If you are looking for ideas on what you can do with your collection of wood ash, we have a list for you that will cover your entire home and homestead. Get help on how to use wood ash in a beneficial way for both your animals and your gardens.
This is one of my favorite homesteading tips because it shows you how to turn trash into a real treasure.
One of the best things about living a homesteader lifestyle is learning to look at things differently and finding a hidden treasure for what you once considered trash. Nothing resembles this more than ashes from burning wood during the winter.
What can you do with wood ash on the homestead?
Well, more than you might think.
In our home, our main source of heat is our wood-burning fireplace. This means I start a fire in September and keep it burning until May; well, at least it feels that way. 🙂
Even though it takes about ten cords of wood to heat our home through the winter, the cost savings is still almost $1,500 a year. This amount is well worth the work of cutting and splitting the wood each summer. Especially since that job falls onto Hubby’s to-do list and not mine. 🙂
One of the downfalls of heating with wood is the large amount of wood ash that needs to be discarded throughout the winter.
For years, we would toss our cooled wood ash way back around our field. It was an awful chore actually, and walking that far in the dead of winter hauling a 10-pound bucket of wood ash through thick and deep drifts of snow was not anything we looked forward to.
Little did I know the many benefits of this overlooked treasure. Wood ash has many useful benefits from our plants to our livestock with a few unique uses as well. You can find useful ways to get a second life out of what you may up until now, considered trash.
The Benefits Of Using Wood Ash
Before we dive into what to do with wood ash, let’s first go over the basics. This will help you to better understand what ash you can use and why.
What is wood ash?
Wood ash is basically the leftover materials that collect after burning wood. That means, if you heat your home with wood you may find yourself with an overabundance of wood ash material. Before you dump it out, let’s talk about why it’s so beneficial and where it will be most helpful.
Why do plants like wood ash?
Wood ash contains potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. Since the ash is from a plant itself (a tree), it is only natural that the ash would be a benefit to the new life of plants in your garden.
The fact that wood ash contains potassium, adding it to your soil will help to regulate your plant’s water balance. This is useful since the plant will be better protected from drought, frost, and even some diseases and pests.
Because the nutrient content of wood ash is low, you can use it directly on your plants without the risk of burning them.
Always be sure the ash is cooled completely before using.
What Are The Different Types Of Wood Ash?
It is important to know the wood that you burn so you can better decide how to use the ash it creates.
All ash is not created equal.
You will find five times the nutrients in hardwood than in soft. This means if you burn maple, elm, oak, or beech woods, you will have a much higher nutrient rate in your wood ash than if you burn pine or fir.
SLCG PRO TIP: It is important to never use ash from chemically treated wood or from store-made slow-burning logs. This ash is not beneficial and should be disposed of accordingly.
It is always best to have a waste dump pile in your yard for items that should not go into your gardens or compost bin. This is a great place to toss weeds, diseased plants, and other poor yard and garden waste.
How much wood ash will I get?
One cord of wood will produce approximately 25 pounds of wood ash.
Please note that the harder the wood, the more ash you will produce. This should give you some idea of what you will have so you can better determine where best to use it.
How to use wood ash in the garden.
Wood ash can be added directly to your garden soil to help improve your soil’s PH. It is always best to test your soil prior to doing this, so you do not alter the PH too much.
It is not recommended that you add ash directly to seedlings since the salt found in the ash can damage your young and delicate plants. What you can do is work small amounts into the soil a short distance away from the base of established plants to ensure you are still providing the benefits without the risk of damage.
How to use wood ash in compost.
Wood ash can also be added directly to your compost pile; however, it is best to add as you go rather than all at once.
We like to dump each bucket after it cools onto our compost pile, allowing the snow and rain to work it into the rest of the pile.
Since wood ash is alkaline, you do not want to raise the ph in your compost too much too quickly. Doing so may affect the bacteria and possibly the beneficial worms in your compost bin.
SLCG PRO TIP: If you do add wood ash to your compost pile, be sure you mix the ash in a bit, so it spreads out more evenly.
This is true with anything you add to compost. Using your hands or a garden tool, spread out each new item you add to allow the material to compost down evenly.
How To Use Wood Ash (Now For The Good Stuff).
Before we dive in, just know this is the way we use ash on our homestead. There may be other options out there as well, depending on where you live and what the weather is like.
Area # 1. Wood ash in the garden.
How it Helps: Adding wood ash to your garden will help to increase soil fertility and raise soil pH.
How to add: Dump the ash directly onto the ground in a sweeping motion to better help spread it out. Keep the ash close to the ground as you dump it to keep the dust to a minimum. Remember, slow and steady is best.
You can also add the wood ash evenly throughout the winter and let it rest right on the snow.
In the spring, once you are able to work the soil, use a shovel or rototiller to finish mixing the ash into the ground. If you can allow the soil to rest for a few days before planting.
This helps the soil adjust before putting any plants or seeds into the ground.
SLCG PRO TIP: Not all soil is created equal. Before adding ANYTHING to your soil, it is super important to test first. Too much of a good thing can quickly hurt your plants. Always test, add, then test again.
You can use a simple soil test kit or take a sample to your extension office for more thorough testing.
Be sure to make a note of any adjustments, soil readings, and other helpful information to your current garden notes. If you have not yet started a gardening journal you can purchase our starter journal at 47% off!
Area #2. Wood ash to deter slugs.
How it Helps: Use dry ash around your plants as a temporary deterrent for slugs and snails. You can store ash that is completely cooled in a metal can to use when the weather warms up.
