Ashes to ashes…

A beautiful sunny autumn afternoon today, but one spent dealing with the aftermath of stormy weather. My client was the only one who suffered any real ill-effects from the St. Jude storm of two weeks ago. A large walnut tree came down, along with lots of debris from aspens and willows – and trees in neighbouring gardens fell too. The result has been a might bonfire, and – when I arrived today – a similarly mighty pile of wood ash, which needed to be dealt with.

Wood ash is never quite as useful, it seems to me, as it ought to be – and it is problematic to use effectively in the garden in large quantities. The ash from our log fire at home tends to go onto the compost heap, in relatively modest quantities, and as a small proportion of the overall compost material. It is a good source of Potassium, so adds to the compost which eventually results. However, in excess can make the soil too alkaline – especially when, as is the case here in chalky Wiltshire, the soil is already alkaline. Of course, if you have acid soil, then it can be a useful counterbalance…

The other problem with wood ash – as was the case today – is that it does not take well to being wet. The mound I had to deal with was, in its lower part, already transformed into a sticky clay-like consistency by recent rains.  Worse still, as soon as it gets rained on, most of the Potassium dissolves and leaches out, significantly reducing the usefulness of the ash.

So, a lot of sieving was needed to turn this claggy heap into something useful. Nevertheless, a few hours later, quite a lot of the ash heap had been turned into something useable as a top-dressing, whilst stones and other lumps had been removed and put to one side. Even then, a layer several inches thick remained for the next bonfire to sit on.

I then spread the material around the vegetable garden, raking it in well. Potatoes respond badly to wood ash, as it increases the chances of potato scab – but it will increase the general fertility of the ground for other crops next year. Whether it will do so in proportion to the time and effort it takes to produce is another question, but I am not convinced…

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