This question is driving me crazy. I've found all sorts of conflicting advice on the web, and I'd thought I'd ask you all about your opinions and experience...
Can wood ashes be used to good benefit in your garden and/or compost pile? If so, do you have any guidlines on how to use it, and how much to use, etc?
Thanks in advance!
I just got my wood stove last year and had the same questions. Ashes are high in potassium, which plants need, but are harsh and in large doses may interrupt the life of your compost pile and your soil. After talking to several folks who have been dealing with wood ashes for many years, I decided to add the ashes to my compost pile, rather than directly to my garden. I spread them out in a thin layer evenly over the pile whenever the ash bucket is full and then cover well with leaves and water the pile. I have only been doing this for a year, so I can't tell you what the effects will be of adding this to my garden beds (I let my compost pile cure for a year after I stop adding stuff to it), but I can tell you that composting has proceeded at the normal rate as evidenced by the pile reducing in size as it always does.
Hope that helps!
What I have done for years now, is save the ashes in a large can over winter and add it to the dormant early spring garden to mulch it in with the winter coop / barn cleanup. Tho I did learn that ashes wash down into the earth relatively fast and the potassium might not be around much when the plants come up - not sure about that part. Never had any burns or other weird growths from using ashes and my dirt samples have much better values than they had when we bought the property - but if that's from adding ashes, or all those bags of leaves, grass clippings, hay mulches, chicken poop, composted horse manure and now goat manure I'm not "sure", haha.
I also keep some separate for bug control as dry ashes have a similar working as diatomous earth (needs to be clean, dry, powdery - I use a sieve to sprinkle it over plants).
Initially I removed the charcoal pieces, but stopped doing that after some mother earth news articles about adding charcoal to gardens (as buffers I think, and water collectors, like those clay pebbles do). It does not degrade (much), so you'll keep finding it, but with our rocky soil a couple more black "rocks" don't make much difference.
Only use clean wood in your stove, no paint, particle board, treated woods, of course. We're diligent about what we burn inside (goes on the veggie gardens) and outside on the bonfire (goes to our flower beds).
Thanks for both your replies... I had basically settled on trying an approach very similar to Gail's. After a lot of goop goes into the compost pile, I add a thin layer of ashes and leaves. We'll see how it goes!