What to do with wood ash?

ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)November 3, 2011

We heat our home primarily with a wood-burning stove, which means we generate the equivalent of a couple trashcan fulls of wood ash every winter.

I use a little bit as fertilizer for the potash content, and a little bit more mixed in with the sand for my chickens' dustbath, but what to do with the rest of it?

Weed suppression? Packed into pathways? ???

Because it is so alkaline I want to be careful how to manage it.

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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I have the same problem, and my soil is already at neutral pH so I can't use it on the lawn and gardens. I put a little bit into the compost but I end up landfilling most of it.

Funny story. Last winter I decided to try making some pioneer soap by leaching out the lye with water. Thought I would hit up my father in law for a half gallon of raw soy oil from his processing plant.

I drilled a lot of small holes in a 5-gal bucket, lined it with a rag, filled with ash and poured in water. I definitely got lye solution out of the bottom, but it was brown. I was envisioning this nice clear reagent grade KOH, but it was not to be. Too many bits of wood charcoal, I guess. I figured the brown stuff was probably full of carcinogenic hydrocarbons not fit for human skin. :-p But it explains why that kind of soap is usually brown.

I might try again but sift the ash first to get most of the charcoal out, and see if that helps. If it works the leached ash would be OK to use on the lawn and garden.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 10:43AM
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I too have a wood burner (outdoor) and have trash cans full of ash, I will use half a can on my Raspberry patch and half on my aspurgus. One whole can goes on my garden. Two thru out winter go on my lawn. One can full around the house as I have flowers and plants all the way around (I let the ash sit for two weeks to make sure its cold). I uses a shovel full here and there in my composters.
My soil is ever so slightly on the sour side and I have about 3/4 acre of grass.
I have never had an issue with using it on my lawn, garden or otherwise and noticed thicker lawn where I apply it. I used to apply only a little and get rid of the rest but have been using it more an more with out any negative results. BUT I don't burn garbage, wood and paper only.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 11:05AM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

We too use a woodstove. My soil is alkaline so I may add a little here and there into the soil but mainly, we dump it in our gravel driveway, or in the drainage ditches next to the driveway.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 1:34PM
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david52 Zone 6

Let me copy and paste something I posted a couple weeks ago over on the organic gardening forum:

"I occasionally contribute to these perennial wood ash threads, being an inveterate wood burner/ash thrower on alkaline soils.
There are two schools:

- those who burn wood and toss buckets of ashes on their flower beds, vegetable gardens, out on the snow over their lawns, on the driveway to melt snow, and merrily add buckets of the stuff to their compost piles, and have empirical experience from years of ash heaving from hundreds of cords of wood.

- those who study the issue and decide that it isn't a good idea.

I am firmly in the first camp. And last year, I did report, here on this august forum, that I had finally found a deleterious result when, using poor ash-heaving technique, I ended up with 2-3 inches of ash on a patch of lawn that was anchored in two inches of soil over rock - thus a fairly high ratio - and some of that grass died. It all grew back the next summer, but in the interest of scientific study, there ya go - avoid this.

I'm not convinced that using ash on the driveway to melt the ice and snow is a good idea either, because you end up with a muddy/ashy slurry on your shoes that can be hard to wipe off on a door mat. Not to mention the reaction of the SO when these tracks make it onto the rug.

But aside from that, I heave ash in the front flowers, the back flowers, around the trees, out over the lawn, into the compost ..... actually, it depends on how deep the snow is, and when it starts to melt off, I follow the drifts so that I'm sure the cinders land on something wet.

As with everything you read on the internets, your milage may vary. If you're concerned, you might try throwing ash in some out-of-the-way spot and see for yourself what happens.

And a shout out to all my ash-throwin' homeys - new season upon us, work on the 3 gallon toss techniques - wrist action and all that. Our motto: Remember - Stand Up Wind "

end quote. (this feels odd, quoting myself)

Already this season, I've thrown a 3 gallon bucket of ash at the base of a white oak tree. My first toss of the season. Pretty good technique, the breeze was Sou'sou'west at 2 knots, and landed a decent swath, the panel of judges gave it: 8, 7.5, and 8.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 9:56AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

A witty and thought provoking post david52. I suppose I have studied it too much. Another thing I worry about besides the pH is that my soil is heavy clay, so 1) the alkali might not leach away very fast during the winter, and 2) the last thing I need to add to the clay is more extremely fine particles. But again, I may be overstudying.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 10:37AM
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I never never use hot ash on my drive way or anywhere. I do use some cold ash if we get an ice storm, the gritty ash helps with traction. I have heard of people using hot ash on their driveway and they end up burning down their house.

Also I spread the ash thinly and evenly on my lawn and else where and never anymore than one application a year in one spot. It also seems to help when mixed with clay soil ( I have several piles in back of clay, to break it up.

Lilacs love the ash.

Living in a prairie state where in days of old Native Americans or on its own, prairie fires and ash would benefit the soil and the plants and now that fire is no longer happening I wonder if ash plays a bigger role in the soil than we know and its a missing soil amendment.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 12:05PM
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david52 Zone 6

The way my stove works, small coals will stay burning for days in the ashes - so I have to deal with hot and live coals in the winter. I've tried pouring water on the bucket, but you want to be outdoors and wearing old clothes if you try that - think middle school science fair volcano experiment. Its easier just to heave 'em on the snow.

If conditions are ripe for starting a fire - dry, windy - I put the ashes in a pit. This pit is about 10 feet from another tree, and over the years has had I dunno how many buckets of ash, but a lot - it gets a couple of feet of ash every season. The pit is surrounded by the most lush grass in the yard, the tree thrives.

