One of the most annoying weeds in the garden is the common stinging nettle. If you have ever been unlucky enough to be stung by one of these, you’ll testify to how annoyingly itchy it makes your skin. It doesn’t take more than a slight brush against a stinging nettle to cause a skin wound from the slightest of touches from the prickly nettle. What’s more, is that the trace elements from a stinging nettle can penetrate through thin clothing, so wearing jogging bottoms isn’t a solution to avoiding stings in the woods or in the garden.
Once stung by stinging nettles, the first reaction is to look around for the nearest dock leaf in order to rub the affected area and hopefully reduce the soreness, meanwhile cursing the offending weed for all we are worth. The stings are caused by brushing against the fine hairs that are under the leaves and on the stems of the nettles themselves. In fact, if you grasp a nettle firmly with the hairs following their natural direction, you don’t actually get stung at all, it is only when brushed against the direction they grow in that you will be stung by a jaggy nettle.
One of my worst memories from my young childhood was when my older sister had her friend round to play for the afternoon. Both of them being five years older than I was, of course, the smallest, so I happily accepted the friend’s offer of a ride on her shoulders through the small area of woodland on our property. We headed towards an overgrown quarry that was also located on our land, but unfortunately for me, my friend tripped over a tree root, I catapulted off her shoulders, landing face-first in a huge patch of stinging nettles.
As you can imagine… I howled, they panicked, and being youngsters, rushed me back to the house making me promise not to tell Mum. In return for which they would read me a story. Having smuggled me up to the bedroom they kept their end of the bargain, and I kept mine by never telling tales on them, but after this, I never had a great fondness for nettles.
That is until a few years back when I discovered a stinging nettle can make excellent plant food!
What You Need to Make a Nettle Tea
(The tea is the base you’ll use for making a nettle fertilizer/manure to feed plants the extra nutrients they get from these problem plants in the garden)
- As many nettles as you can find in your garden
- A large bucket and a lid or cover for it
- A heavy stone or similar
How to Make the Nettle Plant Food.
Start in the Spring (ideally before the nettles have flowered).
Firstly, crush or bruise whatever stinging nettles you can get by whatever means necessary while avoiding being stung by them. Remember from earlier: “Grasp a nettle firmly with the hairs following their natural direction. These need to be handled with care to avoid breaking out in a nasty skin rash.
Some methods that don’t require manual handling of the nettle include:
- Stamping on them on a hard surface,
- Chopping at them with a strimmer,
- Running over them with a lawnmower fitted with a grassbox,
- Crushing them in your hands whilst wearing thick gardening gloves
- Or simply by placing them in the bucket and using the handle of a broom, a flat-ended sawn-off branch or similar to act as a pestle in much the same way as you would grind herbs in a pestle and mortar. Make sure there are plenty of nettles packed tightly into the bucket.
Secondly: Place your heavy stone on top of the nettles.
Thirdly: Add sufficient water to cover over the contents of the bucket and place the lid on top.
Lastly: Leave the bucket in a corner of the garden away from the house (to avoid the resulting odor and the flies this attracts) for about four weeks, or until the liquid part of the mixture is the color of tea.
When you wish to use the plant food simply drain off what you need and dilute with fresh water at a rate of 1 part nettle plant food to approximately 8-10 parts water.
Up until Winter, continue to top up your bucket with fresh nettles and water, or alternatively keep two buckets brewing some nettle tea, and when you are ready to use one, drain the liquid off into another container and throw the nettles on to your compost heap.
You can then set this empty bucket up again, and meanwhile, use up the liquid you drained off. When the liquid is gone then use the mixture from your second bucket, set up that bucket again, and so on, alternating between batches.
Nettle plant food is high in nitrogen, as well as sulphur, magnesium, iron, etc. This makes it ideal for plants such as lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, flowers, lawns, houseplants, etc.
The Fermentation Process When Making Stinging Nettle Fertilizer
As a natural food for plants, it doesn’t get much better than stinging nettles. The fermenting process only takes around three weeks and it only needs a good stir every second day. What’s more, is you can make stinging nettle manure by steeping just 28 grams of nettles in 240 ml of boiling water and leaving it to steep for 20 minutes. That’s the fastest way to use a pile of stinging nettle plants. You can leave the nettle soup for up to an hour and dilute at a ratio of 1:10. Stinging nettle manure is the fastest way to utilize nettle tea but depending on the types of plants you’re feeding with this, a more diluted stinging nettle fertilizer may be needed for plants that don’t do well with high iron, such as tomato plants.
Once you have a base made, it can be topped and adjusted throughout the gardening year, and it’s free, so it doesn’t get much better than that.