Create your own nettle patch
A nettle patch can be a valuable asset to any garden. Nettle aphids provide an early food source for woodland birds, such as the Great Tit and Blue Tit, which have learnt to exploit the garden habitat. Ladybirds are also attracted to the nettle in early spring to lay their eggs - the voracious larvae hatching to a juicy meal of nettle aphids. The ladybirds breed quickly on the nettles and by midsummer the organic gardener can have of army of red and black allies keeping aphids in check.
The young shoots can be cut and added to soups and stews or cooked as a vegetable - somewhat spinach like in texture.
Later in the year the nettle patch can provide food for the caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock butterflies as well as the beautiful Red Admiral. The vast quantities of seed produced provides a late summer feast for our seed eating birds
At any time the nettle foliage can be cut down and submerged in water to make a free and totally organic liquid plant food.
The first step to creating the perfect nettle patch is the choice of site. If butterflies are the main aim then it is essential that the patch be in a sunny, sheltered location - shady nettle patches are unlikely to attract butterflies.
The next question is one of size. Again if butterflies are the aim the patch should be of a decent size - a single brood of Peacock caterpillars could easily devour a square metre of dense nettles stems!
Nettles are hungry plants so the ground should be enriched with well-rotted manure and garden compost before planting. The only thing left to do is to get your plants - but do remember that the nettle is a wildflower and should not be dug up from the countryside. I'm sure you can find a gardening neighbour or allotment holder who would be only too happy to give you some of theirs!
Plant the nettles at about 30 cms apart and keep well watered until established.
One final thing to remember is that the nettle can spread rapidly. A path around the plot can help contain it or confine it to a corner bed in a lawn where any wayward shoots are soon dealt with by the lawnmower!