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Comfrey -- believe the hype! A detailed post on using comfrey for fertility in a market garden

 
Posts: 630
Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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i have 6 planted under my 50ft. red pines. they grew to 3ft. this year and its heavilly shaded there. even grass has a hard time under them but 2 yr. old comfrey still thrives, tho not as well as if grown in full sun.
 
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Location: Gulf of Mexico cajun zone 8
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Today I went back to the garden I took the original transplants from to see if any more have appeared. They had. So I dug them up & transplanted into the new garden. Divided 2 larger plants into 3 or 4 pieces each. Left 2 smaller plants intact. Did the same for the 2 plants I mentioned being in the shade. Planted it all in the hugelhole. So about a dozen new plants & few root pieces in the hole. But wait, there's more. Read on another thread this week about someone starting new plants from just the leaves. So I removed leaves from some of the established plants to see if that works for the variety I have.



Remembered to include the asparagus in waiting in this batch of pix. It's the tall fluffy stuff.

 
steve bossie
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not sure about the leaves but the lower stalk will start a new plant. had 1 start growing in my compost pile.
 
Mike Barkley
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Most of the leaves had the entire stalk too. Tried one or two with nothing but the leaf. We shall see.
 
steve bossie
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i meant the main stalk that the leaves were attached to.
 
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Because I am lazy, I have gotten really good use of the "comfrey tractor" notion that comes out of Jack Spirko's Survival Podcast universe.  (The name is by extending the "chicken tractor" analogy of a mobile chicken coop.)

A comfrey tractor is just a plastic milk crate full of dirt, or a plant pot with lots of generous holes in the bottom.  You grow comfrey in it.  The comfrey will put roots down through the holes into your ground beneath.  

Then, every so often (I do it a couple of times a year, twist the crate to break off the roots, then pick up the milk crate and move it to some new spot where you'd like a comfrey plant.  If you're feeling fancy, drop a shovel full of mulch or an armload of chop-and-drop on the old spot (though, comfrey being comfrey, this is not strictly necessary.)  Soon you will have a strong new clump of comfrey where your crate was.

I always have at least two or three of these going.

Honestly in the heat and drought of Oklahoma, the comfrey plant in the crate never does very much; it's usually just two or three shoots, not very tall, and it doesn't usually flower profusely.  Being up high in dried-out soil doesn't make it happy.  But it tries very hard to put down roots into the native soil, so it gets the job done.
 
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Has anyone experimented with growing comfrey without irrigation in seasonally dry climates, or at least with less watering? I'd like to find a way to grow it here just by watering it in until establishment
 
pollinator
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James Landreth wrote:Has anyone experimented with growing comfrey without irrigation in seasonally dry climates, or at least with less watering? I'd like to find a way to grow it here just by watering it in until establishment



Not sure what you mean by "dry".  We average between 3 and 4 inches a month in the summer months and I've never watered or fed my comfrey.  It's about as bullet-proof as anything I have ever raised.  
 
pollinator
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James Landreth wrote:Has anyone experimented with growing comfrey without irrigation in seasonally dry climates, or at least with less watering? I'd like to find a way to grow it here just by watering it in until establishment



I've got some growing in sandy soil that struggle through 3-4 months of no rain or watering in the summer. They're not terribly happy, but they come back every year - even one that died down completely by the end of last summer.
 
James Landreth
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Trace Oswald wrote:

James Landreth wrote:Has anyone experimented with growing comfrey without irrigation in seasonally dry climates, or at least with less watering? I'd like to find a way to grow it here just by watering it in until establishment



Not sure what you mean by "dry".  We average between 3 and 4 inches a month in the summer months and I've never watered or fed my comfrey.  It's about as bullet-proof as anything I have ever raised.  




Like Jan said, we get pretty much no rain in this region from June (sometimes May) through August (sometimes September). My soil holds water better than sand but even it dries out. I'm hoping to plant comfrey in my food forest but I definitely can't irrigate it much beyond a few years
 
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I wouldn’t imagine you would need to. Honestly I’m not sure what you guys are going on about I never water my comfrey unless it’s in a pot. Then again I live in the rainy nw.
 
