This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
PLACE a piece of iron or steel in damp ashes, and it will soon corrode with rust. Place the iron or steel in lime mortar, and it will remain bright and the rust will disappear. Sow small grain where a brush pile or log heap has been burned, or where a liberal dressing of ashes has been applied, and there will be a rank growth that will probably fall and never mature. Sow the grain where lime has been applied to the soil, and the grain will grow with stout, stiff straw, and plump, hardy heads that mature well.
Ashes cause a rank growth of the herbaceous part of plants, such as leaves, straw and grass; lime induces a growth of the woody part of plants, and the grain or fruit. Ashes stimulate heavy muck, and rich or virgin soils. They appear to disintegrate or make available what is already in the soil. They seem to act specially on vegetable mould and manures from the barnyard. Apply them to the most offensive pile of compost, and they will render it inodorous and worthless as a fertilizer, their effect being that of releasing the ammonia from the compost. Ashes used with a compost heap of decaying vegetable matter would be wasted - worse than wasted - as they render the compost inert as a fertilizer. Applied to an offensive sink, sewer or cesspool, they serve an excellent purpose as a disinfectant. They promote the growth of grass and forage especially, proving very valuable on low lands; will stimulate trees, etc., to a vigorous growth when the soil is strong. They exhaust strong soils and injure poor ones.
Lime improves poor soils, especially sandy ones, by rendering them more compact and capable of retaining fertility when applied. As a promoter of health and vigor in apple trees, it is one of the best applications that can be made to the soil. Under its influence trees mature well, the fruit is finer, and trees are freer from disease. Lime may be applied with benefit on most soils and many plants, but is of special value to the apple tree and strawberry plant, while ashes are valuable on heavy or rich soils for the grosser feeding of plants, such as our native plums and currant bushes. A. L. Hatch.