The fire ash is not what is needed in that case, just the heat.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 7:40AM
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david52_gw

Here's one on the commercial aspects of using wood ash as an agriculture fertilizer:

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~blpprt/bestwoodash.html

Here's one discussing the value of wood ash on acidic soils, warning about higher pH soils,

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/woodash.html

Another one:

http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/2005/2-23-2005/woodash.html

With acidic soils, it can likely be of some benefit. Everyone recommends that it not be used on neutral or higher pH soils, or around acid loving plants. However, in my own personal experience and the experience of my gardening neighbors, who have been doing this on the same garden plots for well over 100 years, it doesn't make that much of a difference, even on our high pH 7.0 + soils.

Once again, those who don't use wood ash will tell you not to, and those who have used it, will tell you something else. :-)

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 10:11AM
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david52_gw

I forgot to add, we lived several years in the highlands of central Africa, where the soils are poor and acidic. There was a tremendous response from adding wood ash, to the point that one could see where it had fallen out of the bucket on the way to the vegetable garden - big green splotches in the lawn.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 10:29AM
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grayentropy

Wood ash also contains alot of carbon!! If your lawn has a low organic content wood ashes will definitely help add carbon to the soil. I spread it on the lawn and compost pile as available.
I live in New England and have naturally acidic soil.

I believe that lawn microbes buffer the pH around root zones due to microbial presence and the worries around soil pH are mostly related to an inorganic lawn practice (i.e scotts).

Wood ash is a good thing but I would spread the wealth around.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 12:23AM
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david52_gw

The previous owner of my property had planted 8 globe willows around the front of the house, and 30 odd years later, they were totally overgrown. dangerous to the building, and well past their prime; breaking, shedding branches, diseased, and so on. The trunks were anywhere from 3 to 5 feet in diameter. The general process was to cut them down, saw up the wood into firewood, and the next winter, we'd use this wood to remove the stumps. We put a small stack of firewood on top of the stump, light it, let it burn down and go out, then sweep the ash off to the side and repeat. This took weeks of repetition, cords of wood, and when we were done, there is at least 4" of cinder and ash all around where the stump had been. Next spring / summer, the grass was greener there than anywhere else in the yard.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 10:38AM
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pkapeckopickldpepprz(z9 a/b FL)

David sounds like it worked out for you, but is the native soil naturally acidic in Colorado where you live?

I'd be tempted to try this with my wood ash but I live in Florida with a sandy already high pH level soil content.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 12:41PM
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