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Wood ash is the by-product of burned wood, and it usually takes the form of a powdery substance. After a piece of wood begins to burn, it often turns into a substance known as coke, which is useful in coal-fired ovens and furnaces. Once the coke burns down further, wood ash is the result. Common places to find this material include campground fire pits, fireplaces, and industrial factories that use wood-fired furnaces or ovens. This by-product is usually disposed of in landfills, though some gardeners will use it to fertilize gardens or yards.
The usability of wood ash in gardens and yards is debatable, since it does not contain nitrogen. Other nutrients are present, however, and the wood ash can be useful for adjusting the acidity of the soil. Adding too much, however, can be detrimental to the soil because the acidity of the dirt can be elevated too high, thereby harming plants and robbing them of nutrients. Rainfall can also affect how useful the ash is for plants; the more moisture reaching the ash, the less nutrients will be available. This by-product is especially useful for adding to the soil around fruit trees and vegetable plants.
While some wood ash can be beneficial for gardens and other areas of plant life, it should never be used as a fertilizer if the wood that was burned was treated with chemicals. These chemicals may not burn off completely during combustion, and they may end up being introduced into the soil. Plants can therefore be harmed, and the water in the area can be contaminated. When the wood ash is being stored before it is used in a garden, it must be kept clean and dry, as moisture can take away nutrients that will be useful to plants. The ash should only be used sparingly in the garden to avoid too much saturation into the soil.
The combustion of coal can lead to a type of by-product known as fly ash. This means the ash particles end up floating into the air, and the particles can be dangerous because bystanders can end up breathing in the ash. This can lead to respiratory issues. Many coal plants now try to capture the fly ash before it escapes, and the particles can be collected and reused for certain construction applications. Laws have been developed in many parts of the world to regulate how much of this by-product can be released into the atmosphere.