Fire and ash

Conservation Conversations

Ash is used as a soil amendment to increase the pH of the soil. You can add all of those minerals that the roots took in over the years and spread them around the yard for growing grass, trees, and in your garden. Check out gardening books and see what the pH should be for the plants you are growing. You don’t want to try growing acid loving plants like blueberries in neutral, alkaline soils. Most of the recommendations I’ve seen, say about 10 pounds of ash per 1,000 square feet to start with. Ash has potassium and potash in it, but no nitrogen, which is burned off.

Common sense says; make sure the fire in the coals and ash is completely out before you use it. Sadly, common sense doesn’t prevail anymore so I must resay it. Make sure the fire is completely out before you use it. As a firefighter I don’t really want to make another house call at 3 a.m. Been there, done it! Stay up wind when you spread the ash, you don’t want to breathe it in.

Wood ash is used instead of salt on the walkways and driveways to add traction during icy weather. You can use it for traction in the barn. Mix it in with manure when you spread to add minerals to the soil and it can be sprinkled on plants as an insect repellent. Mixed in with compost you get excellent nutrient rich fertilizer to spread around all those apple trees you released and pruned during the winter. Spread wood ash out on that new food plot seeding you did during the frost thaw period. Feed the plants, feed the wildlife! Over the years wood ash has also been used to make soap, and as a mild abrasive for polishing metals. And you thought it was just something to dump over the bank. This is simple recycling of nutrients. We are all part of nature’s circle of life. Our food comes from the earth.

I also have my thoughts about spreading it on stream-banks and ponds to slowly dissolve in the water to help in pH and add minerals for bugs, which feed fish of course. I can’t advise you to do this due to NYS DEC regulations. A permit may be required. Ash may be considered a waste product. So don’t do it without checking with DEC first. You are on your own on this one.

Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at rangeric@nycap.rr.com.

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