On Tuesday, I told you that bad stuff happens to homesteaders, too. But homesteaders have more resilience than city folk when dealing with crises and catastrophes. Sometimes your dreams become a pile of ashes. Your hopes are burnt up in circumstances — winter storms, wolves at the door, stock market crashes, relationship failures, sickness, loss. And it seems like all you have left are the ashes. That sucks.
Lionbrand published the story of Gregory Patrick, a jobless, homeless man who is supporting himself by knitting teddy bears and writing books. Gregory is honest about his struggles to survive. He writes a blog. He volunteers at his neighbourhood church thrift store. And he knits wool teddy-bears for sale. From the left over yarns he is knitting himself a blanket — meeting his own needs, with his own hands. Gregory has taken the ashes of his job-loss and homelessness and built something that’s worth telling people about. After Lionbrand published his story on their blog, Gregory sold out of bears in his etsy store. But Lionbrand provided him with enough yarn to knit 60 bears, so the store will be well stocked again soon. Gregory is not a homesteader, living off the land, but he is a man who is trying to meet his own needs through his own hands. So I mention his courageous story to inspire you.
I, too, have ashes in my own life, little girl dreams and hopes that never bore fruit. My childhood was Halloween thriller material. Sometimes you want to forget about the failed starts, the unrealized hopes, the love that will never be returned, the abuse, the humiliation, the pain — put it all behind you, hide the brokenness, and forge ahead like it never happened. Someone told me that women who have been sexually abused as children can’t garden, can’t get their hands dirty, can’t feed themselves by growing their own food. It ain’t true!
Women (and Men) who have survived abuse, neglect and hardship need empowerment. They need inner healing, too, but they need to be empowered to meet their own needs — to knit a teddy bear and learn to market it on etsy, for instance. Homesteading, whether rural or urban, is a way to empower you. Its not the only way. Take the ashes and build something awesome — a lifestyle, a business, a great work of art — and in doing that you will be empowered.
Ashes aren’t garbage. They have important uses in the Eco-system of a homestead. Ashes are rich in potassium and carbon. Only burn untreated, seasoned wood in your wood stove and you will be able to benefit from the ashes year round. Treated wood contains dangerous chemicals like arsenic and petroleum that will release poisonous gases into your home and those poisons also taint the ashes. Don’t burn treated wood indoors.
Here’s 10 ways to benefit from the ashes of your wood stove.
1. Use ashes, instead of salt, to melt ice on pathways and steps.
Ashes melt ice. They also add traction to slippery areas. While salt will damage cement and harm shrubs along pathways, ashes increase beneficial potassium in the soil and work as a soil amendment to increase the flowering of shrubs and trees.
2. Add ashes to the soil before planting root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips and onions.
Ashes contain potassium which plants need to form strong roots, as well as flowers and fruit. Soil that is high in nitrogen, but low in potassium will produce lots of healthy, green leaves but no fruit below the soil surface. Amend soil with wood ashes to ensure a strong crop of root vegetables. Beets especially benefit from amending the soil with wood ashes.
3. Use ashes to raise the pH of your indigo vat.
While many recipes suggest adding lye (sodium hydroxide) to raise the pH of a natural indigo vat, lye is damaging to protein fibres, such as merino wool and silk. In small amounts lye leaves fibres harsh and brittle. In larger amounts it completely dissolves the fibers. By using natural wood ashes instead, delicate protein fibers are preserved.
4. Use ashes to keep the pH of your natural fermentation indigo vat stable.
Fermentation vats tend to drop in pH, becoming more acidic as the fermentation works. This natural drop in pH, inactivates the indigo vat. In order to keep a natural fermentation vat active, you need to increase the pH of the vat. If the pH of the vat get too high, the fermentation stops working. Lye is often recommended as a pH shifter, however, even a few grams too much lye can swing the pH dangerously high. Wood ashes are a gentler way to raise the pH of the vat and keep it working. Wood ashes are also the traditional way.
5. Use wood ashes to sweeten the outhouse and keep odours away.
Wood ashes are the perfect compliment to your outdoor privy. A covered bucket of wood ashes beside the John, will encourage regular use. Regular use of ashes sweetens the muck, encouraging proper healthy decomposition. Wood ashes keep insects out of the pile and keep flies from reproducing. The carbon in the wood ash absorbs odours, too.
6. Keep a box of fine wood ashes in the chicken coop for dust baths.
Chicken love to dust bath. It preens their feathers, keeps mites and lice away and keeps your chickens healthy and parasite free. Use a box about 12 x 14 about 4 inches deep. Fill it 2 inches full of fine ashes and dry soil in a 50/50 blend. Leave it in a sheltered dry spot, away from chicken droppings (don’t put it under the roost, for instance). Your chickens will use it all winter, when the snow prevents normal dust bathing outside.
7. Sprinkle ashes in the barn, over the bedding to repel flies and reduce noxious ammonia odours.
Urine is acidic. The manure is more alkaline, especially if the animals are getting supplemental salt and calcium. Both are high in nitrogen. To encourage the break down of nitrogen and capture it in the bedding, rather than allowing it to escape as nitrous oxide gas, you throw on a carbon rich bedding. We use straw. You could use dry leaves, or sawdust or any other carbonaceous material. However, when animals are bedded down in an enclosed space for the winter, the volume of their urine can out weigh the volume of their manure creating an acidic environment and an increase in sickly odours in your barn or loafing yard. When this happens a few shovels full of wood ashes clears up the problem. Don’t have enough ashes for your situation — calcium in the form of dolomite lime will also take care of barn odours.
8. Use ashes along with straw or wood chips to keep soggy, spring pastures from causing hoof rot in your animals.
During periods of heavy spring rain, when the ground is still frozen, the barn yarn can become a slippery slough of manure, sour odours, and hoof rot. Sprinkle ashes on the ground to reduce slipperiness, reduce odours and keep rot causing bacteria under control. Wood chips or straw can also aid your animals footing in slippery spring weather and keep their hooves healthy.
9. Use ashes as a slug deterrent.
Slugs thrive in wet, acid environments. They breath through their exoskeletons. Ashes gum up the works and irritate slugs. They don’t want to cross an ash barrier. Protect your cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower transplants with a 6 inch ring of ashes. The extra potassium that the ashes add to the soil will encourage head formation and flower formation, too. Renew the ashes after heavy rains.
10. Finally, express your anguish at the set-back by sprinkling ashes on your head (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) and create an Old Testament Prophet costume.
To complete your Old Testament Prophet costume, weave some yardage of sack-cloth and design just the right garment for the grieving-look. Sprinkle some ashes over your head and on your clothing to grey your complexion. And you’re set. But once you’ve finished sprinkling your head with ashes and lamenting your loss, once you are ready to move on with your life — clean yourself up and take hold of the rest of the ashes. Make something beautiful out of them — a lifestyle, a business or a great work of art — and in doing so you will be empowered.