The soil type is such:

A--0 to 3 inches; light yellowish brown (10YR 6/4) very fine sandy loam, brown (10YR 5/3) moist; moderate very thick platy structure parting to weak fine granular; soft, very friable, nonsticky and nonplastic; common very fine roots throughout; common very fine vesicular pores; strongly effervescent; 1 percent gravel; moderately alkaline (pH 8.1); abrupt smooth boundary. (2 to 6 inches thick)

AB--3 to 15 inches; pale brown (10YR 6/3) loam, brown (10YR 5/3) moist; moderate medium subangular blocky structure; moderately hard, very friable, nonsticky and nonplastic; few very fine roots throughout; few very fine dendritic tubular pores; very few distinct clay films on faces of peds and in pores; 10 percent calcium carbonate; 1 percent gravel; violently effervescent; strongly alkaline (pH 8.5); gradual smooth boundary.

But I think you have a point about ash and soil health. Who knows how many millennia of peoples have used slash and burn agriculture, and one can argue that in many places, fire is an integral part of the environment/ecosystem, either man-made fires or natural causes. It certainly was around here, where lightening caused fires are common, and the ancestral Native Americans used to torch the place regularly - evolving into the ponderosa pine forests.

Ach, my drive way. The previous owner had laid down a layer of fancy looking Arizona red volcanic rock, which, under the wheels of trucks over the course of several years, turned into the most amazingly abrasive sand - this stuff would polish diamonds. So mixed with ash, as the ice melts off........

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 12:20PM
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My ash goes in a Tin garbage can then is lidded and set about 75' from the house.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2011 at 12:36PM
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I applied a bunch to my lawn today.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2011 at 3:39PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

I think then we'll be storing it one to two large trash cans for mixing with compost, blood meal, and bone meal and applying to all the gardens. We'll let it cool first in an ash can designed specifically for potentially hot wood ash.

Last winter I accidentally set the compost pile behind the house on fire by emptying the ash that I thought was cold on it. Major oops. Fortunately for me, the birdbath water was full and I put it out before it spread. Never again!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 8:00PM
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I understand that wood ash (NOT charcoal ash) is good for irises, so I used to put it on my iris beds. They loved it!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 11:24PM
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yolos - z 7b/8a Ga.

Does wood ash lower PH or raise PH. My soil test came back with a low PH so I don't want to add it to the compost pile if it lowers PH.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 2:58AM
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Wood ash contains large amounts of Calcium Carbonate, CaCo3, and tends to raise your soils pH.

Here is a link that might be useful: wood ash in the garden

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 6:19AM
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It will raise the pH.

I too generate lots of wood ash each winter. We have a Defiant wood stove and the ashes go on the garden, lawn and onto the compost piles. I've done so for years and everything continues to grow well.

I've not had a professional soil analysis done for a long time so I plan to do so this year. I may find, even though my crops have done well to date, that the pH is pretty high and that I'm on the border of a real gardening disaster.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 6:39AM
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David: aren't you concerned about adding wood ash to your calcareous (I presume), alkaline soil? Being both calcareous and alkaline, I'd expect micro. problems to develop if they weren't present before you started adding the ash.

My soils have the triple whammy of calcareous, alkaline and high bicarbonate irrigation water. Micro. deficiencies are a real challenge to deal with. Is your water high in bicarbonates too?

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 8:55PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

@ Yolos: Sounds like it would be a good thing for you pH-wise, but you could add it directly to the lawn/gardens rather than putting it through the compost. It really won't add much to the composting process, and may actually interfere a bit if too much is used at once.

This thread has me seriously thinking of saving mine up and spreading it over the entire lawn with the fertilizer spreader.

My calculations show 5 gal/week for the winter would work out to a layer only 0.02 inches thick over my entire lawn. Hard to imagine it would actually have much of an effect after all the winter rain and snow leaches it out. But I'd save all that K and P and cut my landfill contribution.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 10:40AM
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david52 Zone 6

Michael357, I have irrigation water as well, coming from a mountain river. During the summer, its not that bad - but in the winter, when the river is really low, the irrigation season is over and its just treated, domestic water, the hardness increases significantly and we get calcium deposits on all the plumbing.

The problem we do have in the area are the salts leaching up from the sub-soils with flood irrigation - in fact this winter, I'm working on removing one of my vegetable gardens where the leaching has pretty much rendered the soil white with salt, and its getting iffy to grow vegetables at all - I'll level it and plant grasses. I do worry about micronutrients, and try to keep the garden supplied with copious amounts of compost - I am seriously pondering doing a trial with one of those trace mineral supplements - but that would be more a replenishment of well-used, shallow soils.

As for ash on the soils, I, of course, don't throw it in the same exact place year after year, but try to fling it around - the exception would be the pit mentioned above, where I dump gallons of ash during times of fire danger, and again, the grass around that pit is the thickest, greenest, healthiest in the yard, and the nearby tree certainly doesn't mind.

This ecosystem was torched, pretty much annually, by the Native Americans for eons, which led to the development of the open Ponderosa forest, and down where I am, the pinion cedar forest. Fires were suppressed, and in 2002, during our extreme drought, we had some massive, slate-wiping forest fires that left an inch of so of ash all over the place - shattered rocks with the heat kinda fires. See those areas now, its all lush, green shrubbery and grasses.

I've posted in other threads about hose-washing the ash from charcoal grilling out of the grates and off the concrete patio and into the lawn, directly adjacent to the concrete patio, where it impacts the first few inches of lawn time and time again, all summer long, for nearly 20 years now. I see no difference, although the few times I tried "Mesquite" charcoal, it did turn the grass yellow for a week or so. And then it recovered.

So again, for those with wood ash and are hesitant, I'd try using some in an out-of-the way place, and see for yourself the effects. For me, the areas I throw the ash are the earliest to green up in the spring, and are noticeably darker green for the first few weeks of the summer.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 12:19PM
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