What can your character do with the wood ash from their fireplace? How does wood ash affect your character’s garden? What slimy thing does wood ash repel? What about bed bugs? Find out on this episode!
Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode #51, 5 Wood Ash Uses (Part 1). Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.
It’s winter here in my part of the hemisphere. That means everyone is trying to stay warm. Burning wood in a fireplace, wood stove, or outdoor furnace that uses wood is among the ways people warm their homes. Historically wood was the number one way people stayed warm. One thing that is always the same is that burning wood leaves behind ash, and your character will have to do something with it. Today, we will cover five things they can use wood ash for.
1) Vegetable Garden
Wood ash can be good for the garden. It will help to even out the acidity of garden soil to give it a more alkaline composition. This is helpful for many plants in the garden. These include, but are not limited to, garlic, lettuce, leeks, asparagus, lavender, basil, tomatoes, sweet cherry, sage, chives, and more.
Wood ash also has many nutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, organic carbon, and potassium. These are things plants need in varying amounts. The only element it is truly lacking is nitrogen.
If your character uses wood ash, they will first sift out the large particles. Then on a calm day without wind, they will sprinkle ash around the plants they want to use them on. Then they will take a hand fork and gently rake it into the soil. Not too deep or they might hit the plants roots. Make sure wood ash does not come in contact with a plant, as it could burn the plant.
Another way is to till it directly into the soil before planting the garden. If this is done, it is roughly one to two pounds of wood ash for every 100 square feet or approximately 12 square yards.
There are a few no-nos with ash. First, never use treated lumber. Just as treated lumber puts chemicals off in the smoke that could harm a character, the ash could contain chemicals that could kill plants. Also, hardwood, such as oak, will contain more nutrients when turned to ash than softer wood, such as pine.
There are also plants that do not do well with wood ash. These include, but are not limited to, sweet corn, apple trees, potatoes, eggplant, peach trees, parsley, peppers, and more.
2) Nontoxic ant repellant
Wood ash can also be used as an ant repellant. The main word here is repellant. It is not something that will kill off an ant colony. That said, if your character finds an ant colony too close to their garden or home, they can cover it with wood ash, and the ants will move out of the nest and make a new one somewhere else.
I have read that it removes the waxy outer coat of an ant, and this suffocates them. I also read that they try to pick up ash to move, and it breaks, causing them to inhale the ash, and they die that way. I don’t have the slightest idea why this work, or if the any of the ants actually die. I only know that it can make them move to a new place.
Some people also add a one- to two-inch ring of wood ash around their home. Remember, it will always need to be cooled before this to avoid catching the home on fire. This is said to keep ants out of the home. I have never tried it, but I would love to hear about it if you have.
The best part is that wood ash is safe around children and pets. Some beekeepers also use wood ash to protect their bees from ants invading the hive to eat the honey.
3) Repel mice
Wood ash is also a good mouse repellant. It does not mean they will not come, but your character can make things less pleasant for the little critters. Adding a layer of several inches of wood ash around the outside of the home will help. If mice do come into the home, sprinkling wood ash in any place they want to linger will also help, as mice do not like wood ash.
That said, they can still get into the home, and some mice just don’t seem to care about anything. Outside of modern traps and poison, the best way to get rid of mice is for your character to get a cat to hunt them. Just remember, if your character has rabbits, chickens, duck, or any other small livestock, cat are known to hunt them. They will either have to be a cat raised on a farm whose mother taught them not to eat the wrong ones, or your character will need to get lucky.
4) Snail and slug repellant
Wood ash is also used as a slug and snail repellant. The reason this is true is because wood ash has some salt in it. And we all know what salt does to slugs. Snails have the same type of mucus as slugs. This means they are just as susceptible to the salt in wood ash. Wood ash can be used to keep them out of the home or even the garden. Actually, I have most often seen this done in the garden to protect plants.
However, some slugs, like the Spanish slug, can sometimes get over the ash. Spanish slugs are an invasive species here in the USA and are bigger than the native ones.
5) Killing Bed bugs
Historically wood ash was used as a way to repel or even kill bed bugs. Bed bugs were a feared bug in history. No one wants to have bugs bitting them while they sleep, and the itching would drive anyone crazy. However, wood ash can cut into their soft bodies, and the salt in the ash will dry them out. I doubt anyone wants to sleep in wood ash, but a short-term discomfort to fix a long-term problem was worth it.
Fun Fact: A cord of wood, or two ricks of wood, will create approximately 20 LBS of wood ash.
What could possibly go wrong?
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Likely to go wrong: Your character adds ash to their garden to give the plants the calcium they need. Little do they know that the plant does best in acidic soil, and soon, the plant wilts and dies.
Likely to go wrong: Your character uses wood ash to repel bugs from the garden but gets some of the ash on the plant. The salts in wood ash burn the plant, and it dies.
Likely to go wrong: Your character’s child decides to play with the wood ash. They could make a considerable mess playing in the ash.
Possible to go wrong: Your character uses wood ash to repel slugs. One day, they come out to find that several Spanish slugs have made it past the wood ash, and they have eaten the plant your character was trying to protect.
Possible to go wrong: Your character puts wood ash outside of the house, and their dog rolls around in it before coming inside and spreading it everywhere they go.
Possible to go wrong: Your character did not make sure all the coals in the wood ash were cool before placing a line of wood ash around their home to help repel ants or mice. Soon, the hot coal lights their home on fire.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character uses wood ash to keep the slugs out of their garden, and every day they have to clean up the dead slug bodies.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character puts wood ash onto an anthill to get rid of ants in their garden, but instead of moving on, the ants move into your character’s home.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character tries to get rid of mice with wood ash. However, their mouse is a stubborn little thing and just finds a better place to hid in their home, such as inside their mattress.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character has a nasty bed bug infestation. They try to kill off the bed bugs by piling their bed with several inches of wood ash. In the night, they turn wrong, and their face ends up in the wood ash. They inhale the ash, which coats the inside of their lungs, suffocating them.
Thanks for listening! You can find the show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. That’s A-L-L-E-Y-H-A-R-T.com. Subscribe or follow for more episodes. Connect by dropping me a comment on my YouTube videos. A new episode comes out every Monday. Until then. Happy wordsmithing.
Helpful Links To Learn More:
Nontoxic ant repellant:
Snail and slug repellant: