Slash and burn agriculture, or creating farmland by burning down forest, has long been decried as environmentally catastrophic. While ecologically destructive and unsustainable in the long term, the method does have some reasoning behind it. The resulting wood ash is composed of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium as well as many trace elements which can act as a fertilizer and promote plant growth. These properties of wood ash, when used on a much smaller scale, can provide immense benefits around the home. Here are some of the ways wood ash can be used.
Dusting your lawn with wood ash will promote growth and give it a greener colour. Just make sure to distribute it evenly and lightly to prevent burning and dead patches. After applying the wood ash, give your lawn a good watering to allow the ash to soak into the soil.
Slugs and snails can wreak havoc on leafy plants such as lettuce or cabbage. Wood ash is a natural desiccant, which means it’s a drying agent and therefore deleterious to the slimy creatures. Try sprinkling wood ash around individual plants or around the perimeter of the entire garden plot to prevent slugs and snails from reaching the plants.
Acidic Soil Neutralization
If your soil pH tests come up too acidic, your plants will have a hard time absorbing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Wood ash is naturally alkaline and applying it to your soil will balance the pH levels. And because of its fine particles, wood ash neutralizes acidic soil much faster than limestone.
Wood ash applied to your compost pile helps boost the potassium levels while raising pH levels. If you tend to compost a lot of vegetable matter or pine and spruce needles, your compost pile will trend towards acidity making wood ash a good counterbalance. However, in all compost piles balance is key, so don’t go overboard with wood ash.
It’s become apparent that using rock salt to melt ice and snow results in water supply degradation, contamination of farmlands and damage to vehicles. Wood ash, on the other hand, contains potassium carbonate which also melts snow and ice without the corrosive properties of salt. Wood ash can provide traction with much less harm done to the water supply, car bodies and the paws of dogs and cats.
Woods ash’s desiccant properties also work well when it comes to cleaning up small oil stains or spills such as those found on your driveway or garage floor. Simply spread some wood ash over the stain and let it sit for a few minutes. As the oil gets soaked up, sweep up the ash with a broom.
As long as you use wood ash that’s free of chemicals (ie. do not use ash produced by burning treated wood or charcoal briquettes) it has many safe uses around the home. Hardwoods contain more nutrients than softwoods, but either can be used to add nutrients to plants, condition soil and compost or increase alkalinity.