Grasping the nettle – for good!
Nettles can have a bad reputation among gardeners. With such an unpleasant sensation when you accidentally brush past a cluster of them, it is not hard to understand why they are not welcomed in to our backyards.
However, nettles are wonderful plants with properties that can be utilised in many ways. After reading this, you may have a change of heart towards our rather hairy nettle neighbours.
Nettle tea – liquid gold
Don’t be confused with the thoughts of a warming cup of herbal tea, this smelly nettle tea is also referred to as a liquid feed, and works wonders on leafy green plants. This organic option for feeding your garden can be easily conjured up from any unwanted nettles in the dark corners of your garden. The liquid feed is rich in nitrogen and therefore a great enhancer for plants.
It works for tomatoes, leeks, brassicas, cucumbers and courgettes. However, it is not meant for beans, peas, onions, potatoes and root vegetables. Apply nettle tea to your plants every three weeks in the growing season. You will still need to add compost and mulch to adjust the soil’s nitrogen-carbon ratio.
To make nitrogen-rich nettle feed, cut or crush the nettles into small pieces and cram into a large container. Weigh the nettles down with bricks, and submerge in water (store away from the house, to avoid the smell). Leave for three or four weeks then dilute for direct use (one part concentrate to 10 parts water). It is a simple and cost-effective way to feed your plants this summer.
Nettles and wildlife
Nettles are essential for the ladybird lifecycle. They tend to use the nettle leaf as their number one destination for laying their eggs. The eggs will eventually turn into larvae, which prey on garden pests such as aphids, whitefly and spider mite. The Larvae are recognised by markings on their backs and it is a wonderful sight seeing so many in the polytunnel. That is why I have left nettles growing slightly wild on the inside.
Aphids also are attracted to nettles, for the sap. This can attract the suckers away from your vegetables, providing a distraction.
Nettle soup is a traditional soup prepared from stinging nettles. Nettle soup is eaten mainly during spring and early summer, when young nettles can be collected. Always cook nettles to destroy the stinging acid. Nettles are not suitable for salads! Forage the biggest leaves, then wash them in very hot water, neutralising the stinging chemicals and making them safe to eat.
When collecting nettles, it is better to wear a pair of gloves to protect your hands. For a basic soup, you’ll need about 200g of fresh nettle tips. Add 450g of potatoes, peeled and cubed, a dash of cream and one litre of stock. Boil the potatoes until soft and steam the nettles. Drain the spuds and add the nettles and stock. Bring the boil, whisk with a hand blender, add a dash of cream and season.
In summary, nettles, when managed, can be extremely useful and a vital part of an ecosystem in a garden so think twice before strimming the beauties back!
Timely tips for the garden
● Watch out for signs of blight in this muggy weather. Take off any discoloured leaves and try to water the base of the plant rather than the leaves.
● Ventilation is essential if you are growing under cover, make sure the vents are all open each day.
● Watering in the morning or evening time is best for your veg.
● Make sure your tomatoes are stalked so they can grow strong and tall and keep pinching out side shoots to focus the growth in the flowers and fruit.
● No mow May may be over, but try to keep a patch of long grass for wildlife.
● Pick strawberries as they ripen so the energy can go into ripening the others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
• Tara Kate Linnane is passionate about sustainability and growing all things edible. Together with her husband Barry, she has embarked on a journey of designing edible spaces and getting others started on their gardening adventures.
Follow their journey on Instagram @twopeas_inapolytunnel or visit thefoodscapedesignco.com to make contact for information.
You can email your questions to email@example.com
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