Potash comes from Wood Ash and is a valuable resource for your garden.
The First U.S. Patent Issued Was in 1790
On July 31, 1790 Samuel Hopkins was issued the first patent for a process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer.
The patent was signed by President George Washington.
What is potash?
Potash is the common term for fertilizer forms of the element potassium (vitamin K). The name derives from the collection of wood ash in metal pots when the beneficial fertilizer properties of this material was first recognized, many centuries ago.
It takes a lot of wood to make a little ash and a lot of ash to make a little potash. While it is not particularly difficult to extract potash from wood, it takes an enormous amount of wood to produce commercial amounts of potash.
The best sources of potash are ash and elm trees. Pine trees have the lowest amount of potash.
An adult human requires around 2grams/day of potassium (vitamin K) and typical intakes are 2.8-4.5 grams per day. Milk, fruit juice, root vegetables and crops such as bananas are rich sources of this nutrient in the human diet.
The benefits of potash include:
- Increase cell wall strength
- Prevent wilting
- Encourage water retention
- Aid photosynthesis
- Increase root development
- Defend plants against extreme climate temperatures
- Decrease plant stress
- Improve resistance to diseases and pests like weeds and insects
For centuries, this is the reason people have put wood ash on their gardens to enrich the soil with nutrients. Wood ash can be a valuable source of lime, potassium and trace elements.
The major components of wood ashes are potassium carbonate (potash) and sodium carbonate (soda ash).
In years past, the wide use of wood for heat and cooking meant there was more than enough of this supply of nutrients to return to the earth’s soil.
With the coming of electricity and gas, we soon turned to these cleaner sources to heat and cook, losing the rich resource of wood ash for our gardens.
Year after year of planting gardens without adding nutrients back into the soil will limit minerals supply of the soil.
This is one reason our current food supply has lost the nutrient value it once had.
For those of us that still use wood to heat our homes, take advantage of the many uses it has.
Uses for wood ash:
- Add wood ash to the hole of your tomatoes to prevent blossom end-rot.
- Sprinkle on your garden to repel slugs and snails
- Use to de-ice your sidewalks, it won’t hurt your soil and concrete like salt will
- Rub onto pets to neutralize skunk odor
- Control pond algae. Only one tablespoon per 1,000 gallons adds enough potassium to strengthen other aquatic plants that compete with algae, slowing its growth
- Wood ash is used to make lye for soap making
- Sprinkle around your roses
- Wood ash kills lice and mites that live on chickens. Add a little to their dusting areas
Keep ash dry before use.
Test your soil before spreading large amounts around.
(Being alkaline, wood ash obviously isn’t an ideal addition if your soil already has a pH of 7.5 or greater.)
Use it in particular around root vegetables, peas and beans, apple trees and soft fruit bushes.
An average cord of wood, depending on the efficiency of combustion and wood type, will yield approximately twenty pounds of ashes or the equivalent of one five-gallon pail. A safe rate of wood ash application for a garden or lawn area is twenty pounds per thousand square feet (one five-gallon pail full of wood ash).
With this knowledge, I will never look at the wood ash from our wood burner the same.
It will now have a valuable place in my garden, compost pile, as well as the chicken coop and pond.