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nettle guild?

 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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nettle season is upon us and I want some advice.

we've got a great patch of nettles (Urtica dioica), maybe 20'x40'.  showed up years ago without any help from us.  gives us all sorts of food and tea and material for cordage.  trouble is that blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) are also fighting for the space.  the nettles come in thick in the spring, but peter out later in the year, like nettles do, so other plants fill in the space, like other plants do.  my strategy so far has been to let a goat eat up all the blackberries and grass just before the nettles start sprouting.  works alright, but the blackberries always return.

any ideas?  maybe a groundcover to team up with the nettles?  the dirt is extremely sandy (floodplain) with excellent organic material, really great stuff.  on the north side of a fairly short building: bright shade to full sun depending on season.  cool mediterranean climate: mild wet winters, hot dry summers.

go!
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Lots of plants might take advantage of that wet winter. I've recently become a fava bean enthusiast, because I'm in a mediterranean climate too. They may or may not be for you: they're tall enough you could get a yield out of them fairly painlessly, but you'd have to find a way to get them under an inch of cover without hurting your hands...maybe wrapping them in a thick layer of paper pulp and broadcasting them?

Crimson clover might also be worth looking into, maybe with a winter grain crop bi-culture. Rye & vetch seem to be the most-mentioned winter cover crops, but there are better people than me to suggest species & varieties that fit your time-frame.

Millet strikes me as a way to place a lot of mulch where you want it in short order, late in the dry season. It might be a particularly useful intermediary, if the nettle canopy is too dense for other plants to become established. The wet-season crop can just go into the millet straw.

Some sort of bulb that sprouts reliably at the right time of year also strikes me as a helper here: many of them grow in winter, the bulb has energy enough to push through the nettle canopy, especially with that shape of leaf. But it might be tough to plant them safely, and I don't think they will form a complete canopy by themselves. If you try garlic, fava beans will be more compatible than other legumes. But there are endless options.

When do the nettles tend to sprout, and over what timeframe do they die back? I'm definitely intrigued by the idea of a tag team, where you choose a successor plant that becomes established over the same window that the nettles die back.

And then there's chemical warfare: the internets say black walnuts' juglone-exuding roots are bad for blackberries, but not for nettles. Not sure you want a walnut orchard there, but maybe they can be planted as a hedge?
 
Jordan Lowery
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the place i collect my nettles locally is the same way. i just collect and harvest what i can before the blackberries overtake the nettles. at the end of the season the tall nettle stalks are the only survivors and i use those for rope.
 
tel jetson
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When do the nettles tend to sprout, and over what timeframe do they die back? I'm definitely intrigued by the idea of a tag team, where you choose a successor plant that becomes established over the same window that the nettles die back.


nettles are sprouting right now.  that's a bit early, as we've had a rather warm January.  when they die back is also a function of the weather, but they can be in leaf until November.  they seem to get a bit scraggly by September, though.

soil wrote:
the place i collect my nettles locally is the same way. i just collect and harvest what i can before the blackberries overtake the nettles. at the end of the season the tall nettle stalks are the only survivors and i use those for rope.


blackberries would definitely win this particular fight.  I could see trying to get some of the local trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) established.  that stuff can make a nice dense groundcover that probably wouldn't interfere with the nettles too much.  might not get enough sun to make much fruit, but that's not the prime concern.  some wild strawberries might work.

I like the clover idea, I could see that working real well.

good ideas, keep them coming.
 
Paul Cereghino
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All my best nettle patches are under a closed red alder overstory that seems to reduce the vigor of the himalayan blackberry.  Miner's lettuce seems to like similar conditions.
 
Jordan Lowery
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blackberries would definitely win this particular fight.  I could see trying to get some of the local trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) established.  that stuff can make a nice dense groundcover that probably wouldn't interfere with the nettles too much.  might not get enough sun to make much fruit, but that's not the prime concern.  some wild strawberries might work.


that is just the place i collect them wild( and mostly for rope because they get so tall trying to grow through the blackberries at 4', and just mentioned it because someone else described a similar situation.

on the other hand i also grow them here myself for on farm use and personal use. they are surrounded with a border of perennial wild yarrow. the nettles grow too thick for anything to grow with them really.
 
Travis Philp
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Tel...

What about transplanting the nettle to another location, or letting some of it go to seed and planting those somewhere else. To me this means a lot less work than fighting blackberry.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Unless you expect the saponins to harm some fish, you might look into quinoa to go along with the clover. If you sow the right variety early in October, it will probably be ready for harvest before the goats need to be let in.
 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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Travis Philp wrote:
Tel...

