All kinds of things can be added to your compost to make it nutrient rich. You can add grass clippings, vegetables, leaves, vegetarian manure, washed eggshells, and more. But what about wood ash.
Is wood ash good for compost? Wood ash is good for compost when you want to raise the pH of your soil while providing much need nutrients like potassium.
What is compost?
Composting is the process of breaking down organic material into nutrient rich fertilizer. You can compost anything that has come from the ground. This includes plants, flowers, fruit, grains, and leaves. You don't want to include anything in your compost that is diseased or could bring about disease. Particularly, you don't want to include any animal parts or meat.
Compost should include nitrogen and carbon rich matter. Nitrogen rich matter is usually called green matter. Items included in this category are fruits, coffee, vegetables, and tea leaves. Carbon matter is also called brown matter. This category includes newspaper, saw dust, and leaves.
Wood ashes are rich in potassium and carbon. The really thing to be concerned with when adding wood ash to your compost pile is how alkaline do you want the compost. Wood ash is alkaline. Once you have added your ashes to the compost pile and all of the organic matter has broken down, you should test to see how acidic or alkaline the pile is before adding it to your garden.
Because you are not adding the wood ashes directly to your soil, you will not have as drastic effect of raising the alkalinity. The other organic matter will help balance the alkalinity.
How much ash should I put in my compost
Most experts suggests, as a default, to only add a very small amount of wood ash to your compost pile. Some even say you should not add any wood ashes to your compost. This default approach stems from the idea that wood ashes are very alkaline and adding to much will make your pile over alkaline.
There is a little more to it than just taking the one size fits all approach. You first have to figure out the pH of your soil. Then you have to determine what you want the pH to be. If the soil is acidic and you want alkaline soil, wood ashes can help you.
Once you have figured out where you want to be and that you want to add wood ashes to your soil to make it more alkaline, you have to decide where you are going to add it. You have two choices. You can add it to your compost pile or directly into the soil.
The advantage to adding it to your compost pile is that the ashes will already be part of your fertilizer when you add it to your soil. You will have less of a chance of damaging your plants if you add it close to your plants within compost. Adding ashes directly to soil can be harmful to plants if not done correctly.
The disadvantage of adding wood ash to your compost is that the pile may have a higher alkalinity than you need for all of your plants. If you want a very versatile pile, you may not want to add wood ash to your compost.
The amount of wood ash you add to your compost will depend on how acidic your soil is and how alkaline you would like it to be.
How to add wood ash to compost
You can add ash to your compost pile when it is wet or dry. If the pile gets to dry, you should wet it. You don't want to add wood ash to you compost on a windy day. The wind will blow a lot of the ash around. This will make it hard to add to your compost. It also will make a mess. In addition, it could be a health risk for you and anyone helping you.
At a minimum you should wear gloves and eye protection when applying wood ash to your compost pile. You may also want to wear a dust mask and a long sleeve shirt.
When adding wood ash to your pile, you should layer it in. If you are just starting your compost pile, you should lay down a layer of brown material, a layer of green material, and then a little bit of wood ash. Continue this same layering until you have finished your pile.
If you already have a compost pile you want to add wood ash to, you should turn the pile and add a small amount of wood ash. Then turn the pile again. If you pile is large, you may want to do this process several times.
The biggest thing to remember is to test your pile and your soil before you add them together. You need to know what the pH of you soil and your pile are before mixing them. And once you have added them together, you should test again to see the resulting pH.
What type of ash not to use
Wood ash can be very beneficial to your soil and plants. But there are some ashes that should not be used in your soil. These ashes can be very harmful to your plants. They can introduce toxic chemicals that can stunt the growth of your plants. In the case of edible plants and fruit, you can have the chemicals become part of what your consume.
You should avoid using pressure treated lumber. Pressure treated lumber is immersed in a liquid preservative. That preservative is commonly chromated copper arsenate. Needless to say, that chemical combination is not some thing you want in your soil or plants.
You should also avoid using cardboard. Cardboard has is made with glue. Glue can be toxic to your plants.
You also should not use ashes from charcoal, painted wood, stained wood, coal, or trash.
Benefits of composting wood ash
The first major benefit is that you don't have to worry about what you are going to do with your ashes. You can save them in a container and add them to your compost.
Another benefit is you get natural fertilizer that doesn't cost you any extra money. This will free up some money to buy other plants and things for your yard.
In addition, composting your ashes instead of adding them directly to your garden allows your ashes time to meld with the other nutrients in the pile.
What to avoid doing when composting wood ash
Avoid putting too much ash in your compost pile. Too much ash in your compost can make it very alkaline. High alkalinity is not good for your plants.
Don't through ashes high into the air when you are adding them to your compost. Ashes are like dust, when you throw them in the air they will go everywhere.
Also, be sure not to get the ashes all over your skin or in your eyes. In addition, try not to breath them in. The best way to stay safe is to wear protective gear; safety glasses, a mask, gloves, and a long sleeve shirt.
Composting is a good way to add organic nutrients to your garden. Wood ashes give you a solution to get potassium and calcium, as well as other nutrients, into your compost. Be sure not to add too much wood ash to your pile. And remember to stay safe while you are working with wood ash in your compost pile.