Millions of households are now burning wood as a supplementary heat source during the cold weather months. Wood stoves and fireplaces are great for warming everyone’s hands and feet, but what should people do with the resulting ashes?
Many of us who live in the country are eager to get our vegetable gardens planted and start watching things grow. Wood ashes are especially beneficial as a fertilizer additive. Since Roman times, wood ash has been recognized as an amendment to the soil. In the 18th century, North America exported wood ashes to Great Britain for use as a fertilizer supplement.
The chemical and physical properties of wood ash vary significantly depending on the type of wood burned. An average cord of wood, depending on the type, will yield approximately 20 pounds of ashes or the equivalent of a 5-gallon pail.
Wood ashes contain potassium, a major plant nutrient plus several other minor nutrients. Nitrogen and sulfur are lost during the burning process. As a plant food, wood ashes are also a good source of calcium compounds.
This element will have the effect on acid soil similar to agricultural lime. Wood ashes are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium and aluminum.
One should remember that some flowers and vegetables are acid-loving plants such as potatoes, rhododendrons and blueberries. Therefore, wood ash should never be applied to these locations.
During application of wood ashes to the ground, care must be taken to prevent the ash from entering any surface or ground water.
A distance of 50 feet should separate the wood ashes from any farm ditches, wells, or other bodies of water.
For a pre-plant treatment, it is best to apply ashes three to four weeks before planting.
An application of 5 to 10 pounds per 10 square feet scattered on freshly tilled soil and worked into the ground is great for growing tomato plants.
A ring of ashes around any plant will repel snails and slugs because ashes are irritating to these garden pests.
Remember that wood ashes contain very little nitrogen so your vegetables’ needs must be met with other fertilizers.