Thursday, February 2, 2017


One of the side-effects of burning wood for heat is the production of lots of ashes -- about 20 pounds of ash per cord of wood burned. Wood ash is treated as a waste product by a lot of people, but it has a few uses around a homestead.

  • Please use common sense and only work with cold ashes. 
  • When cleaning out the wood stove, place the hot ashes in a metal container. The metal container should then be taken outside and placed on a surface that will not burn. 
  • Keep children and pets away from the ash bucket, since there is likely a hot ember or two in it that will stay hot for many hours.

Food Storage
If you don't have a local source of salt to preserve meat (such as salt pork and corned beef), you can use clean ashes instead.
  1. Lay down a thick bed of ashes in a container, then place a single layer of meat on top.
  2. Cover the meat with more ash at least an inch deep, then place another layer of meat. 
  3. Repeat until you run out of container, meat, or ashes. 
  4. You'll need to rinse the meat before preparing a meal with it, just as you would if you were using salt. 
The ashes or salt preserve the meat by absorbing moisture, dropping the water content of the meat below what is needed for bacteria and fungi to grow. Common recipes from a century or two ago included boiled salt pork and "Bully beef".

Melting Ice
While not as good as salt, ashes tend to be dark in color and will absorb sunlight (and thus get warm) better than salt will. Ashes also tend to have insoluble parts that provide a bit of traction on ice. Being basic on the pH scale, ashes and the lye they create are also easier on concrete (which is basic as well) than salt is.

One of the main ingredients needed to make soap is lye (potassium hydroxide), which is easily made by running water through wood ashes. I'll leave the art of soap-making to one of the experts, but knowing that you don't have to buy lye is a good thing.

Cleaning Agent
Lye is a strong base and will react with anything acidic, so it makes a good cleaning aid for oils (slightly acidic by nature). Diluted mixtures of lye were once used for washing floors, linens, and clothes. Dry ashes applied to oil spills on concrete will break down the oil and absorb it, making it easy to sweep up.

Wood ashes mixed with a bit of water to form a paste combine the action of the lye with the mild abrasive nature of the ashes, and make a good metal and glass polish.

Since ashes are what is left over after all of the carbon has been burned out of the fuel, wood ashes are rich in minerals and trace elements that plants need. Be careful that you don't add so much that the ash raises the pH of the soil, though.

Ashes also repel slugs and snails by irritating their skin. A light dusting of fine ash on and around your plants will last until it gets washed off by rain or watering.

Recycling is not a new concept; our ancestors used everything they had until it wasn't useful any more. Re-purposing the cleanings from a wood stove just makes sense.

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