Fireplace ashes

pjdsr(z7 VA)December 29, 2005

I recently cleaned out the fireplace and have several gallons of fluffy ashes. The wood we burn is a nice mix of hardwoods. I was wondering what is the best usage of this in organic lawn/garden. I have been given conflicting advice as to whether or not to put them in the compost pile, so I have held off. We are planning on planting blueberries in the spring, so maybe I should use them now to amend that bed to improve the pH for that acid-preferring plant.

Any advice would be appreciated.

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Ashes are generally used to raise soil pH, not lower it. They would not be helpful to your proposed blueberry shrubs. Maybe you could save up any grease left over from cooking bacon, and use the ashes to make soap.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2005 at 10:21PM
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Wood ashes are very caustic, alkaline, and if used at all should only be used sparingly. One way to make lye is to run water through wood ashes and then add the grease to make the soap. It is not a good idea to put wood ashes in the compost since that will cause Nitrogen loss. Definitely do not use the wood ash to amend the soil for blueberries or any other plant that requires an acidic soil. About the most bestest use for them would be to spread thme over the lawn, lightly.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 6:48AM
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Pudgy(7a TX)

Please take a moment and explain to me how a potassium
adding material like wood ash (in my case from the Ash Tree)
would cause nitrogen loss. Its unclear to me, does adding
potassium in some way replace nitrogen in reactions, either
in microorganisms or force it out as a direct replacement
in molecules in the compost material itself?

I have added 2 large bags of Ash Tree wood ashes (burned
over the first half of this Fall) to one of my compost
piles and will keep that material seperate during this
coming growing seasons (Spring and Summer) and find out
if I get significant growing results with same crops
from another pile's compost.


    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 1:54PM
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pjdsr(z7 VA)

Oops. Thanks for the clarification. I will definitely use the ashes on the lawn. Should I spread them now or wait until Spring?

    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 8:04PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

My neighbor has had a wood burning stove for about 25 years. The ashes have been dumped mostly in one area of the garden all that time. Last year I dug up the 5 sweet potato hills that I gave my neighbor slips for them. Wow! those potatoes were huge in that ashy area...and things have always looked undamaged as far as sight goes in that end area.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 8:22PM
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Pudgy aked, "Please take a moment and explain to me how a potassium adding material like wood ash (in my case from the Ash Tree)would cause nitrogen loss."

Wood ash contains much more than just potassium and that is up to 70 percent Calcium carbonatesome phosphorus, and numerous other trace minerals. Wood ash in the soil acts very much like lime, calcium Carbonate, but because of the fine, easily disolved particles is faster.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2005 at 8:10AM
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paquebot(Z-4b WI)

I ain't figured that out, either! Wood ashes cause loss of nitrogen in compost? Merely informing us of what the chemical makeup of wood ashes doesn't explain how they can cause nitrogen loss. I would think that the calcium carbonate would be an absorbent to soak up any excess free nitrogen and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere. Or did I miss something there?


    Bookmark   December 31, 2005 at 5:07PM
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Calcium Carbonate = lime, lime = calcium carbonate. I don't understand the chemical reaction either but lime causes Nitrogen loss, one big reason why you do not spread manure on a field just before or just after you lime it.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2006 at 7:06AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Quote: [d]o not spread manure on a field just before or just after you lime it.

In this case you the carbonates may cause loss of ammonium nitrogen from the manure.

I am skeptical but the link below may explain how wood ashes result in the loss of soil nitrogen.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 1, 2006 at 1:20PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Yeeeeaaaaahhhh, no! That article doesn't explain it. It just reiterates it. I've never heard of lime robbing nitrogen, but then my soil is pure, white limestone with a pH of about 8.5. If there is a nitrogen loss, I'm unaware of it or else fully adapted to it. There are conditions where iron will get tied up in a high pH soil, but nitrogen? The pH of ashes is probably more like 10-12. I'll keep my ears open for something more about that.

I would use the ashes freely in the compost.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2006 at 9:12PM
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Can I spread some wood ashes directly to my banana trees? I heard the more potassium the better for banana tree since they are heavy feeder.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2006 at 4:16PM
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Here is a great product to clean ashes from your fireplaes. Fireplace cleaning is easy thing to do when you use the AshTrap. Here how you can order it:

Here is a link that might be useful: AshTrap - Cleaning fireplaces

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 9:55AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Registered 3 days ago, and already selling your products... unbelievable.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 10:03AM
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when you make such a drastic change to your ph of soil, or compost, it "locks out" the availability of certain nutrients. I killed a compost pile last fall by adding wood ashes to it. By killed, I mean all the heat went away, just like that. I ended up layering it 16" down in garden beds to amend the deepest roots and let it finish decomposing on itself.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 10:33AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

I'm sure that you could overwhelm a compost pile by adding ash, but I've not done it yet. My guess is that it would pick up composting again after a week or 2.