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James Landreth wrote:

Like Jan said, we get pretty much no rain in this region from June (sometimes May) through August (sometimes September). My soil holds water better than sand but even it dries out. I'm hoping to plant comfrey in my food forest but I definitely can't irrigate it much beyond a few years

It's the "sometimes" that are the issue. Regular summers the bits of comfrey I had in a mainly "volunteer" bed coped, but they didn't thrive, but the soil there isn't great either. This year we had 11.3 mm of rain in March, 54.5 mm in April and 0 in the first 13 days of May. We were having fairly heavy dew, which helps, but unless we have an unusual amount of rain between now and the end of July, even established plants are likely to die. My approach in the bad drought years (longer than average) is to try to water key areas deeply in the middle of the summer. I'll put a hose to trickle overnight slowly enough that I know it will all seep in and let the roots find it, and the next night choose a different spot. Sometimes I just use a jug on it's side with it's lid turned just enough that it drips when it's awkward to get a hose to the area, but then I'll need to do it a couple of nights in a row. Regular "summer drought" years, I don't need to do that, but I've been fooled too many times by a Sept with no rain and fire warnings going way up, that I'm prepared to compromise and give a very small amount of support. If I wait too long to give that support, it seems that the plants are already too stressed to be helped. It's a bit of a dance.

The Gov. of Canada has a weather site which isn't exactly intuitive or easy to use, but it has a button on the forecast page which is called "Historical Weather" which gives a list of the amount of rain in each month and on what days. I'm learning to pay attention to that info!
http://climate.weather.gc.ca/climate_data/daily_data_e.html?StationID=51337&timeframe=2&StartYear=1840&EndYear=2019&Day=15&Year=2019&Month=5#

I don't know if you have an equivalent site in the States.
 
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I know from experience that Bumble Bees love comfrey flowers but I'm wondering if Honey Bees are as crazy about them. Our new neighbours may be getting bees and I'd like to offer them some cuttings if it'd be welcomed by bees. Thanks.
 
Mike Barkley
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My honey bees love comfrey. Not all the time but at certain times of the year, depending on what else is available to them I think.
 
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Location: New York City/Woodstock NY, Zone 5b
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I'd like to weigh in on the edibility issue.  After a quick review of the seemingly contradictory list of alkaloid studies, we can see that few are complete with information on roots vs. leaves, officinale vs. uplandica, fresh vs.dried vs. cooked leaves.  Some studies simply say "plant contains alkoloids", without reference to which part, and those that specifically tested the leaves tested only dried material.  I'm going to include the full article by Susun Weed, who claims not only to have had uplandica leaves laboratory tested (fresh leaves?  Dried?) with no harmful substances found, but has also eaten the cooked leaves for 20 years with no adverse effects.  Although Ms. Weed has not shared the laboratory test results with anyone, even when requested to do so, in her own herbal work she is very clear about differenciating between uses for leaves and uses for roots - the latter for external use only.  Certainly her article cannot be regarded as definite proof, but my trust in her extends to adding this pot herb to my diet.

Consideration of cooked uplandica leaves as a nutritious pot herb can only enhance the awe with which we regard this plant ally.

http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/June08/wisewoman.htm
 
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Half a lifetime ago I went vegetarian (for about 7 yrs) and read that I had to put comfrey in my diet for the B12...  I also read that I had to harvest the leaves before 10am for cooking and eating raw as the alkaloids are down in the roots then, and rise up into the leaf throughout the day and drop back down into the roots during the night...meaning don't eat the leaf when the alkaloids have risen up from root into the leaf...toxic !!! I ate fresh chopped comfrey in salads, as an addition to mashed potato, or whole leaf dipped in egg batter and lightly fried, couple chopped leaves in soups and so on for years and fed it to my kids as young children, and older, without any ill effect... but only as a supplement 2-3 times a week... I don't know what variety it was ...just sought root stock  from other gardens and transplanted wherever I have lived. Have noticed comfrey can have either blue/mauve/pink flowers ...or white...
 
pollinator
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Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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On the allotment garden I took over (the renter before me was interested in biodynamics and permaculture) there's a huge amount of Comfrey! It grows like weeds (maybe it is in fact the wild Symphytum officinale). I cut it every time I'm there, to put somewhere on the soil as mulch, and in only a few days the plant has regrown! Not even that, from the root of one plant new plants start growing ... During this season more Comfrey plants has grown there than I can use as mulch. So now I started to dig up most of them. That is not easy! Their roots are deeeep! Probably parts of the roots stay there and will start regrowing ... (maybe next spring).
Here's a photo of the allotment garden. In the middle, in front of the (not yet finished) shed you see one of those large Comfrey plants. And if you look well you'll find more ...

 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
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Mike Barkley wrote:My honey bees love comfrey. Not all the time but at certain times of the year, depending on what else is available to them I think.


Yes, at the allotment garden I see the bees (mostly bumblebees) visiting the flowers of the Comfrey. That makes it hard to me to 'chop and drop' the plants: I don't want to disturb the bees!
As someone else said: the flowers have different colours, white (or cream), lila, mauve, pink, purple, ...
 
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