Saturday, 11 June 2011

Teatime for Plants

A wonderful new recipe that is sticky, gluey and maggoty with a throat-closing stench and once it touches the human flesh, the smell takes many days and baths and essential oils to remove. Probably good to have a bio-hazard suit or failing that, some thick washing up gloves and rubber boots or else you could smell of road kill for a long time after. 
After compost, nettle tea has to be the best fertiliser around. Not only do the vegetables cry out for it once a week through the growing season, but the roses, fruit trees and vines love it too especially when flowering.  In France, the nettle has become a very controversial subject in country circles as the government or perhaps just the ministry with the connivance of the chemical companies wanted to forbid its commercialisation many years ago using the excuse that Nettle Tea sold in gardening centres, was not tested for safety and efficiency like all the other fertilisers and therefore was dangerous for its customers. Of course, their argument was so idiotic that we all laughed heartily and nettle tea is still sold commercially but why not just make it yourselves.
The recipe is simple - 1 kg of fresh nettles (before they flower) and 10 litres of water (preferably rainwater). In a large bucket steep both together for 10 days or until the smell is unbearable and the liquid turns syrupy. 

When ready, sieve the whole lot into a 10 litre dark or at least opaque  petrol canister (that never held petrol before of course). 

The nettle tea should not be exposed to the light, otherwise it lose its magical properties. Dilute at 1:5 and feed the plants. Tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, cabbage, courgette and pumpkins love it. You can almost see the plants grow 10cm as you spray. Onions and turnips and radishes don't seem to appreciate its odour but they are not fertiliser mad anyway. 
One good tip: do not spray the same day you plan to eat as your veg or fruit will stink .
Another good tip: Spray the leaves in the morning and the roots in the evening
And another good tip: add a little liquid black soap to the spray to help the tea stick a little to the leaves
And one more good tip: Along with the leaves and plants, steep the roots of the nettles and you will give the tea some fungicide properties. 
But of course the best fungicide to fight against mildew and leaf curl is Horsetail tea and as you can see, we've got enough to start a factory.

Rich in silica and many trace minerals, a decoction of horsehair is a wonderful tonic for the more fragile plants like the tomato. Used in prevention on a weekly basis (associated with the nettle tea) I notice I am probably the last garden to be affected by mildew at the end of the season and manage to still have a green tomato harvest in November. Either steep 1kg in 10 litres of water for 2 weeks or boil I kg in a big saucepan with 10 litres of water for one hour and take off the heat, leave for 24 hours before sieving into an opaque canister, just like the nettles. 
Ferns can be steeped just like above for 10 days and used as an insecticide. They should all be diluted at 20%.

It manages to keep the white cabbage butterfly at a distance and can kill a wireworm in one go and also a great mulch for all brassicas.
THe list of plants growing around us, that can replace chemical pesticides, nitrates and fungicides is long and the season has just started. Comfrey is also a tomato tonic and they love a few leaves at their roots. Wormwood, ivy, calendula, garlic, dock leaves, sage and tansy all have some magical properties that stimulate and cure and now that I'm getting to understand the seasons of the south-west, I know that I will need each one of them to help me out at some stage during the coming months. Our home is going to smell just lovely.

Fascinating facts about nettles
1.   Nettles are responsible for rearing armies of  those cute little ladybirds in our gardens, preparing them to march on the aphids attacking crop plants later in the season
2.  Use nettle leaves to pack apples and pears etc for storage using the winter months - the nettle prevents moulds forming.
3.  Use fresh nettles as a compost activator as their natural nitrogen provide fuel for the bacteria to break down the more woody or carbon material in the heap.
4.  Hold your breath when picking nettles and you won't get stung.
5.  If your husband suffers from arthritis, whip him daily with a bunch of nettle plants and he'll  stop complaining and work harder in the garden.

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