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Patrick Owen

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since Dec 30, 2018
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Recent posts by Patrick Owen

Yes, so many ways of doing it, and they pretty much all work just fine.  Lots of the fun is experimenting with different ways, observing the results, and sharing with other "addicts".  Please do share photos of the ring of comfrey.
Thank you!

Trace Oswald wrote: I've done it either way, and as far as I can tell, everything works. The way that works best for me if I want new plants as quickly as possible without seeing the old one back as much is to take a spade, put it right in the center, and split the plant. Then I turn the spade 90 degrees and split the two halves. Pull out three quarters of the plant, and plant those three elsewhere. Fill the hole around the original with compost if you have it, or plain soil if you don't.

If I want as many new plants as possible, I pry the whole plant out with a garden fork to get as much of the root system as possible. You won't get it all, so new plants will come up in a number of places in the original spot. Then i chop the plant i yanked out into pieces an inch or two long, and plant each piece of root. I've made 70 or 80 new plants at once this way. I've never counted exactly how many have come up, but definitely more than 95 percent. This spring I can take pictures of a huge ring of comfrey I made in my food forest from one plant.

5 days ago

Monty Loree wrote:
The Problem:
with a few of the comfrey plants they were growing nice leaves.  Now the leaves are dying.
I took one of the plants apart to see what was going on.  I noticed that the root piece hadn't grown any roots yet.. it was just growing the leaves but no roots..

How far from T8s and what T8s? I put 1" cuttings into ~1" starter pots and put them 6-12" under a 4x4' T5 (216w) and then transplanted them to plastic picnic glasses when larger.  18/20 grew and are doing well.  I know which ones didn't and they were not optimal cuttings.  
More later...

Yeah, I don't know exactly how far the young sprouts were from the lights, but I know they were close enough to mostly have >90 degree angle from one edge to the other of the T5 fixture (probably closer to 120-160 at the center), so moving them closer wouldn't have provided much more light, just less dispersed.  I did make sure the light was high though.  Those lights get a lot warmer, but I don't think the plants ever got so warm that new sprouts would get too hot.  

However, putting them under higher light means they get drier quicker, so I made sure they were kept moist.  I feel that if they were kept cooler, dryer, or with less light they may not have done so well.
I just used potting soil.  I grew them with other larger comfrey cuttings I purchased (a blue comfrey) under the same light, as well as sprouted seeds, and they more or less all do well.  The main sources of dying leaves I believe has been under-watering.  Especially once they get leaves, they can really regulate their own root moisture (to an extent).

I have tried letting comfreys grow a little in a partially sunny window, and they just seem to barely hang on, sometimes eventually dying.  
They really do like light, so in my dealing with a limited budget, I'm trying cycling them through sitting in windows, kept moist and cool and not thriving, until they get their own turns under the bright T5s. I also have a 3x5W LED light where I can focus each LED node onto just one small plant, to supplement the larger fixture. Some plants I have quasi-moist in the fridge, and they seem to sort of do nothing.  If they start dying, I'll cycle them into the bright light treatment.  Hopefully I'll keep them alive until Spring!  I'd really like to be able to get them as dormant as possible where I can warm them up and plant in the Spring.

FYI, I went into more detail of this attempt at  
It's my first comment on thread, page 2, posted 3 days ago with the previous comment 1 year ago, if that helps.

1 year ago

Mike Barkley wrote:
That's all it takes. another good comfrey thread

Thanks!  That's a good link, and I read the whole thing.

I did find this guy doing pretty much just that:
The only thing was that he was planting much longer (4"-6") pieces.  I figure why not 1", or 2" to be safe.  It would take more comfrey plants, but a similar amount of work.  I'm thinking instead of a shovel I could just stab a knife into the ground, twist it a bit, and that would be more than enough to push a root down in there.  That seems like less work.

Tj Jefferson wrote:In terms of propagating this stuff, the way I do it is to take cuttings, put them in a giant tub of degraded wood chips, jumble them in there so they are mostly covered, pee in the tub, and get the mix damp, like to the point that there's probably some water collecting on the bottom. Then I cover the whole top in saran wrap and put it in the garage where it gets a little light but not much. This makes it a little greenhouse, the condensation drips back down. I remember its out there maybe three weeks later and the whole thing will be going crazy with roots. Then I plant them with no special care at all. Like none, little shovel dig, plant goes in, stomp. I am totally beating these plants up, I split them sometimes twice a year. They don't care at all. Granted I am more interested in geometrically expanding them at this point, I rarely let them flower. They produce the most fantastic soil very quickly and I have the same clay soil Eric is contending with.

I'm guessing pretty much all of those come up?  The typical comfroisseur answer is "of course", but I like to verify.  Measure twice, cut once (or with comfrey cut fifty times).

