Keith's Gardening Tips

Soot in the Vegetable Garden

Soot is a very useful product to use in the garden as it contains carbon, nitrogen and sulphur. It is important to know that there is “good” soot and “bad” soot.

Good soot is the product of burning house coal or wood, or any combination of the two fuels. Good soot is a fine, black powder which is matt black in appearance and is an excellent soil conditioner. I top dress all of my empty beds with it and rake it in a week or two before planting out. I also add several sacks per year to my compost. I do this in layers throughout the season and end up with an organic matter/soot/chicken poo multi-layered compost heap. When I dig it up I have a large pile of rich, fertile compost.

Bad soot is the product of burning wet wood or smokeless coal, as soot from burning wet wood contains solidified creosote and smokeless coal soot is very acidic. Bad soot from wet wood tends to be flaky with shiny black lumps or particles in it. The shiny bits are solidified creosote and this is toxic to plants. Smokeless coal soot appears grey or brown and is too acidic for plants.


Neat soot sprinkled in a ring around plants forms a very effective slug barrier, I use this to protect lettuce, runner beans and courgettes. A soot barrier around the edge of a bed will stop slugs and snails from moving in. You will need to top it up after rain.

Cabbage root fly and onion fly

When the plants are in their final growing position, a good sprinkling of soot around their stems acts as an effective deterrent.


When planting potatoes, after the trench/hole had been dug and the manure is in place I cover the manure with a layer of compost and place the seed potatoes on it. I then cover the spuds with a good layer of soot and more compost. As they grow I earth them up with more compost/soot layers. The result at harvest is a wonderful crop of clean skinned spuds with no scab.

Tomato and plant feed

I take an old nylon stocking and load it with one coal shovel of manure (any kind), one shovel of soot and a half shovel of lime stone. Tie a string around the top and hang it in a 50 gallon water butt. The stocking steeps nutrients into the water and that is all I feed my plants with. I have won first prize at the garden show for tomatoes, cucumber and peppers using only this feed. Just keep the butt topped up with fresh water. The stocking lasts all year and I change it for a freshly filled one in February. I use the water on all seedlings and greenhouse plants.


Ash in the hen house

I have found that giving the chickens a dust bath containing a lot of ash keeps them mite and lice free without the need for poisonous powders. They hop in, dust themselves and self-medicate.


Chicken red mite control

These nasty little critters live in the fabric of the hen house and emerge at night to feed on the blood of roosting chickens before returning to their hiding places to lay eggs. I found that by covering the floor of the roosting box with a thick layer of ash, including the ends of the roosting rail, the red mite are eliminated. They crawl out of their hiding places at night and have to wade into the ash in an attempt to get to the chickens, there to wither and die.

I sift the ash through a flour sieve before use to remove nails, staples and other sharp objects which are the result of some folk burning scrap wood. Wood or coal ash is fine for this and my chickens have been living on this for several years with no ill effects.

Carrot root fly control

Sow your carrots in the normal way and place a slug beer trap every 4 feet among the rows before covering the whole bed with micromesh. Fill the beer traps with DIESEL FUEL! Not beer. The smell of the diesel masks the smell of the carrots and lasts all summer. Result, clean carrots.

Wise precautions

When handling soot and ashes, wear rubber gloves and avoid inhaling dust.


The Wood Yard

Many thanks to Jarratt May at The Wood Yard for the use of their facilities.
Please contact Jarratt on 07706 611 094 for logs, coal and kindling for open fires and wood burners. Alternatively, you can email him at


The Hunny Tree.
Seal Lane, Seale,
Farnham, Surrey
GU10 1LE
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