The Sweetness of Wood Ash

Adding Wood Ash while Transplanting a Tomato

Adding Wood Ash while Transplanting a Tomato

Did you ever taste a tomato that was so sweet, and so good, that it seemed to just explode with flavor?  What is the secret to growing incredibly delicious produce?

If you want to maximize the flavor of your garden, try adding wood ash from native trees to your soil.

Wood ash is rich in potassium and other minerals.  Plants need potassium to transfer glucose, or sugar, from the plant into the actual fruit.  When more potassium is available in the soil, more sweetness and flavor is released into the fruit or vegetable.

Wood ash also strengthens and invigorates your garden.  If there is not enough potassium in the soil, plants become yellow, weak, and anemic.  Wood ash also helps plants more efficiently absorb water, which reduces irrigation to the garden.

Potassium is essential for human health, as well.  A potassium deficiency in our diet causes fatigue and irritability, and can even lead to hypertension and chronic heart disease.  The best source for humans to get potassium is from fresh fruits and vegetables, and the best source for plants to get potassium is from wood ash.

The wood ash trade was a big business in America from the Colonial Period through the 1800’s.  Americans converted much of their seemingly endless forests into wood ash and shipped it to Great Britain to sweeten English crops.  Wood ash was typically boiled down in huge pots–which is the origin of term potash, even though modern commercial potash is not derived from wood ash.  When boiled with animal fats, wood ash was used to make soap, and Americans increasingly diverted their wood ash to the manufacture of soap.  By the Civil War, wood ash became unsustainable in large-scale agriculture, and corporate farms turned to industrial sources for potassium.  The secret sweetness of wood ash was forgotten.

Pushing Live Oak Trees and Limbs into Pile on Garden to Burn

Pushing Live Oak Trees and Limbs into Pile on Garden to Burn

To make wood ash, only use wood from native trees:  pecan, mesquite, or live oak.  Never ever use ash from trash or treated lumber, which is toxic when burned.  The best place to make wood ash is in your fireplace, and save the ash in large zip-lock bags.

In the old days, farmers would simply build a fire right in the middle of their garden, and then rake the cooled ashes into the soil.  If you use this method, please be careful and check for local burn ban restrictions.  Also, build several small fires in each section of the garden, rather than one huge bonfire, which can scorch the delicate soil and destroy microbial life.

On our farm, we push our live oak limbs and fallen trees into huge piles and let them sit.  When there is a temporary lift in the burn ban, we notify the fire department, and then safely convert the limbs into wood ash.  We pack the ash into old feed bags and store it in a dry place in the barn.  Between plantings, we gently rake the ash into our soil.

You only need about one and a half pounds of wood ash per 100 square feet of garden space, applied every six months or so.  A little wood ash goes a long way.

If you want to grow incredibly sweet and flavorful produce, try adding wood ash from native trees to your garden soil–you will taste the difference.

A Handful of Live Oak Wood Ash at Bottom of Hole, another Handful Around Base of Plant

A Handful of Live Oak Wood Ash at Bottom of Hole, another Handful Around Base of Plant

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