Digging for When the Canned Goods Run Out #4: First Blush of Spring – Nettles and Rhubarb

by Apocalypse Womble

Despite the mild weather this winter, it’s never an easy time when you know the zombies don’t feel the cold. Still, with any luck, if you did your looting right, your canned goods will have seen you through the winter. There’s not much for the plucky post-apocalypse farmer to do in the winter months – not this first year, at least – but at last, spring is creeping over the hills, and all women who want to survive to next winter should be out taking a look at the warming ground.

If you followed our advice you’ll already have done some of the work, breaking the ground and weeding it out. Alas, some of this work will need to be redone – weeds will have been slowed by the cold, but most will not have died. If you have cooch grass in your ground, go over your beds again, I guarantee you’ll find some you missed. Now’s also a great time to deal with any stinging nettles growing in your land.

Like so many pernicious weeds, the stinging nettle has long, vine-like roots that grow only just below, or along the surface of the soil. This makes them easier to pull from the soil than weeds that send roots deeper, but it’s still no picnic. You’ll face worse things in your brave new world, but nobody really likes getting stung if they can help it, so be sure to wear those good sturdy gloves you looted. One of the real advantages of acting on your nettle-invaders now, however, is that the winter will have sent them into dormancy. At this time of year they will have started to resurface, letting you know where you need to start, but you won’t have to work your way through a forest of stinging evil to get to the roots.

I’m fortunate enough to have some rhubarb growing in the allotment I’ve been cultivating in anticipation of zombigeddon, but the nettles are growing in, through, and around these treasured plants. Early spring, therefore, makes for a great time to deal with this menace. The rhubarb is beginning to poke its head through the soil, so I can see where it is and know where I need to be careful of the rhubarb’s roots, but it’s not yet spread out enough for its leaves to get in the way of a nettle cull.

As with cooch grass roots, loosen the soil around where you’ve spotted your nettle shoot, but then grab hold of the shoot and gently pull – see how much of the nettle you can get out this way before sticking your fork in again. A trowel may also be useful to help clear roots from the soil. Chances are that vine will ave gone places you didn’t expect from just looking at the ground. Nettle roots are typically pinkish near the surface, where shoots form, becoming thick and white as they travel under ground. Young roots will be flexible and rubbery and liable to snap, but older plants will have tougher, more gnarled roots deeper into the soil. Get as much of these out as you can and put them on the compost heap. Nettles are good in compost, and can make good fertiliser as well if left in a bucket of water to soak and mulch.

Of course, you may be tempted to use nettles as a food source – one can make nettle soup and nettle tea, after all, and I’m willing to admit I’ll try and infuse most things if I’m in danger of running out of tea. If you’re interested in nettle soup, there’s a fairly straightforward recipe here, and nettle tea seems relatively easy, not to mention that there are reputed to be a number of health benefits. I don’t know about you, though, but I’ve got better things to grow on my land that aren’t in danger of strangling my rhubarb. And don’t forget: if you’ve got nettles on your growing site there are probably plenty growing wild round about. This is a plant that gets everywhere. And if you’re desperately curious, you can always try cooking the young shoots you pull whilst weeding.

Whilst we’re talking about rhubarb, though, keep an eye out for edible plants already in your ground whilst you’re digging over – you never know what you might already have in your soil! You’d never even know rhubarb was there in the winter, but if you haven’t dug it up by accident it may be peeping through the ground now. The leaves will be tightly coiled at first, the heads either red or green. Easy to miss if you have one eye out for zombies! But rhubarb is a tasty delight that takes several years to establish, so if you have some in your plot it’s worth cultivating. A good picture of what it looks like breaking through can be found here.

2 Responses to Digging for When the Canned Goods Run Out #4: First Blush of Spring – Nettles and Rhubarb

  • nyssa23 says:

    I’m really enjoying this series! I do love rhubarb, especially in pies; however, the nettle recipes really caught my attention!

    I’m anemic and nettles/nettle tea appear to be quite high in iron, so I may actually be investigating that further. 🙂

  • Ro Smith says:

    Cool! Let me know if they actually taste good 😀

    I’m having so much work battling nettles at the moment I don’t really see me cultivating them, but as it’s also unlikely I’ll totally get rid of them, you never know!

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