Let’s hear it for stinging nettles, that may sound like a crazy idea, but they can be very useful.
Like any other plant, they absorb nutrients from the soil, so this is a nice method of extracting the nutrients from these weeds and making a liquid fertiliser to use on vegetables and any other green,leafy plants. Look at it as recycling weeds in that efficient cycle of gardening that is really quite satisfying.
It’s perfect if you’re gardening organically and want to use what’s nearby, rather than having to go shopping. The nettle brew, rich in nitrogen, is just what’s needed for leafy crops like chard, spinach and good for hungry plants like potatoes, leeks, brassicas, courgettes.
It’s not for root crops because it encourage leaf growth rather than root growth, and avoid using it on very young plants, it’s strong stuff.
All you need is a large bucket with a lid, I used a water butt because we seem to have an extra one since we moved house
- chop down the nettles using shears, a strimmer or a lawn-mower
- squash or scrunch up the leaves so that they decompose more quickly, and make sure you wear thick gloves, not cotton ones and cover that tender, little space around your wrists
- place the container out of the way somewhere because the brew will have a strong smell, as you would imagine decomposing leaves would
- half-fill it with nettles, but don’t include the roots, we don’t want them to grow, then weigh them all down, I used a bit of paving slab, but a couple of bricks will do just as well
- cover the nettles with water so that the container is about three quarters full, and put the lid on it all.
- stir it every two or three days.
Leave it all to steep for 3-4 weeks untill the liquid is rich, dark and frankly quite smelly. When it’s ready to use, dilute it to one part nettle brew to ten parts water. This really matters because the undiluted brew is too strong for plants on it’s own, though the undiluted liquid can be used on the compost heap to speed up the decomposing process.
Top the container up with leaves and water as necessary, then at the end of the summer, tip the sludge onto the compost heap, rinse out the container ready for next spring.
I’m leaving a patch of nettles to continue growing because they make a good habitat and food source for red admiral, small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. Ladybirds and lacewings breed on them, and we really want to encourgae these little creatures into our gardens to scoff all those aphids..
all photos: Jill Anderson