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Fancy a nettle tea? Spring nettles are abundant right now and have lots of health benefits

Nettles are high in vitamins and minerals, blood-cleansing, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergy, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

IT’S A TESTAMENT to the year-round, cyclical nature of this pastime that in the same week as I sowed my parsnips, I was also pulling out the last of last year’s crop.

Parsnips are a hardy old vegetable and they will sit quite happily in the ground through the worst of the winter weather.

The constant frosts and thaws that play havoc (eventually) with your leeks and other winter crop, have little impact on the tough old parsnip. Their foliage completely dies back over the winter months, to the extent that it can be hard to actually find the roots themselves when you go digging for them (usually on a Sunday lunchtime when my thoughts to turn to preparing Sunday dinner).

In the spring the plants start to grow again (parsnips are biennial) and produce another round of lush green foliage. Though this is undeniably pretty in an otherwise bare veg patch, it seems to spell trouble for the roots themselves which on digging are found to be soft (and worse, on cooking are found to be overly chewy).

So this week it was time to dig out what was left (about 30 parsnips) and consign them to the compost heap. Cue much soul-searching and gnashing of teeth about the waste and wondering why we didn’t eat more of them while they were edible. Even the hens turned their noses up at them. Not to worry.

I was reminded how at Bloom one year, one of the award winning gardens had a most unusual plant that puzzled many garden designers as they couldn’t recognise it. It was labelled: Pastinaca sativa. It was a parsnip in its second year, an absolutely beautiful specimen plant that deserves a place in any ornamental garden.

You could also of course allow one of the plants to produce their pretty yellow flowers and harvest the seeds so that you don’t have to buy more seeds. Parsnip seeds are notoriously perishable and given how long they take to germinate (three weeks or more), it’s a good idea to buy fresh seed each year rather than taking a chance on last year’s leftovers.

The Basics – Sowing Parsnips

shutterstock_429138232 Source: Shutterstock/Marian Weyo

I always fork over the beds where I am going to sow my carrots and parsnips, to give them the best chance of producing nice long roots. It goes without saying that root crops won’t fare very well if they start to grow down and meet hard soil or a large stone. So it’s time to break a sweat and dig.

About a week before sowing, break down clods with a fork and rake really well to create a fine seed bed. Add an organic fertiliser (like poultry manure pellets). Most parsnip seed packets will tell you to sow them in February – don’t do it. Far better to leave it until late April or early May.

The seeds won’t germinate in cold, wet soil and later-sown parsnips are less likely to get canker.

Having created a nice fine, flat seed bed, make a drill 1cm deep. If soil is dry, dampen. Sow three seeds every 6 inches in rows 12 inches apart and cover in with soil.

Germination takes up to three weeks. When seedlings appear, pull out the two weakest ones. This spacing will produce medium sized roots.

How much to sow?

If you want to eat 3 parsnips a week for the 24 weeks between October and March you will need to grow 72 parsnips.

In a standard bed (1.2m wide) you will get three rows of parsnips, if you space the parsnips at 6 inches in each row you will get 20 parsnips per metre, so you will need a bed 3.5m long to get 72 parsnips.

Recipe of the Week – Nettle Tonic

shutterstock_291855995 Source: Shutterstock/Dora Zett

Spring nettles are abundant right now, and they are at their best when young. They have all manner of health benefits. They’re high in vitamins and minerals, blood-cleansing, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergy.

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A tea made from nettles (really an infusion) is a super tonic, or you could try making a nettle soup.

Nettle tea has a rich and earthy taste that won’t appeal to everyone, but you can sweeten it with some honey or stevia leaf.

Ingredients

  • A good bunch of fresh nettles, leaves and stems
  • Boiling water

Directions

Obviously, if you are harvesting nettles from the wild, wear gloves or you will get stung.

Choose young shoots and cut them rather than pulling (the plant will re-grow). Rinse the nettles under a tap, and then place them in a saucepan.

Pour over boiling water and boil gently for 5 minutes or so.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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