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A Long Row to Hoe

Plants of ILL Repute!
by Ken Beattie
by Ken Beattie

email: kenb@cwf-fcf.org

Ken Beattie has hosted a number of gardening-related programs for WTN.

Ken is currently working with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and is also the author of an informative gardening book series.


June 18, 2006

Dear Sis,

Dandelions, nettles and even poor old red clover, suffer endless amounts of abuse as the " plants of ill repute" in most Canadian gardens. Nettles are the least easy for me to forget about. It was a very warm summer's day and I was helping my cousins on their farm for the haying season. City slicker that I was, I had no idea that some plants could "bite". Well after a stroll through what seemed to be shoulder high nettles, gallons of calamine lotion and a serious scolding.... I had been formerly inducted into the "wiser -ones" club. Feared by all but the uninitiated, these plants stood very proudly next to the sheep barns. This location, of course in full sun, boasted the richest soil (composted manure) in the barnyard. This can be a clue to nettle growers, find a patch and sure as nettles sting, the soil is excellent and very high in nitrogen. Had I known then what I know now about nettles, the sting could have been alleviated by applying the juice of the nettle to the contact area.
Nettles were actually cropped in Scotland for use in fabric production. The sturdy, linen-like fibres apparently stood up admirably . If you have tried to cut nettles down, you'll have no difficulty in believing this. Today, harvested nettles are excellent in your compost heap, pile or bin. They aid in the decomposition of the greens and add considerable amount of mineral to the finished product. Another positive point for nettles, is that they have an abundance of chlorophyll. It is this fact that has made the common nettle (Urtica dioica) a popular commercial source for pharmaceutical use. Now Sis, I am not suggesting that the one, meager specimen of nettle in your garden is enough to consider moving into the manufacturing district, but it is edible. Don your "Wellies", rubber gloves et al.... and head to the garden to harvest the newest shoots. Once boiled they offer similar nutrients to spinach and have a pleasant taste too. The sting is non existent once the plant is steamed or cooked. (It's getting it to the steamer that's the trick!)
As a "rampant" perennial, the rhizomes will travel a fair distance in the garden. If you are growing nettle for medicinal or culinary use, I would suggest a concrete or metal collar to keep it in one location... preferably away form the walkways.
Taraxacum officinale or dandelion is not a popular plant with most gardeners. However, the species name "Officinalis" refers to the culinary aspects that this plant posses. So what...say most! Spray the suckers and mow them down! Well, I must confess that cultivating dandelions may tarnish one's reputation as a gardener, but there is one saving grace. The long tap roots have an ability to draw minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil to the surface. Other plants in the vicinity of the dandelions will benefit somewhat from the extra food. That's it.... oh yes, dandelion wine is supposed to be OK also.... I wonder if anyone would buy my organically grown crop?
Red clover Red clover, we call Sis over... or at least that's how the kid's game started! Red clover is an excellent plant, particularly in your lawn. So many people try to spray herbicides to get rid of the clover, but it is actually helping to fertilize the lawn, for free! Clover is a legume, like alfalfa. Legumes have the unique ability to fix nitrogen form the atmosphere into useable nitrogen in the soil. Guess what the most widely used fertilizer is for turf grass? You got it. Not only does clover feed the grass, it also shades the roots of the turf with its broad trifoliate leaves. During heat spells and drought, the clover will actually save your lawn until you can get water to it.
Bees are naturally attracted to clover and with more bees come more beneficial insects in the garden.
Hopefully your garden is ready for the winter Sis, remember that if you want to "treat" the garden with herbicides to control these three, now is the best time do do it.

Love Ken

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