What’s so great about nettles?
The common nettle is one of the great plant foods for the garden, often avoided because of its sting of course, and often overlooked and ignored because, well - it’s so common! But, in fact, along with comfrey, it makes our absolute favourite compost tea. Our plants simply love it and spring is a great time for making this very special brew.
Nettles are truly wondrous plants. They are rich in a range of nutrients that our growing plants need including nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium. We find the tea very effective on all our leafy greens including spinach, kale, chard and the salad leaves love them too.
Alongside the tea, we also sometimes apply freshly cut nettles around plants as a mulch and we add them to the compost heap in the summer because, being nitrogen rich, they make a fabulous compost activator. We also leave plenty of nettles to grow around our land uncut because, as well as being nitrogen-fixers, they are attractive to many beneficial bugs and as such are major contributors to the overall ecology of the garden. As an example, aphids love nettles and in turn, these attract ladybirds that love to eat aphids - the nettle works in this case as a sacrificial crop to protect other plants by drawing in ladybirds which then help to harvest the aphids across the entire garden - a lovely symbiotic relationship!
How to make nettle tea
Making nettle tea is simplicity itself. To make it you will need:
A nettle patch
A sharp knife
Some gloves to protect yourself from getting stung
An onion bag to hold the cut nettles
A large container for the tea to brew in (ideally with a tap at the base for easy draining, though this isn’t essential)
A couple of large stones to weigh down the bag
Some water, ideally rainwater
1. We harvest nettles in the spring when the growth is vigorous and the plants look strong and dark green in colour. We cut the stems at the base of the plant which will encourage regrowth for further harvesting. Use everything you cut for the brew - leaves, stems, and stalks.
2. We stuff the cut nettles into onion sacks which are ideal for the job as they are tough, have a drawstring to hold everything in and are entirely water permeable.
3. We use a lot of nettle tea over the season so tend to fill around 3 onion sacks to put in a 200-litre water butt with a tap at the base. We place the sacks into the butt and weigh them down with clean stones before adding enough rainwater to cover the nettles. If you are gardening on a smaller scale, simply follow the same process using a standard size bucket – you can always make another brew if you run out.
4. We leave the brew to decompose and activate for around a month prior to use - and that’s it, after this we’re good to go!
How to apply your nettle tea
We tend to apply the compost tea using a 15-litre sprayer, mixing at a 2:1 ratio of roughly 5 litres of nettle tea with 10 litres of water. We sometimes also add a small amount of EM (extra-micronutrient mix) to really supercharge the brew as a root drench but that’s not essential. Over the summer we will typically spray crops we are harvesting every two or three weeks but it’s a rule of thumb and, in reality, we spray whenever we feel the crops look like they could do with a boost. The key here is observation - paying attention to the plants themselves, developing a feeling for how the plants are looking, how the weather is affecting them and where they are in their growing cycle.
We hope you enjoy making compost tea from nettles and we cannot recommend it highly enough. Make sure you also take some of the best fresh nettle tips for yourself to brew up a cup of nettle tea too, just as beneficial for humans as it is for plants and, mixed with a spoon of honey, it is truly the drink of the gods!