For the last few weeks I have been steadily lugging wheelbarrows of our manure from a stinking heap at the top of our drive across to the polytunnel and raised beds. I’m doing so with trepidation because it appears that this manure has surprising powers. Last year our tenderly transplanted strawberry bed went into exuberant leaf… and then failed to fruit. This year, the same strawberry bed ended up looking like this:
The bountiful but ‘wrong crop’ mystery was solved when we remembered an overexcitement at our neighbour’s limitless supply of manure two years ago and the fact that rainwater carries nutrients down the slope of our vegetable garden: A rather ripe raised bed above this one and just a few stray seeds from flowers planted several years back mean that nasturtiums have now secured their place in our garden indefinitely. Even beyond the ‘strawberry bed’, a rather vigorous variegated nasturtium has sprung up in the compost heap and is blazing a trail of raucous orange down the hill. Yet another raft of red and orange is spilling out from under some old carpet covering a decomposing layer of leaf mould at the front of the house. Although this means that nasturtiums are almost raising their status to ‘weed’ in our garden, they usefully confirm the location of fertile soil, and their profusion of colour makes them a very welcome ‘companion’ plant…
So I didn’t have any intentions towards my nasturtiums beyond companionship, and butterflies… until I happened upon Preserves: River Cottage Handbook no.2 by Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin. When I discovered recipes for nasturtium capers and nasturtium pesto, our failed strawberry bed suddenly looked like a blazing (but wonderfully effortless) success. ‘Poor Man’s Capers’ (made from nasturtium seeds) may yet be a way of keeping self-sown nasturtiums under control and besides, now I have an almost limitless supply of Welsh-climate-friendly pesto leaf at my disposal. Gone are my summers of coaxing leggy basil plants into leaf on our kitchen windowsill! This local pesto is so tasty and so outrageously green that I’m even happy to sacrifice a few of my precious dye-destined calendula petals to pretty it up:
Which got my dyers mind thinking… and I decided to have a go at dyeing with my nasturtiums. I couldn’t find any evidence of anyone else who had tried this so I just used the same basic mordant and dyeing process as before. I made my dye harvest: 250g nasturtium leaves and 150g nasturtium flowers, and set a couple of dye pots to simmer.
A concentrated sharp pepperiness hovered over the nasturtium flower dye bath almost to sneeze levels, but the promising red liquor resulted in a less intense, but very gentle, peachy colour.
The nasturtium leaf, which had given such a wonderful green to the pesto, gave a difficult-to-photograph but almost neon yellow dye to my wool fleece:
As my husband pointed out, ‘that’s exactly the colour of the scarf you’re wearing’: I’m a bit of a fan of yellow and this one is a notch up in tone on the ochre colour from the blackberry leaf dye. So I’m really excited about the potential of this profuse dye resource for substantial quantities of woven or knitted fabric in the future and I’ve already spun some very beginner yarn from it. There are plenty more leaves out there so I might well dye a bigger batch of wool before the nasturtiums go over… if I have time.