Monday, 1 June 2009

Wading into the nettles

Take one container. Largish. An large old kitchen bin would be good, but not a pedal bin as that would be too small. Find some old gardening gloves although thick washing up gloves would do alright providing they have no holes in and are dry inside - there is nothing quite so horrible as putting one's hands inside damp washing up gloves: for some reason I always think something dreadful is going to be living inside the gloves so tend to become squirmy during the putting-on process. You also need to find some scissors, or shears, or clippers. For your attire: best to wear long sleeves, long trousers and boots. Oh and a hat if it is early morning or late evening or it is hot. All manner of things are going to be flying in and around the nettle patch during these times, so best to be covered up. Which means no bikini. If one would usually wear one, that is. But if one doesn't, then disregard that instruction.

So why would you want to be finding such tools, and be dressed in such a manner? Because you are going to make some Nettle Soup for your plants, or being sensible: Nettle Fertiliser.

1) Location: Previous to your Nettle Project, you need to locate a bed of nettles, not titchy little things, but tall mature ones and hopefully close to home, if not on your own land. Not too far, you see, in case you get something unpleasant happen to you when in amongst the nettles.

Our nearest patch is in the ditch by the house. Quite honestly it is not the most pleasant of places to want to spend any time in, but needs must.

So, with everything ready, off we go. For me, it is a slide down into the ditch which may or may not be either on my feet or on my rear end, depending on how slippery the sides of the ditch are. And also, bear in mind that I have clippers, and a large bin to cope with as well. I must be honest and say that no matter how I get into the ditch, I never can manage it is a lady-like fashion.

2) Cutting: If you are going to get 'value for money' out of the nettle-collecting adventure, you need to cut the chosen nettle at its base.

Choose your nettle, hopefully one which is easy to get at, and aim your cutting implement towards its base. Now a word of warning. You will probably have to stoop over for this, although because the nettles are on the side of the ditch I don't have to bend over as far as you might have to if you are on flat land.

Whatever position you find yourself in at this stage, be careful of other nettles in the vicinity of the chosen one coming in for the attack. You might be so concentrated on your intended victim that you might not see the one nearby which decides to have a go at your chin, or nose, or throat, or anything which is naked. I would remind you that long sleeves, long trousers, and boots, are the order of dress. If you opted for the bikini, well - I did warn you!

3) Folding: Long nettles are not going to get into the container. Well, they will, but only one end of them. So, you can either cut them up which is too fangley, or fold the stem up. I fold, squashing the stem as I go to burst it open.

And here is the folded nettle. You don't have to be tidy with it. Just scrunch it up.

4) Binned. Now into the bin it goes.

Keep cutting, folding, and binning until either the container is almost full, or you have to remove yourself from the site because of things happening like too many stings from either the vegetation or flying insects, or you get bored with the task. Another warning: this is not a quick five-minute job. You will need a lot of nettles. You will start off with vim and vigour, then tedium will set in after you have quarter-filled the container. Well it did with me. You might be more patient.

Eventually you will fill your container, taking a couple of hours or a couple of days depending on how keen you are to get the job done.

5) Positioning. Put your bin where it is going to live for a few weeks. Another warning: it will smell. Be mindful of this when you site your bin. By the backdoor of the kitchen or your caravan if that is your habitation at the moment, is not a good idea.

6) Watering. Fill your bin to the brim with water. Another warning: it will get heavy, that is why the bin has to sited first.

7) Stirring. Stir the contents around. It will look quite jolly. It will be the last time it does. From here on in, as times goes by, you will feel less and less like getting your hands into the mix.

8) Weighting. You need to make the contents sink, so place something on the vegetation to make it do so. A word of advice: make it something which is easy to get out, like a flat tile. Bear in mind that you will have to manually remove any weight you put into the mix at a later date.
Put a lid on your container, maybe a piece of wood, or a plastic bag. Anything will do.

9) Waiting. Now leave. Stir sometimes, if you want to. I did only once.

10) Done. Upon investigation, if the soup mix looks suitably rotten, and the stems have whitened and the leaves have dissolved, then the mix is ready. A word of warning: the smell will be really, really, rampant. Earthy. Of manure. Of rotting stuff, although not of rotting flesh or anything awful like that, just rotting vegetation. Strongly so.

11) Decanting. I have read that at this point the mixture can be decanted and bottled. Now, this means sieving the slush. If you are a brave person, then have a go. Fortunately Head Gardener Lester was in too much of a hurry to try the brew out and plunged my cooking jug into the brackish water. The jug will no longer be used in the kitchen. Forever after, it will be used for one thing only, and that will be for future nettle-soup projects.

The Mix! Mostly used up, but just to let you have an idea of the end product.

I am in the bottom left hand corner. Not in actuality of course, just me in reflection.

And so now you might be wondering why I am giving you instructions for this nettle-mix. It's for your plants! Yes! For your plants which are so valiantly growing for you. One part nettle-mix to ten parts water, that is the correct dilution. Only HG couldn't be bothered to count 1:10 and just fuzzed in a couple of pints from my once-upon-a-time cooking-jug into the watering can. Hopefully it wasn't too strong. Apparently it can be used as an aphid deterrent if used in a more concentrated mix. So it remains to be seen if HG has been too enthusiastic, bearing in mind his ant-attack on a couple of fruit trees which turned a goodly portion of the leaves black. He used almost neat washing-up liquid, bless him.

Things I have learnt: Nettles sting like the blazes at first, but the sting soon turns into a nice warm feeling providing one doesn't rub at the skin too much in the initial stingy moments. But there are dock plants around, the leaves of which can be rubbed over the sore spots. That curiously the nettle odour seems to have less of an effect on the nostrils after half an hour or so. That sometimes it is best to let HG take over certain tasks, distributing the nettle fertilizer being one of them: it would seem he has a stronger nose.

By the way, you can deposit the stuff at the bottom of your bin on the compost heap, which leaves you an empty container which you can have the pleasure of filling up again with nettles. Oh the joys of trainee self sufficiencers. The pleasurable days spent amongst nature. The aroma of nature. The naturalness of life. Am I inspiring you, too, to make a brew of nettle stew? Was that a 'no' I heard? Oh tut tut!

So heading out to cut another swathe of nettles for the next bin, cheerio for now.