Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wood Ash: Recycling to the Nth Degree

Sometimes, I get an insane amount of pleasure out of a perfect system.  The ideal example of this is my love for wood ash and the process that makes sure that nothing goes to waste.

It all starts with our fireplace insert and a stack of hardwood.  Because we don't heat exclusively (or even primarily) with wood, we don't need several cord of it.  Instead, we do just fine collecting and splitting our own tree trimmings and deadfall and buying wood from friends and neighbors who have removed a tree or had one fall in a storm.  The project of splitting and sawing wood is a continual one, and it provides a great workout while enjoying the outdoors.

During the winter months, this wood helps heat the house some days, while also creating a nice warm nook for letting bread rise or making yogurt.  We even bake potatoes in the dutch oven, so the fire does double duty most of the time.

What we are left with is ash.  And while this is already a relatively minimal amount of waste from a very efficient process, we take it one step further.  I collect the ash into an old canner, then use it a scoop at a time in the bottom of my compost bucket.  It serves to dehydrate and deodorize the food scraps, making the bucket more pleasant to deal with.  It also makes it possible to skip a day or two between trips out to the compost pile on those snowy and icy days. 

Ultimately, of course, the ash finally makes its way to the compost pile, where it contributes to creating the fertilizer that will help the garden thrive, giving us vegetables to nourish our bodies and give us the energy needed to saw and split more wood.  The circle continues.

The Analysis

Fast:  The most time-intensive part of this process is sawing and splitting logs, which takes a while, especially given that we still do it manually.  However, if you recharacterize this in your own mind from "chore" to "workout" and put in half an hour three times a week all summer (and we don't do that much by any means), you will be in shape and have a monster pile of wood.

Cheap:  We spend very little on wood, as neighbors with a downed tree are usually pretty generous about giving wood away if we will haul it.  However, we do try to pay them when they will accept money. 

Good:  There is no waste in this process and benefit every step of the way.  I enjoy this perhaps more than is healthy!
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