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Ashes in compost????

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  • Ashes in compost????

    I thought I read that ash can be used in compost. I'm not sure what type of ash though. I kind of think adding BBQ/charcoal ash wouldn't be too healthy. Any thoughts or experiences?

  • #2
    I have some thoughts and experiences, but I don't know if they are mainstream...

    I would say don't use ash from charcoal briquettes, but that real charcoal from real wood (made by burning small chunks of wood slowly at very low oxygen levels) would make a suitable ash. I use ash from hardwood fires (from my woodstove) occasionally and in small amounts in the compost, for its mineral content. I would think that the pH level is a bit high to use it routinely in the compost, for the sake of the microbes that are at work there.

    I would also have thought that the pH is too high for the comfort of Earthworms, but I find them thriving under the layer of ash in the firepit when I clean it out.

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    • #3
      I have used ash, and it's very good in the garden.

      I am also hoping that would encourage morel mushroom to grow.

      dcarch

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      • #4
        I use ash from my wood-burning fireplace (we burn real wood) in both compost pile and in garden beds (beets and cababges love higher pH, and thrive in the soil with ash added). I make sure I do not pile it up, but sprinkle it eavenly and work it into the soil.

        I also add a little bit of it into my home-made soil mixes, with great success.

        Do not ask me how much I add, as I never measure. . But I use up all my fireplace produces over the winter...

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        • #5
          i remember reading somewhere, don't remember where, that residue from the bb

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          • #6
            Back when we used a wood burning boiler I would empty ashes directly onto the garden or in the compost bins, depending on the time of year. Now I just put ashes from leaves we've burned into the compost bins, covering with other material so that they don't blow away.

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            • #7
              Every manual I've read also suggests that wood ash should be reserved for situations when you want to raise the pH of a site: when soil's too acid, or the compost pile is, wood ashes will make them more alkaline.

              But if something's already too alkaline, then wood ashes would seem to be coals to Newcastle, if you get my meaning.

              This book advice, however, seems to contradict the practical experiences given above, as well as the millenia-old record of "slash and burn agriculture", where peoples from Siberia to Brazil have burned down forests in controlled burns and then planted in the ashes.

              Can anyone square that circle for me?

              I guess, two things: 1) in Siberia, at least, and Northern Russia soils start out a bit acid and lacking in nutrients. Ashes, which have lots of potassium, also deal with the acidity part.

              2) I guess the basic point of slash and burn isn't so much that it makes the soil fertile (though most historians, as opposed to garden book writers, say it does) but that fire saves a tremendous amount of labor in creating clearings for agriculture. No tree cutting, no brush clearing, no weeding.

              So that even if the soil isn't that good, these practitioners of extensive rather than intensive agriculture can plant for a couple years and move on to find a new plot, without worrying about where the labor will come from to clear it. It's a strategy for endless land, in other words (though as we're learning in the rain forests, endless is not as endless as it might seem to any one individual).

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              • #8
                One addition: upon reflection it occured to me that while the technique of burning the forest to clear land is similar, the current destruction of the rain forest in Brazil isn't quite the same as traditional "slash and burn" agriculture, in that the land used in Brazil (I believe) is then cultivated intensively, that is, once it's taken away from the rain forest eco system, it never goes back. Whereas traditional slash and burn really was based on a limited cycle of agricultural use, before the people went on to another site.

                Sorry for going on, thinking out loud.

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                • #9
                  Misinformation seems to abound on this topic. Ashes should be used in your compost only if you have soil which is compatible to them. That is, if your soil is acidic to the point where adding them will not create an alkaline situation, then go for it. But also be mindful of what you plan to plant. One size does not fit all when soil pH and plants are concerned.

                  Incidentally, beets and cabbages prefer acidic soil in the 5.6 to 6.6 range. A handy reference chart is at:
                  www.thegardenhelper.com/soilPH.htm

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                  • #10
                    Cabbages prefer acidic soil????If I plant cabbages in my loamy acidic soil, I get no cabbages at all, and I don't even mention club root. If I plant onions without adding something alcalic, chances are high they will develop some sort of white rot, so I have a bit of doubt concerning this reference chart ,
                    Frank

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by orflo View Post
                      Cabbages prefer acidic soil????If I plant cabbages in my loamy acidic soil, I get no cabbages at all, and I don't even mention club root. If I plant onions without adding something alcalic, chances are high they will develop some sort of white rot, so I have a bit of doubt concerning this reference chart ,
                      Frank
                      If you've got certain diseases in your soil, you either have to eliminate them or adjust your soil accordingly. If you have cabbage club root, adjust pH upward to 6.5. If you have potato common scab, you adjust downward to 5.5. Ideal average pH for garden soil would be 6.5. That is within the optimum range of virtually every common vegetable. The further you stray from the optimum, the further away from maximum production you get.

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                      • #12
                        My grandmother heated with coal and even threw those ashes in the garden. I find wood ashes do wonders in my garden.

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                        • #13
                          Other than the reason stated above on why it is not a good idea to use coal ash in compost or directly on the garden, coal ash, no matter the type, contains harmful heavy metals and other chemicals. The by-products of burning coal include arsenic, lead, boron, cadmium, thallium and mercury. Other chemicals include aluminas, silicas and traces of other stuff.

                          I worked for a company that had huge coal burning boilers and they did lots of studies on the properties of coal ash (fly ash and bottom ash) and where it could and could not be used and where it should and should not be disposed of. The one place it should not be used is anywhere where food products would be grown because plants will soak up those chemicals like a sponge. All the junk left over after the carbon is burned tends to be carcinogenic if ingested. We wore masks when we handled ash.

                          Another place it could not be disposed of was where it may get into the water supply for the same reasons.

                          I don't know about charcoal. Wood ash on the other hand is safe to use on compost piles and gardens if your soil is compatible.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by paulf View Post
                            Other than the reason stated above on why it is not a good idea to use coal ash in compost or directly on the garden, coal ash, no matter the type, contains harmful heavy metals and other chemicals. The by-products of burning coal include arsenic, lead, boron, cadmium, thallium and mercury. Other chemicals include aluminas, silicas and traces of other stuff.------------.
                            Let me first state this: I am completely ignorant on this topic. I am not challenging anyone.
                            This is just a question.

                            I have heard fishes can have toxic chemicals, but I have not heard vegetables containing mercury, lead, etc. Did I miss something?

                            dcarch

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                            • #15
                              I think after re-reading my statement, I was not very clear. I think the danger from the toxic material would not come from the ingestion of the fruit or vegetables, but from incidental ingestion of the heavy metals and toxics that may be on the plant especially edible roots not washed thoroughly, or from handling the toxic compost. How much would it take? I have no idea. How long would it take to get sick? I have no idea. Arsenic and lead and some of the others just are not something I would want to take a chance on.

                              Can those cancer causing chemicals be absorbed into the body through the skin, or the dust breathed into the lungs be as dangerous as ingestion? I'm not sure I remember that part. I hope not because I handled both fly ash and bottom ash on a daily basis for seven years.

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