Monthly Archives: September 2013

Retting the nettle crop

The last time I wrote about nettle processing, Andrea wrote in with some really helpful suggestions from her experience.  She also provided a link to a useful article by Vogl and Hartl on the subject.

This time, I am taking Andrea’s advice to the extent I can.  I have the common stinging nettle, urtica dioica, and no other nettles to choose from, so that is what I am using.  There is no chance of my accessing large amounts of nettles as tall as 1.2 m, but a few of my sample are that tall. I am harvesting at the end of winter, the plants have flowered and had a lot of green seed on them–I thought I had left them too long but perhaps not.  It is hard to fully understand how the seasons here affect plants native to Europe, but nettles don’t grow here when it is warm.  They are more likely to lose leaves as the warm weather sets in, than to lose them in autumn.  This means that I am harvesting nettles at pretty much the opposite point in the seasons that a person in Europe might.

So.  The nettles were harvested on 24 August, and set to rett that morning.  I changed the water twice on 25 August to prevent fermentation (and the chilly weather will have helped that too) and had an interesting conversation with a seller at the farmers’ market who had harvested his nettles and had them for sale.  5 days later, I decided they were about right. They had begun to smell somewhat, and the evidence that the outer layer had begun to rot away was clear (as opposed to the murky water).

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The surface green layer of the stem rubbed away readily.

 

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Once I had thoroughly rinsed them, most of the green covering of the stem was gone.  I am offering these photos in hopes that others more knowledgeable might offer me their advice.  The works I have consulted make it seem to me that identifying when retting has gone far enough but not too far is difficult to describe.  No doubt it is an expert skill (which needless to say, I don’t possess), and perhaps one of those not readily converted into words–like how to tell the level of kneading is perfect for bread dough by feel, or how to tell a fermentation indigo vat is ready to use from the way it smells.

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I set them to dry thoroughly.  At this stage I belatedly had the thought that perhaps next time I should stage the removal of stems from the retting process, and see if I can identify which stage gives me a better outcome.  Too late to do such a logical experiment with this batch!  To be continued….

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Nettle harvest

I decided to grow my nettles high and try processing them for fibre again this year. I have left this a little later than ideal, but so much about my knowledge of processing nettle fibre is imperfect I decided to just give it a try and worry about fine detail at some future point when I have more understanding and more experience!  Here we have my harvest, with leaves:

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And after the leaves have been stripped.  The leaves went to friends who were enthusiastic about nettle soup.  I am sorry to say I don’t like the flavour of nettles.  I wish I did, they are full of minerals and I have plenty of them!  I love the idea of eating them but not the reality.  I will just have to stick to eating dandelion, prickly lettuce and milk thistle to keep my weeds down.

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While I was pulling the nettles and weeding out the soursobs and burr medic and grass, the chickens kept me company and enjoyed the fruits (and earwigs) of my labours.  If this was a podcast, I would have been only too delighted to record their excited voices.  And when I found these, I had some excitement of my own!  In fact, I went in and made a potato and silverbeet (and endive, milk thistle, chicory, parsley) soup to share with my friends the nettle lovers.

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The nettles are much bigger than the previous harvest.  So much so there was no chance I could rett them in a bucket, even my biggest one.  In the end, they went into the wheelbarrow, the biggest receptacle I could find other than my bathtub!  To be continued…

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