I have added 5 gallon buckets of wood ash to a 2 yard compost pile, and it never skipped a beat. I regularly add ash to piles, and the resulting compost has done great for me. Lots of folks also say how you'll end up with basic compost and all sorts of evil things will happen, but not one shred of evidence ahs been presented here. I'd like to see a controled study on this- whichever way the data points.

People regularly say that composting brings components to a neutral pH, but many refuse to believe that it will happen with ash.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 10:40AM
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pjdsr(z7 VA)

This thread hasn't been active for six months, and now someone is using it to market their product? What's up with that, GardenWeb?

BTW, I saved the ashes until spring and then lightly sprinkled them on the lawn. Helped make for a lush, green lawn.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 1:36PM
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Billl(z7 nc)

For the most part, lime dissolves slowly and doesn't really act like a strong base for chemical reactions. Wood ash, on the other hand, dissolve rapidly and has an immediate effect. That is where the nitrogen loss comes in.

The wood ash dramatically raises PH - the relative concentration of H+ to OH- in solution. Most of the commerical synthetic fertilizers are compounds with an NH4 in them. When you put any of them around a bunch of OH-, it strips off that hydrogen and forms NH3 - ammonia gas. Your nitrogen ends up floating away into the atmosphere.

Since I assume everyone here is using organic fertilizers (not counting urea) you shouldn't have a problem with that. Most of your nitrogen is tied up in more complex/stable proteins. Same thing is going to happen in your compost pile. Too much will certainly make life unpleasant for your friendly neighborhood microbes, but it won't cause massive nitrogen loss.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 1:46PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

NH4+(aq) + OH-(aq) = NH3(g) + H2O(l)

shouldn't have as much effect on nitrates I guess

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 3:51PM
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I read with interest the replies and would also like to add the following:

The Potash in wood ash is very good for beans and peas especially if your soil is a little acidic. being organic growers we tend to find that the organic matter we apply to the vegetable garden does tend to lower the soil pH.

You can apply the ash straight to a garden bed if you like but its best to check the pH first. I've had a few beds with a pH of about 6 and recommend that a handful of ash per square yard is adequate.

In addition, if you like, it is easy to extract the Potash (Potassium Carbonate) from the ash; here's what to do.

Use a plastic container that has a tap at the bottom, add a thick layer of wheat straw to the bottom of the container to act as a filter.

Place the wood ash on top of the straw.

Pour rainwater over the ash.

Collect the residue in a metal can or pot. The liquid you collect should be clear or nearly clear.

Then, boil the liquid which will contain the potassium carbonate (Potash).

Boil off all the water and what you are left with is a crude form of Potassium Carbonate that you can use for your Blueberries.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 3:54AM
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Running water through wood ashes will produce Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) or Potassium Hydroxide and both are very caustic substances. Usually people use the resulting liquid from this to react with animal fat to make soap. That liquid is not something that should be used to make soil ready for low soil pH plants such as blueberries.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 7:10AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Potassium carbonate on blueberries??? Huh???

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 8:34AM
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led_zep_rules(5 WI)

I don't put ashes from our wood stove into the compost as the ashes are fine and powdery for the most part, so not in need of breaking down in a pile. I just sprinkle them around the orchard anytime, and on garden beds sometime before they are planted. I have 5 acres and my soil is slightly acidic, so I am sure it helps, and I err on the side of caution and spread the ashes very thinly.

We also have grilled twice this year with charcoal we made outselves (i.e., burnt wood chunks) and that worked well and gives us ashes that are also safe to spread around. Regular charcoal ashes should NOT be put into your soil since they can contain petrochemicals to make them burn better, ditto if you use starter fluid.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 12:51AM
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I have dumped wood ashes directly onto the plants in the herb garden with no ill effect whatever, other than it looks like hell. I think a lot of the scare mongering around this is exactly that. If ashes are so nasty and caustic, then sticking your hand in them should sting or something - mine doesn't. Plants evolved with fire in their environment, some even require it.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 3:33PM
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led_zep_rules(5 WI)

Having read about the effects of too much wood ash, I PILED it up on some dogwood plants to see it if would kill or at least maim them. (Dogwood is a very serious weed in my orchard/prairie.) There has been no sign that anything at all happened to the dogwood because of the ashes, probably because they have long connected roots all over the places. I probably was just fertilizing the darn stuff and not hurting it!

It has been well over a month so I should have seen something by now. There is one spot where I put ashes where nothing seems to be growing, but I don't remember what I was trying to kill there, it wasn't dogwood.

Marcia, who likes to experiment but doesn't always make good notes

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 1:14AM
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If ashes are so bad for the garden, why does the forest regenerate vigorously after a forest fire???????????

    Bookmark   December 11, 2010 at 10:44AM
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