6 ways to use ashes

Don't toss the ashes away. Here are just a few ways you can put them to work



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1. In garden soil

Some soil can benefit from having a thin layer of ash raked into it. When wood combusts, nitrogen and sulphur are burned away, leaving calcium, potassium, and other nutrients that stimulate plant growth. Wood ash increases your soil’s pH—good news for tomatoes, bad news for slugs and snails. But test your soil’s pH first. If it’s acidic or neutral, adding ash may be just what it needs, but if it’s already alkaline, adding ash could prevent plants from growing. Also, don’t use ash in combination with other fertilizers; it will interact with manure and store-bought products, messing up your soil’s chemistry.

2. In the compost bin

A dusting of ash between layers in your compost will maintain a neutral pH balance that helps break down organic items. Bonus: It deters animals.

3. In the outhouse

The right amount of ash in your privy hole will keep odours at bay, discourage unwanted insects, and even speed up decomposition. However, using too much can slow natural breakdown, which actually increases odour. After a solid deposit, pour just enough ash down the hole to cover the business (about a quarter cup).

4. On slippery ice

To de-ice and add traction, spread ash on slick steps and driveways. It’s friendlier to the environment than salt.

5. Cleaning smoky glass

When soot builds up on fireplace doors, wipe them clean with a paste made of ash and a bit of water, instead of using commercial glass cleaner.

6. Polishing tarnished silver

While you’re cleaning the fireplace doors, brush some of this paste onto those tarnished silver spoons mixed in with your cutlery. Let them sit for half an hour and come back with a toothbrush to gently rub the paste away. Run water over the silver and see the shine.

Don’t forget:

Use only pure wood ash. When they’re burned, plastics and wood coated with preservatives, paint, or varnish will affect the ash’s chemistry.

This article was originally published on December 13, 2010

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