What about transplanting the nettle to another location, or letting some of it go to seed and planting those somewhere else. To me this means a lot less work than fighting blackberry.


transplanting elsewhere on the property most likely wouldn't solve the problem.  there are enough blackberries around and enough critters that eat them that given an opportunity, dirt will grow blackberries.  disturbing dirt enough to transplant or seed nettles will probably lead to some blackberry seedlings, too.  we have moved some nettles elsewhere, though, and will continue to do so.  I really like the combination of an incredibly useful plant with a bad reputation.

given enough time and goat chewing, I think the nettles will come out on top, but this patch just cries out for some diversity.  it's beautifully thick with nettles, but the dirt is super nice and I know it could nourish something more sociable than blackberries.

Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
Unless you expect the saponins to harm some fish, you might look into quinoa to go along with the clover. If you sow the right variety early in October, it will probably be ready for harvest before the goats need to be let in.


sounds reasonable.  we're on a river, but these nettles aren't too near the bank.  any saponins are going to have to make their way through an awful lot of rich dirt and then a lot of subsoil to get to any fish.  it could happen, but it's a big river and only a little quinoa.
 
tel jetson
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what about common chickweed (Stellaria media)?  round here, it's generally an overwintering annual.  self-seeds in cultivated beds, but I'm not sure if it would do so in undisturbed soil.  two spring tonics together?  what do you think?
 
Travis Philp
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Another possibility to add to the polyculture: I've seen nettles and mustard growing right up against eachother and both did very well.
 
Dave Miller
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Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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I would just cut or mow the area in the fall, and pull up the blackberry sprouts in the spring (yes you may have to walk through nettles - wear long sleeves & gloves).  Do this for several years and the blackberries will be gone (until the birds bring more seed).  That's what I've done in my yard, each year I have to pull fewer and fewer blackberries.
 
                    
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I hear pigs go for the roots and are very effective at back berry eradication...but don't know if they'd deal well with the nettles.  Rooting them through the patch in the spring would seem like a good idea - small shoots and all. 
 
Scott Reil
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Location: Colchester, CT
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At least two people have noted that blackberries and nettles seem to grow together...

Are we possibly missing that blackberries and nettles IS the guild? If so a trip through the woods might offer ideas... Thistle is a favored habitat for coccinellids (read ladybugs), so perhaps try some seed near aphid vulnerable plants? But it sounds like nettle and rubus have already reached agreement, so who else shows up? Take suggestions from nature...

HG
 
Dave Miller
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Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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These are himalayan blackberries, a very nasty invasive species in this area.  They will grow in and eventually consume any other plants except trees that completely shade them (which is very rare).

This plant was brought to the U.S. by Luther Burbank.  He orginally called it the "Himalayan Giant".  Read about it in his own words here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=oH8tAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA27#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Scott Reil wrote:
At least two people have noted that blackberries and nettles seem to grow together...

Are we possibly missing that blackberries and nettles IS the guild? If so a trip through the woods might offer ideas... Thistle is a favored habitat for coccinellids (read ladybugs), so perhaps try some seed near aphid vulnerable plants? But it sounds like nettle and rubus have already reached agreement, so who else shows up? Take suggestions from nature...

HG

 
Scott Reil
Posts: 179
Location: Colchester, CT
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Thanks adunca; I was not familiar with  this one although further research shows it as close as Massachusetts. Guess I will meet it soon enough. 

I have noted a certain lack of concern amongst many permaculturalists about some invasive issues; i.e., mustard, considered one of our worst, is used regularly. Is it simply the dominating nature of this plant or the invasiveness which everyone objects to?

S
 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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Is it simply the dominating nature of this plant or the invasiveness which everyone objects to?


yeah.  delicious berries, but it's crazy thorny and just doesn't stop growing.  I've seen it smothering thirty foot trees.  grows in these high arches and then the tip roots and sends up another arch.  I have no intention of eradicating them entirely from the property because our goats love the leaves and I love the berries, but they're such a pain in the ass.  succession would take care of them eventually, but I'm not that patient.

there is a trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) here as well that may be a more suitable partner for the nettles, though it does tend to trip folks.  so far, I like chickweed and quinoa.

what about a strawberry?  I've got several species of strawberry round here.  Fragaria chiloensis probably spreads the fastest and densest and retains the most foliage over the winter, but fruits the least.  F. moschata spreads relatively quickly and fruits a lot more.  F. vesca spreads slowly by seed but probably fruits the most.  they're all ridiculously delicious and should do relatively well in the shade of the nettles, though fruit production wouldn't be as high as in full sun.
 
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