Posts tagged "ash"

How can I reuse or recycle leached wood ash left over from lye making?

Bee has asked:

What can I do with a lot of wood ash after it has been leached? I have a large firepit, and I plan on saving and leaching the ashes… but I’m very leery about tossing that much slag ash onto the compost heap. I’ve found lots of info about ashes before leaching, but practically nothing about after leaching.

Funnily enough, I was riddling our woodburner and thinking about recycling ash just before I spotted this question from Bee :)

We’ve already covered the various different ways to reuse wood ash – from unpainted/unvarnished wood – in the garden and beyond — and one of those ways is to use it to make lye, which is what Bee is talking about here: the wood ash left after it’s been steeped to make lye for soapmaking or what-have-you.

I haven’t made lye myself – we just compost the ash – and like Bee, my Google-fu has failed me. I can find lots of tutorials on how-to make lye from wood ash but they all just skip from making the lye solution to using the lye, without explaining the clean up.

So does anyone know if the leftover ash is suitable for composting? I suspect it would be fine to go on a well-balanced compost heap – when “raw” wood ash is composted, the lye & salts leach away into the compost over time and the resulting compost will be alkaline but not too caustic to burn plants. The leaching process will have removed a lot of the lye so in theory it shouldn’t damage your heap – although equally, there is less point in it being there because it contains less minerals than “raw” wood ash – better than being thrown into landfill but not going to add a lot of goodies to the garden. That’s what I think anyway, from looking at the situation now — I am very happy to be contradicted by someone who has had experience of composting it.

Is there anything else that can be done with it? What would our ancestors – who wasted so very little – have done with it?

Perk up your garden with ash from Bonfire Night fires

Tonight is Guy Fawkes Night in the UK – also known as Bonfire Night. Up and down the country, people will be setting fire to stacks of wood and sending millions of £££s up in smoke in firework form, just getting a short “ooh” and “aah” (and occasionally “arrgh!!”) in return.

It’s not all waste-waste-waste though – tomorrow morning, you’ll probably have a substantial pile of ashes left over from your bonfire – and they’re great for the garden:

Ash can be a slug deterrent

The dry, rough surface of ash particles can act as a deterrent for slugs and snails. Chances are, you’re not growing much at the moment but you can scoop up the ash into a bucket, cover it/keep it somewhere dry so it doesn’t get wet over winter, then bring it out again for use next spring for use around your delicate seedlings.

It also has the advantage of being…

A word of warning
If your bonfire contained a lot of painted, varnished or chemically treated wood, or included plastic waste, don’t use it on your garden – the chemicals may contaminate your soil.

A soil neutraliser & fertiliser

Wood ash is alkaline so can help level out acid soils – some people dig it straight into their beds at this time of year so it will start to break down over winter while others cycle it through their compost bins first.

It’s also great for balancing “green”-heavy compost heaps (for example, those which contain a lot of fresh green garden matter, scraps or manure – things that are said to be “nitrogen rich”). Balanced compost heaps rot down quicker and produce better compost in the long run.

As well as a neutraliser, wood ash from bonfires is often also rich in calcium and potassium, so help fertilise the soil as well as neutralise it.

How can I reuse or recycle bonfire ashes?

Ashes of a fireIt’s Guy Fawkes Night in the UK today and so all over the country people will be eating toffee apples, warming their hands on the glow of a bonfire and making things go BOOM.

I’m not a great fan of Bonfire Night – I don’t like apples, I have a (what I consider to be healthy) fear of fire and we’ve had fireworks going off on our estate for the last month (mostly in daylight… I … don’t understand) so the novelty has somewhat worn off – but most people seem to dig it so come tomorrow morning there will be lots of left over ashes in gardens up and down the land.

So what can you do with them?

If you’re reasonably sure the wood (etc) burned in the fire was untreated/unpainted then the ashes can be composted – but too many will turn the heap too alkaline. It can also be used as a fertiliser – but with the same precaution.

Any other ideas?

(Photo by ma_makki)