Please be sure to take every precaution when working with wood ash. When in doubt, wait (even) longer to ensure that the ash is completely cooled.
How to Add: Using a shovel sprinkle a layer of ash around the base of your plants that tend to get invaded by slugs. Do not apply on a rainy day. Add more each morning after the dew has dried off.
Remember that once the ash gets wet, it will no longer be effective in deterring pests, but it will still benefit the soil. Just work the old into the ground before you add more.
Area #3. Wood ash in your compost bin/pile.
How it Helps: Adding wood ash to your compost pile can help to create better conditions for worms. This will speed up decompositions. Since wood ash is alkaline, you can balance the acidity in your compost by adding it in. If you are using a plastic composter be sure the ash is 100% cooled before adding it in.
Make sure you add your ash in a thin layer over the top rather than all at once in a large clumpy pile. This will keep the worms and the bacteria happier.
How to add: Take your bucket of ash and shake it onto your pile. Next, use a pitchfork, rake, or shovel and work it in a bit, especially if you are adding quite a bit.
Area #4. Wood ash for roses and other flowers.
How it helps: Adding a bucket of wood ash to your flower beds, especially around your rose bushes, can be super beneficial.
Roses LOVE wood ash.
How to add: Using a hand shovel, put a few scoops around your plants and work it into the ground with a hand rake being careful not to damage any roots of the plants.
Area #5. Wood ash in the garden.
How it Helps: Wood ash is not only great in your garden soil, but for your vegetable plants as well.
How to Add: To add wood ash to your garden, use your hand shovel to add a thin layer around the outside base of your plants.
Do not use wood ash around any young and fragile plants. Since the potassium found in the wood ash can burn young plants, it is best to wait until they are a bit older.
Use your hand rake to work it into the soil a bit. If you are having a problem with slugs on your vegetable plants, keep the ash more solid on the ground to keep slugs away. You can also add a lid of beer to attract the slugs away from your plants and into the beer. Just dump out and refresh this simple trap as needed.
Area #6. Use wood ash in place of lime.
How it Helps: Since wood ash contains a good amount of calcium, it can be used in the place of lime as the calcium helps to increase the pH of acidic soil, as well as lime does.
How to Add: Sprinkle wood ash in any areas of soil where you had planned to use lime. Just know that you may need twice as much since the nutrient content is low.
Area #7. Wood as for chickens.
This might be my favorite place to use wood ash.
How it Helps: If you have chickens, you know how beneficial a dust bath is. Wood ash is great in a chicken dust bath, and I like to have a supply that I can use throughout the summer.
How to Add: Sprinkle wood ash inside your chicken coop or chicken run if you do not have dust baths set up. Dig a shallow hole and break up the dirt into the fine ground with your shovel. Add the wood ash and gently mix it into the dirt. Just replenish as needed in your dust bath mixture.
Instant chicken dust bath!
#8. Use wood ash when you get stuck.
For my northern friends, I use it in a pinch to help get traction when stuck in the snow. I was able to try this out myself, and I am happy to report back that this little tip work amazingly well!
How it Helps: Wood ash can give your tires a nice grip on icy or slippery snow.
How to Add: Just a small shovel of ash in front and back of each tire gave me enough traction to get out when I was stuck in my own driveway last winter.
SLCG PRO TIP: Do not use too much or you will have a mess in your driveway come spring. If you have a concrete driveway, you might want to remove it when you are done to keep the springtime mess down a bit.
#9. Wood ash for soap.
How it Helps: If you have ever touched and felt wood ash, then you know there is an abrasiveness there that is great for cleaning. But to make lye with your ash? That is something I have not tried.
How to Add: You can read how it’s done HERE. It is surprisingly simple.
You can also add a bit of water and use it to clean copper items. Add enough to make a paste and polish copper, so it looks new again.
Where Not To Use Wood Ash
Before we finish up, it is important to know where NOT to use wood ash around your home and homestead.
Remember, not all plants are created equal, so double-check before you dump.
Do not use wood ash on Azaleas, Gardenias, peppers, Blueberries, or other acid-loving plants. Remember, wood ash is used to neutralize acidic soil, so keep it away from any plants that prefer acidic soil.
You should also refrain from using wood ash in your garden where you plan to plant potatoes. This may encourage potato scab and therefore is not recommended. Also, be very careful adding wood ash to very young and fragile plants.
MY TOP TOOLS FOR WORKING WITH WOOD ASH
- Pitchfork – My favorite tool!
- Hand tools – Perfect for working wood ash into the soil around delicate plants.
- Ash Bucket – This is the same one we have had for 8+ years. The lid is nice if the ash is hot.
- Face Mask – Wood ash is dusty and can hurt your lungs. Always use protection.
- Eye Gear – Again, protect those eyes.
- Gloves – I have tried many pairs of gloves and these are by far my favorites.
- PH Soil Test – You don’t need anything expensive here, they all work great!
- Compost Bin – Especially nice if you are an Urban Homesteader
Final tips for wood ash.
Ensure you do not leave your wood ash out in the rain before using it. Wet wood ash is not only difficult to work with, but it can cause the potassium to leach out.
Caution: Please make sure your ash is completely cooled before using it. Coals can remain hot for days. Because of this, it is best to store your ash in a metal container to ensure it is completely cooled.
Also, wear gloves and protective eye gear when handling the ash. Working with ash can be very dusty and can easily irritate your lungs and eyes.
Homesteading is all about using what you have on hand and leaving little to waste. Tap into this hidden resource of wood ash, and you will not be disappointed.
Do you have any tips on how to wood ash on your homestead? If so, please leave a comment below so I can add it to this post!