When heating with wood in the winter, you’ll inevitably have a surplus of wood ash. Thankfully, wood ash has a lot of great uses around the home, and once you begin putting it to use, you may be wishing you had more of it available.
1. Melting ice
The leftover ash from wood is made up of nutrients that are not volatilized by fire, including many forms of salt. That salt isn’t quite table salt, but is made up of other charged ionic compounds such as calcium. These function to melt ice on pathways in much the same way as commercial ice melt compounds, but without the danger to pets and damaging effects on the soil. Sprinkle a little on icy paths and driveways to melt ice and improve traction. Just keep in mind that you’ll likely have dirty boots as a result.
The carbon burns off in your wood stove, leaving mineral-rich ash that is especially high in calcium. Calcium-loving plants can get a big boost with an application of wood ash in the spring, and it’s especially effective for tomatoes and asparagus. Wood ash is alkaline, so it is not appropriate for low rainfall areas out west with naturally alkaline soils, and also should be avoided around acid-loving plants such as blueberries.
3. Homestead soap making
Our ancestors didn’t have commercially produced lye, but they did have soap. How did they do it? Anthropologists believe that soap was invented when a nomadic tribe tried cooking meat over an open fire near a stream, and when the animal fat dripped into the wood ash it was saponified (turned into soap) before running into the water source. The people noticed the suds, and soon learned that clothing washed downstream of a cooking fire came out cleaner. A simple soap can be made by boiling hard wood ashes with a little rain water and animal fat.
4. Dust bath for poultry
Wood ash is an especially effective anti-parasite agent for poultry, and providing them with a dry ash corner in their coop or yard is a great way to encourage them to dust bath and remove their own parasites naturally.