Only you can prevent garden fires. June 25, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: raised beds, wood ash as garden fertilizer, wood ash safety, wood ashes
Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood returned to our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, yesterday from a mini-vacation in North Carolina. (See Silence’s post, “Away from it all,” for more on that.) Needless to say, it’s a long drive from Asheville, NC to Kutztown, PA, and we barely had time to pick up our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, from boarding, unpack, and make sure all the critters had fresh food and water before we collapsed.
So it wasn’t until this morning that we rushed out to check on our veggie garden beds and greenhouse. We’d asked our petsitter, April, a professional gardener who takes care of our cats, birds, fish, and chickens when we go away, to please water our veggie beds if it was dry. We’d dumped tons of water on our raised beds and greenhouse plants before we left. We drove back through rain and saw deep puddles in our yard when we returned. But still, you just never know. Once veggies really start growing, you never, ever want to let them dry out.
That’s why our friend Ben and Silence, with an enthusiastic Shiloh in tow, were rushing out to check on our plants first thing this morning. Greenhouse: check. Peppers: check. Squash and pumpkins: check. Basil and other herbs: check. Potatoes: check. Onions and other alliums: check. Miscellaneous: check. Tomatoes: Yikes. More water! More water!!!
It was while we were frantically watering and refilling our water jugs from our rain barrels that we noticed something unusual: smoke. We ourselves have a wonderful fire pit. Our neighbors have wonderful fire pits. But the smoke we were seeing and smelling wasn’t coming from a fire pit: It was coming from our neighbors’ raised veggie beds!
Rushing to the rescue, we saw that one of the long boards on the neighbors’ raised tomato bed was burning. Two large cavelike holes had already been burned in the board, and the whole thing was about to go up in smoke. The neighbors themselves were nowhere in sight—presumably off at work—but mounds of smoking wood ashes were piled in the veggie bed.
Six gallon jugs of water later, our friend Ben and Silence had managed to quench the flames. The long board is still stout and serviceable, and no veggie plants were harmed by this impromptu fire. Whew. Thank heavens we happened to be there to see it!
Our friend Ben even feels responsible for this veggie-gardening disaster. These neighbors are, in their own words, city folks who know little to nothing about gardening and country living. It was OFB who pointed out that wood ashes were great additions to the compost pile. But it never occurred to me that anybody would dump hot ashes on a compost pile, much less a garden bed!
Our friend Ben and Silence are not looking forward to having the “please don’t do this again” discussion with our neighbors. We’re certainly not looking forward to pointing out the damage to their brand-spanking-new raised bed. So please, please learn from our neighbors’ mistake and don’t let this happen to you!
Instead, let your wood ashes cool completely before moving them from your fire pit or burn pile. Once they are completely cool, spread your wood ashes in a circle around the trunks of your fruit trees and bushes to deter slugs, snails, ants and other pests, or add the alkaline ashes to your compost pile to balance more acidic ingredients. Do NOT add them directly to your veggie beds. And, please God, whatever you do, do not, EVER, add them to your veggie beds while they’re still hot, warm, or have even a flicker of life left in them. Otherwise, like our neighbors, you could be sending your plants and beds up in flames. And you might not have our friend Ben and Silence next door to save you.