Garden twine is essential for sustainability – here’s how I use it
In the interest of gardening in the most sustainable way, I avoid using plastic when I can and I opt for natural and environmentally friendly solutions. While there are big steps people can take to keep their garden plastic-free, an example of small, effortless changes is garden twine. Many gardeners simply grab the nearest plastic twine without really thinking about it – after all, it’s a less obvious contributor to plastic than other gardening tools and materials. But I try to avoid using plastic twine and use natural twine instead.
Natural twine options
I use two different solutions when looking for twine to use in my garden: natural hemp twine and a DIY solution.
The first option, which I use for larger projects where more twine is needed, is natural hemp twine. From all natural materials – jute, sisal, cotton, wool, etc. – I find hemp twine to be the best from a durability standpoint. Fortunately, 100% natural hemp twine is relatively widely available, so it is a good alternative to plastic twine for many gardeners.
For small projects, I don’t actually buy string. Believe it or not, you can make small lengths of twine yourself at home using a common weed – nettles.
Stinging nettles are very useful for textiles and can be processed and used to make very fine fabric. But without special skills and equipment, you can very easily make shorter lengths of rough, rustic nettle twine at home.
How I use natural twine in my garden
I use longer lengths of natural flax / hemp twine for various functions. These include:
- Create support structures for string tomatoes, peas, beans, and many other plants.
- Tie together trellises or other structures made from natural branches and other natural or salvaged materials. If you have children, this can also be useful for natural garden dens.
- Mark the new beds and borders.
- Hang hanging containers to make the most of my space.
Smaller lengths of homemade nettle twine can be used for:
- Tie individual plants to supports.
- Hang onions, garlic, herbs, etc. to dry them.
- To group products or to package local products to give them away.
Nettle twine can also be used for larger projects – it’s just that it takes time to make longer lengths for larger projects.
To make a rough, rustic nettle twine, here are some instructions:
- When wearing gloves, choose long nettles (early to mid-summer is the best time to get good lengths). Look for nettles with long sections of straight stem between the nodes, for the best quality fibers.
- Descend the stems, removing all leaves and stinging hairs. After this point, you should no longer need gloves.
- Hit or crush the rods to break up the outer layers and remove the hard inner material. You will be left with the fibers, attached to the outer bark.
- Using a dull butter knife or other similar tool, scrape along the fibers to scrape some of the green stuff to reveal the white fibers. Don’t worry about getting rid of all that stuff. You make rustic twine, not thin fabric.
- Drape the material to dry, separating it into as many thin ribbons as possible.
- After the nettle sprigs have dried, take your bundle and rub it between your hands to remove more bark material. Lightly moisten the strands so that you can work with them.
- Take two small sections of the packages. These are the two strands that you will use to make your twine.
- To make the twine, hold one end of both strands and twist one clockwise, before threading it counterclockwise under the other – twist, go under – repeating this process to form your thin piece of string.
If you want to learn more about using nettles in this way, check out Sally Pointer videos on Youtube.
Why I use natural flax / hemp and nettle twines
There are several reasons why I opt for the above mentioned strings. First of all, they are easy to grow. Organic flax / hemp twine can be grown without harmful pesticides or herbicides and without excessive water use. Nettle twine is even better because it grows, literally, like a weed, without an evening, requiring soil or resources for cultivation.
It’s available to me more locally than other bast fibers like jute or sisal, which need much warmer temperatures to thrive. I try to choose strings made as close to home as possible when I’m not making my own. Making mine reduces consumption and further reduces the negative impact.
In addition, the flax / hemp twine has good tensile strength, it does not stretch. And it easily lasts during the gardening season. A rustic nettle twine is also sturdy and strong – perfectly strong enough to withstand many uses. I don’t use it anymore because it takes time to make it longer lengths.
The twine I use is 100% biodegradable and compostable at home. Unlike plastic string, it does not pose a problem of end-of-life waste. Flax / hemp twine will take longer to decompose than many other materials, but with nettle twine I cut it into small pieces and add it to my composting system once it does. is more suitable for use.