Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Plant Series 1: Comfrey

In an ecological food garden, the aim is to produce as much food as possible but with a reduction in human input. This is possible due to the many functions of plants, and the opportunities to work alongside nature in order to keep your garden healthy! One plant that easily comes to mind is comfrey.

Comfrey, a perennial (will live for many years) plant that many gardeners don’t know or use, is a diverse plant that can provide so much to a garden. This big leafy shrub produces pink and purple blossoms that attracts beneficial insects and is also known to heal and moisturize the skin, as well as 
aid in bone recovery. Along with the practical uses of this amazing plant, comfrey is deep rooted, allowing itself to find locked crevices in the soil where most roots wouldn’t be able to reach, and accumulate and store lost nutrients into its leaves. The advantage of this is that one can continually slash down the leaves as a green manure/mulch, releasing the previously stored nutrients and making them available in the topsoil. Not only does cutting the leaves feed the soil, but also triggers the plant to regrow, causing some of its roots to dieback and feed the soil ecosystem. In other words, comfrey feeds all levels of the soil, making it a popular plant in fruit guilds, vegetable gardens, and around fruit trees.

As you can see, comfrey can be a key component of an ecological garden. It provides habitats for beneficial insects, and provides many nutrients when slashed back. Its big biomass can provide shade for shade loving plants, and its leaves as a mulch,increases the retention of water, which is extremely useful in the summer. Comfrey is a plant of many uses, and there are many more out there, the first step is to discover that many plants have more uses than we think!

Tips for success:
-carefully decide where you want to plant comfrey, once planted, you don’t want to dig it up. Root disturbance is the common reason for comfrey spreading like wildfire
-Slashing the leaves 3-4 times in a growing season and leaving them on the ground is a good way to fertilize soil
- If you don’t want to use comfrey as a green manure, you can make a comfrey tea. (decomposing comfrey leaves in water) This can be used as a healthy liquid fertilizer for plants.

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