What I was thinking was digging up half of one my larger plants, diving the root into 50-200 1-2" cuttings, and then just doing what it sounds like you do after yours start growing.  
To be clear, you basically stick a shovel in the ground, wiggle it so the slice is at least the root width (.2-.5"), remove shovel, (I'd optionally splash water in crevice if dry), use finger to poke root chunk just under the surface, press crevice closed with foot.  I feel that would work, but wanted to see if you've done that.  I think I saw a video where someone did something similar and it worked.  I could put them in some sort of humid medium first, to start growing, but then I feel I'd have to be more careful putting them in the ground, and they'd have a higher chance of breaking off the leaves.  It almost just seems simpler to plant them directly.  While some of our soil is good, some is more just clay, but I still feel like as long as it's adequately moist, they'll mostly grow and do well even in the clay.  (Again, at NE/IA border FYI)

Edit: I was just reading the Bocking number descriptions in Comfrey:Past, Present, and Future, and it seems like most of the flowers are purple/lilac, and a lot of what I see of of Russian Comfrey, which I assume usually means Bocking 4 or 14, is usually purple, pink, or something.  I'm looking up pictures now, and they all seem light pink to purple.  My main comfrey flock has white flowers.  I talked to a family member who also would remember the color, should I be going crazy, and the white flower was verified.  Now I'm wondering if I have some "different" comfrey.

Robb Olson wrote:
6: I have one spot along the back of the house where I think I can put the large comfrey plants to get them in the ground, my only hesitation is that we may end up adding 1-2' tall retaining wall (raised bed) there and raising that ground up. If I plant them now at ground level and we then decide we need or want to add the retaining wall, would the comfrey still grow up and through that additional ground?

Ok, the other responses imply that you wouldn't want the comfrey in the raised ground.  It could be that I'm a comfrey fan or maybe a little slow in the head, but I was thinking you meant that you did want it.  When you say "hesitation", I thought you meant that you want comfrey plants now but you don't want to lose them, and you're not sure if the plants would remain when you raise the ground (without digging and replanting and disrupting their roots).
No, I don't know the answer to that question, but I would be curious if someone did that experiment.  I think they might go through 1' of dirt, am not sure about 2'.
1 year ago
Since several of you comfroisseurs are still watching this thread, I'm going to bring up a slightly different topic.  Please delete this and/or let me know where to move it if it's too off topic.

Question:  Can living comfrey (root) be deep frozen?  If so, how cold?
I read another website where someone asked about keeping potted comfrey outside.  He was advised that in a pot the roots would freeze and it would die, but if in the ground they wouldn't.

However, it seems like comfreys just below the surface have lived, and they start off from the same root top in the Spring, and I'm in 5a-5b, so it does get below 0 here almost all Winters, with a daily high below 0 most or at least some Winters. I believe here the minimum water line depth is about 4', so a lot of companies install at 5' to be sure of no lines freezing, but maybe that's for a completely different reason.  I kind of want to take one of my little potted comfreys and freeze it and see what happens, but wanted to ask first.

Also, I once read that the comfrey root dies at the actual temperature of around -20F.  Or was it leaves dying at 20F and roots at around -10F or -15F?
Can anyone confirm/deny this?  Have sources or anything?

Any help would be appreciated, and again if this is thread clutter it can be moved.
Thank you!

steve bossie wrote:good to see fresh posts on this thread! i too have planted nettle amongst a patch of comfrey and i now use both for fertilizer around my plants. nettle doesn't produce as much biomass but adds different nutrients than comfrey. i grow a less stinging nettle i bought from Oikios. i also put some cut nettle around the comfrey and comfrey around the nettle. they are both flourishing in a partly sunny spot under my red pines.

Steve:  I hope this doesn't put enmity between us, but my nettles were not exactly "introduced".  It's more like they showed up at a party started by comfrey.  To each his own, and I'm glad the nettle/comfrey is working for you.  That almost makes me wonder if I could try to introduce a smaller, less stingy nettle to replace the other.  Then it would be easier to control?  It's worth pondering.

Eric: I am glad that now, all this time later, your comfreys are doing well (or will be again come Spring!).  This thread can be a lesson for folks wanting to start comfrey but having rain in the extended forecast, and maybe save them some time.  This thread has a lot of stuff most of us have already heard, but also has a lot of different stories where I feel that I really added to my understanding of the properties of this plant, and the pictures posted by all have been helpful also.  That's what prompted me to share my unique situation; maybe others can take my little morsel of experience and add it to their general understandings.

I did have to comment in response to Todd though.  His comedic post was witty, but the fact that it applies to me so much is what made it so great.  I shared it with someone close to me, someone with whom I have frequent conversations, conversations which have been frequently injected with comfrey related topics.

