From the fire into the garden

Anita says she loves winter fires. “We use our freestanding wood fire to slow-cook winter meals in our cast iron pot. The bonus is we save on electricity, and we have ash from the stove to put on the garden”.

Using wood ash is a very good oily rag trick. Spreading ash onto plants gives the soil potassium – that’s the “K” in “NPK” trio (the others being Nitrogen which is good for leaf growth and Phosphorus which boosts the development of roots, flowers, seeds, and fruit).

According to experts, potash (potassium) helps plant intake of carbon dioxide, the circulation of water within the plant, and gives them an energy and strength to resist stress – including when things get dry. In that respect a dose of potash sounds a little like one of those miracle cure health food company ads on TV!

As far as wood fire ash is concerned, it can be spread directly onto the soil or added into the compost bin, just as you would add lime. Adding it increases the pH level of soil which is good for plants that like sweet soil but not those that like acidic soil such as radishes and blueberry plants.

Here are a few tips:
• Spread it and dig it into the soil a few centimeters.
• Only use ash from wood that is untreated.
• Make sure the ash is cold before applying!
• Improve grass growth by sprinkling it over a lawn – then give it a good watering. It has the same effect as applying lime. Apply it at a rate twice that of lime.
• For those who make fertiliser soup, you can make a potash brew by putting the ash into a permeable cloth bag and soaking it in a drum of water. Use about 1 kilo of ash per 100 litres of water. Leave it for a week or so then apply to vegetables.
• Spread ashes around the base of hardwood trees, especially apples and citrus.
Most soils are on the acidic side and become more so over time. So how do you test your soil acidity? The simplest way is to use litmus paper, which is used to test the water in swimming pools. Simply take a sample of soil, mix in some rain water, and give it a shake around. Dip in the litmus paper and check it against the colour chart (blue is sweet, red is acidic). Most hardware stores like Bunnings and Mitre10 will have reasonably cheap options suitable for oily rag gardeners.

Now to some other tips.

Marlene from Whangarei has this tip for Jesse who asked, “Does anyone have any ‘life-saver’ family dinner ideas they can share – suggestions for ultra-quick and thrifty meals that you can fall back on when you are running late and devoid of ideas?”

Marlene writes, “My Mum is a whiz with fritters. She can create a meal for six using only one sausage by making it into fritters. You can also make corn, tomato, potato, even mixed vegetable fritters. They go a long way, are easy to make and inexpensive.”

Peter from Hastings responded to Bill’s question about birds scattering bark in his garden. “Sorry to say Bill but the only effective way to stop birds from scattering anything around your garden is to put it under bird netting. That said, I have been having reasonable success with a 50 to 75 mm layer of straw. It was to stop evaporation in summer and keep the soil warmer during winter, thereby extending the growing season without a greenhouse. Join the Mitre10 Garden Club and buy good quality bird netting during their special offers. It lasts for years because it’s UV resistant. Scrounge a part roll of fencing wire and make pegs to hold it down and hoops to keep it clear of your plants. Frost cloth can be placed over the netting at night, making a temporary greenhouse. I’ve thought about placing stuffed toys that look like cats around the garden but they will have to be moved regularly. Make a scarecrow… old tracksuit stuffed with straw, a Guy Fawkes mask, and an old beanie. Could even scrounge an old automatic hawk-kite from an orchardist and modify it to work without any wind. Be inventive.”

There you go, lots of innovative ideas for Bill!