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by Alan Gould

This page was originally published on www.nugget.demon.co.uk
24th March 1998 - Well well, it's just like March today, but the unusually mild spell since Christmas has brought on a nice showing of young nettle tops. So it may be a good time to describe the process of making nettle manure for the benefit of any who doesn't know.
Any waterproof container will do from a teacup to a small pond. We do ours in one of those 45 gallon plastic drums with the top cut off. Fill the container with nettles, young tops are preferable because they biodegrade more quickly and they leave less fibre residue etc in the bottom of the tub.
When I saw an outcrop of nettle tops appearing recently, I put the collector box onto the petrol mower, set the cutting height about halfway and skimmed over them, leaving enough height on the plants for regrowth. That gave me five barrowloads of bruised nettle tops, which filled about half the volume of my tub. The tub was already about a quarter full with rain which had collected overwinter plus some comfrey I had put in earlier, so in went the nettle tops and I pressed them down into the water. Later on I'll put more tops in, then the space will be made up with more rainwater. Tap water can be used if you don't have rainwater available.
It takes about three weeks for the nettles to break down, then the liquid is ready to use. (Comfrey takes longer, but is a worthy addition.) While they are fermenting, the mush will rise, so some weight will need to be put on to hold them down. I use a wire grid with a couple of bricks on it. The process of adding nettles and water can be repeated all through the season. The tub will need a clean out at the back end of the year, putting all the mushy residue onto the garden of course.
I'll give you fair warning that the liquid smells a bit 'farmyardy'. It seems to penetrate clothing etc. but any odour will have completely gone within 15-20 minutes of using the stuff, so don't be afraid of it. It can be applied as a liquid feed or a foliar feed. If you want to use it in a spray, strain it through muslin or similar first or the tiny fibres will block the spray jets. We don't put ours directly onto plants, but between the rows, on the principle of feeding the soil rather than the plants, but that's optional. I dilute ours half-and-half with more rainwater if the liquid seems very dark. We find it particularly good for tomatoes, roots and legumes, but almost anything that grows will benefit from a drink of it. Roses love it.
Another benefit from using nettle manure is that it is a first class insect repellant. If we have an infested plant, then we will put it directly on and the pests will go away in a hurry. Nettles are a deep rooted plant, they go right down and bring up trace elements which are so essential to plant health, and which are often lacking in regularly cropped ground. Nettle manure is completely organic and totally free of cost. It beats me why anybody wants to go out paying for poisonous chemical fertilisers when this can be had at no cost and no risk.
I don't know what NPK nettle manure contains, maybe somebody can tell us. What I do know is the beneficial effect it has on our gardening and on the flowers and food crops we grow. Colours, blooms, plant growth, flavours and textures all seem to perk up with its use.
Alan Gould | alan@agolincs.demon.co.uk

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