It’s that time of year when those of us with wood-burning fireplaces (or wood-burning stoves) are putting them to good use. But, what do you do with all those ashes?
You aren’t putting them out with the trash are you? Hope not as there’s a myriad of uses for them on the homestead.
First of all, you should leave some ash in the bottom of the fireplace. This protects the base of the fireplace from too much heat and as an added bonus helps reflect the heat generated by the fire back upwards to help you get a roaring fire going.
Notice I said ‘some’ not all the ash! You always should allow for air movement between the layer of ash on the floor and the bottom of the grate holding your firewood.
When you clean out the fireplace place the spent ashes in a metal container, such as a galvanized bucket. Buried embers might still be hot! Better safe than sorry. Store that bucket for a while before reusing those ashes.
Know what the old-timers did with ash? They saved them and used them to make lye for soap. This was of course before soap was readily available at the grocer. The lye was gathered into a large vessel, water was poured in and strained. The resulting liquid was lye heavy and perfect for making soap. Some folks even saved their ashes all year long and sold them to the potash dealers!
Today, you probably buy your soap at the store or if you make your own you probably purchase the lye needed for the process and have no need to make your own.
So what else can you do with those ashes?
Spread it lightly in the garden beds. Hardwood ashes contain about 3% potassium, about 15% calcium and can therefore help with the fertility of the soil as well as improve it’s structure. However, you don’t want to put all your ashes in the garden as you could change the alkalinity too much.
Alkaline loving plants such as azaleas can benefit from the higher level…
Still have too much ash? Do you have a plant you’re trying to get rid of? Like a batch of poison oak that just won’t go away? That’s a good spot to dump those ashes, raising the alkaline level to a point where those plants won’t grow. (Don’t do this if you’re planning on planting something else in it’s spot!)
Snails in the veggie bed? Sprinkle wood ash in a circle around the plants they’re targeting. Wood ash is a deterrent.
You can add a little bit to your compost pile just don’t overdo it. (Again the alkaline levels…)
Got chickens? Add it to their dusting area.
Ice on the sidewalk? Sprinkle some wood ash
I use wood ash in all these ways…. And I’ve used it to fill in holes that the dogs have dug. They won’t dig there twice.
What’s your innovative way to reuse wood ashes from your fireplace?