Todd Parr wrote:Eric, in the midst of all this, and as much as I hate being the messenger, there is some very bad news.  You have been bitten by the insectus comfreisus bug.  As far as I can tell, the disease it causes is incurable.  I was bitten a few years ago and up to this point, the symptoms have not lessened to any degree.  Symptoms are as follows:  Insatiable urges to plant comfrey everywhere, incessant chattering on about the plant, constant thoughts of other uses for it, thoughts of taking over the world with comfrey, and planting it on land that is not your own, so that others, so far unafflicted, may soon be caught up in the contagion.  It is an insidious disease, but many of us have learned coping mechanisms, not the least of which is complete refusal to listen to anyone that disagrees that comfrey is the one true king of plants, and all ills can be cured by judicious use of it.  Best of luck to you.

Aha!  Yes, those are my exact symptoms!  Sometimes family members lose patience with me, but they don't understand that I'm sick.  I try various coping mechanisms to help me to be a normal functioning adult, and am still holding down a job.  I have various indoor comfreys, but have yet to keep them on my desk at work.   I feel this may occur in the future, however.  I have learned various segues to tactfully change conversation from X to comfrey analysis.  I don't have the urge to plant on land not my own, and it is not my source of income, so I probably only have moderate SOD (Symphytum Obsessive Disorder).  I was told by someone close to me, a botanist, to "branch out", so I really began branching out last Summer... to other Symphytums.
Ex unum, pluribus!

Regarding the initial post, I first would like to reiterate you other folks: don't over-soak and don't over manure.  I actually have no experience with "fertilizing" comfrey.  I do sometimes water in new plants/roots, but the only other thing I do is weed them to provide more sun.  Comfrey seems to draw nettles and especially ragweed.  I'm near the NE/IA border, and we have some nicer soil and also a lot of clay in areas, but I really don't see much different behavior except slow growth and essentially stagnated small/medium comfrey when in high shade or tall weeds.

Secondly regarding the initial post and roots rotting, I took a section of root this October 20th, split into pieces, and have been growing them indoors ever since.  One was a small crown, which sprouted leaves in a couple days.  One was a ~3" long root maybe .5" diameter.  The rest were all ~1.25-1.5" in length, mostly .2-.4" diameter.  I put them in those tiny plant-able seed pots about 1.5" tall, and tried to keep them moist without being "too moist".  They mostly sprouted within 2.5-3.5 weeks, with over half if I recall coming up right around the 3 week mark.  Realistically, I probably kept them way moister than I should have.  The results are interesting in general, but I think there are moisture implications:

- In general, the roots with more little "hairs" (meaning a few small starts of side roots <.05" dia) coming off of them came up sooner, regardless of root size/diameter.
- The roots with more little "hairs" had faster growth immediately following sprouting.
- The one root that had the least mass/volume, starting out at MAYBE .125", and branching out to almost root hair thickness, which was a couple inches long but was bent/squished down into the small bit of soil, came up right around 3 weeks, but by my recollection (observing them all several times daily) had the most vigorous growth in its first few days after sprouting.
- The wider roots and the widest, longest 3" root in a larger pot didn't come up any sooner (but did end up having both ends sprout).  I think it actually came up just after 3 weeks.
- Last and most pertinent: The two out of 20 small roots(out out of 22 total including large root and crown) that did NOT sprout, and later I looked and they had I guess rotted away, were the two most bulky, chunky, roots.  They weren't segments with length, but were perhaps the intersection of other roots, so they had mass, but I hypothesize that they had developed into being connectors between other large roots and really had no function in either producing leaves or producing finer roots.  They were "hubs" that were not responsible for growth, but simply transferred nutrients/water.

The reason that is pertinent to the post is that I think with my overwatering, these large, chunky roots which could keep more moisture in them really then suffered the most from the overly moist environment.  The other option is that, as I stated above, they weren't too moist but were just the wrong "type" of root by that point, or both.

Also pertinent, as a reminder that probably everyone here knows: Comfrey does well in various soil types because of its roots, and its good roots help with overwintering, allow it to be propagated easily, etc.  Roots also help it to survive drought.  However, comfrey also has more water in it's leaves than other plants, and the leaves help regulate fairly dry or wet conditions, but without the leaves, comfrey's flood handling capabilities go down, so while comfrey root will grow in a variety of accidental or random situations, I do believe it's quite drown-able in flood conditions, especially before there's a chance to produce leaves.  Of note, growing comfrey indoors, even if the soil seems adequately moist, even with adequate light, the growth stagnates or leaves even yellow, then brown, then die.  If water is added and the soil really gets wet, the comfrey really starts growing leaves, which are used in regulating roots in wet soil.

Somewhat unrelated moral: Don't underestimate using not only short segments, but very fine, tiny, thin, almost hair-like segments to clone.  I don't know how thin and hair-like they can be.  That's another experiment.

Completely unrelated:  Does anyone have a source for Symphytum Asperum on this continent?