One of the most important things about prepping and survivalism is learning to use available resources. In a total SHTF situation, you aren’t going to be able to go to the store to get supplies. If you are homesteading, then driving 100 miles to get supplies isn’t a good option (and kind of defeats the point of homesteading). Even if you don’t care about survival or off-grid living, resource utilization is still important. I mean, who wants to shell out hard-earned cash when you don’t have to?
What Types of Ash Can You Use?
Let’s first start by clarifying that there are multiple types of ash. If you’ve tried burning different things in your stove, then you’re probably already aware of how different the ash can be. For example, I used to burn coal in a coal-burning stove (actually more like a big furnace) which was outside of the house in a shed. The ash leftover from coal is nasty. No matter how careful you are when emptying the ash, it sprays up everywhere. You’ll need to wear a mask when dumping it or you’ll have particles up in your nose (note that you’ve got to be careful when heating with wood or coal as it could make you sick – proper ventilation is key!).
NEVER REPURPOSE COAL ASH. As talked about in this post about why you shouldn’t use coal ash, coal ash contains a lot of heavy metals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium… While the coal from your stove isn’t as bad as the fly ash which comes out of smoke stacks, it still isn’t ideal to use. As far as gardens are concerned, coal ash is way too acidic and could destroy the pH of your crops.
Wood Pellet Ash
A lot of people use wood pellets to heat their homes because you don’t have to chop wood or need as much storage space. But, when it comes for uses for ash, there may be some issues with wood pellets.
The issue has to do with the glue which is used to hold the wood pellets together. Many about bound with a type of glue called lignin, which is naturally-occurring in trees. If this is the case, then you can use the wood pellet ash. Check the pellet bag or call the manufacturer to see what type of glue they use. If the wood pellets are made with chemical glues, then you don’t want those chemicals in your garden, compost, etc. Why not switch brands of pellets? Or why not switch to real wood? Chopping is actually kind of fun and it will get you in shape. 😉
This is the stuff we are talking about! Wood ash consists of many nutrients, has a low acidity level, and is slightly abrasive. These properties are what make wood ash so useful.
Uses for Wood Ash
This is the number one use for wood ash. Because wood ash contains nutrients including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium, it is great as a fertilizer for your garden or yard. Note that you should never combine wood ash with nitrogen fertilizers! It will produce toxic ammonia gas.
Note that wood ash will quickly change the pH of your soil. So you’ve got to be careful about how much you add at once.
How much wood ash to use as fertilizer? You can use about 5 pounds (about 1.25 gallon bucket) per 100 square feet per year.
Apply the ash in the spring. Do it when the soil is dry and then water it so the wood ash doesn’t blow away. Remember not to add limestone if you are going to be using wood ash on your garden or yard!
2. Compost Addition
If you haven’t started composting yet, now is the time. I recommend checking out the website Crazy About Compost for tips on getting started. The kid is crazy, but his explanations are great.
Once you’ve got your compost going, you can add wood ash to it. It boosts the potassium levels in the compost and makes it even better for your garden. Just remember that wood ash is very alkaline so you can’t add too much at once. A good rule to go by is add a layer of ash for every 6 inches of compost.
3. pH Correction of Soil
If you have acidic soil, you can use wood ash to reduce the acidity. It acts in the same way as lime, so save yourself the trouble and expense of lime. Just note that wood ash will change the pH of your soil quickly (whereas lime is slow-acting). Don’t put on more than 5lbs of wood ash per 100 feet at once. Retest your soil after putting on the wood ash. Reapply if necessary to get a good soil pH of between 6 to 7.5 in your garden. *Remember that some plants (peppers, blueberries, etc.) actually like acidic soil, so don’t use it on their soil!
As a general rule, never exceed 25 pounds of wood ash per 1,000 square feet of soil and always re-test your soil after applying wood ash.
4. Pest Control
One good use for wood ash is to control pests like slugs and certain bugs that will eat your garden. To use the ash, just sprinkle it around your garden bed or even around individual plants.
5. Controlling Algae Levels in Ponds
Got a pond which is full of algae? The wood ash won’t kill the algae, but its potassium does help boost other pond plants which compete with the algae, thus getting the algae levels under control. Add 1tbsp of wood ash for each 1,000 gallons of water in the pond.
6. Making Soap
This is one of the most traditional uses for wood ash. You just need to mix the wood ash with water to turn it into lye. The lye is then mixed with animal fat and can be boiled to make a soap. You add salt to the mix as it cools to make it set. Here’s a good guide on how to make ash soap.
7. Chicken Bath
Got backyard chickens? Mix some wood ash with sand to make a dust bath for your chickens. They dust bathe to keep themselves clean and get mites out from their feathers.
8. Melting Ice and Snow
It doesn’t look pretty, but you can sprinkle wood ash on snow or ice to help de-ice it. It also provides some traction on ice (but will make your boots dirty). It is the potassium carbonate in the ash which helps with the melting.
9. Shining Silverware
Mix wood ash with a bit of water to make a paste. Then you can use it for shining silverware.