Good garden uses for fireplace ashes

We enjoy lots of fires in our wood-burning fireplace insert. Are the resulting ashes good for the garden and, if so, would I apply them directly to the soil or add them to the composter? Our soil here is very alkaline so maybe that is a factor.

?Mary Mulholland Guelph, ON

Ashes are highly alkaline so adding them to alkaline soil is not a good idea. They are also high in potassium and calcium so make a good amendment for acidic and less fertile soils. However, you can always use ashes to make a line around vulnerable plants to ward off slugs. You can also mix a little in with your mulch to add nutrients as long as your mulch contains lots of organic matter such as manure and ground-up leaves. Add ashes only sparingly to your composter; a little goes a long way.

?Marjorie Harris, Editor at Large