Most gardeners want to get rid of nature’s stinging garden weed but in five educational poly tunnels at Duchy College, Rosewarne, the humble nettle is being nurtured with the same love and care as a prize rose.
It’s not just the horticulture and conservation staff and students at Duchy College who are watching anxiously over the plants’ progress, the award-winning cheesemakers at Lynher Dairies, sole producer of the famous nettle covered Cornish Yarg, are willing this pioneering project to work too.
“We need three tonnes of nettle leaves a year to wrap our cheeses in and some summers, there just aren’t enough,” explains Dairy Director Dane Hopkins. “We have our favourite fields and hedgerows near the dairy but we don’t accept any old leaf. Shape, age, health – we look for perfection, and with demand for Yarg increasing every year, we approached the team at Duchy College, Rosewarne and The Rural Business School with a cunning plan.”
If the nettles thrive staff and students, at the well-known horticultural college near Camborne working on the nettle patch, could be hailed as trailblazers.
“There isn’t much research or advice about growing nettles as most gardeners want to get rid of them,” says Sarah Anthony, Team Lead for Horticulture at Duchy College, Rosewarne, a 100 acre campus which specialises in land-based courses.
“We have found wild nettle patches around the campus, dug up the rhizomes and re-planted them in the poly tunnels. We have also grown some from seed, which we started off on our heated benches. We are looking to compare how the two methods would fare for growth and nettle quality, it’s an unusual challenge for us and an exciting one.”
Dane Hopkins is happy with results so far.
“The nettles from the seedling trays are in the lead at the moment because they closely resemble the wild leaves we forage locally. To the untrained eye, nettle leaves can all look quite similar but we’re looking for something the size of the palm of an average hand. The ‘right’ nettles only appear for six weeks each year before turning coarser, which ruins the flavour it brings to the cheese. To think we could have several poly tunnels worth of back-up is genuinely exciting.
“And with Brexit looming, we are aware of the dangers of losing our seasonal workforce. Our pickers from Europe have been a huge help, so we have to think creatively about our future in all sorts of ways.”
Lynher Dairies will be joining Duchy College, Rosewarne at their annual Open Day on Sunday 23rd June, 11am-3pm, where visitors can try their hand at ‘nettling’ a Yarg.
For more information on the range of courses available across The Cornwall College Group visit www.duchy.ac.uk or call 0845 60 50 455.