Friday, September 16, 2011

Update on the Comfrey Experiments

I posted earlier this year about two related projects to do with the comfrey plants.  The first goal was to get rid of the comfrey in the garden proper, because since it was planted the garden has expanded and the comfrey is no longer holding down the corners, but mucking up what I'd like to have as a pathway.  The second goal was to create a comfrey hedge along the northern edge of the garden with some of the rootstock I was trying to get rid of.

I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the hedge is a success.  The tiny pieces of comfrey root that were transplanted in late February got very little help, and yet they've grown into a row of thriving plants.  I did use a hand scythe a few times to cut back weeds and grass that grew up alongside the comfrey in spring and early summer.  By mid-summer the comfrey clearly had the edge and was able to hold its own.  I don't anticipate that it will require any further care.  From now on, and for years to come, the comfrey hedge should hold the line on any grass or weeds that would otherwise encroach on that garden border.  I've run the lawn mower right up to that edge of the garden several times, shredding large comfrey leaves that hang down.  As expected, the comfrey shrugs off such incidental abuse.  I'm definitely thinking about where else a comfrey hedge would be of use.

The possible downside that I worried about - that rodents would make themselves at home under the protection of the comfrey foliage - has come to pass.  A few times I've seen rodents darting between the comfrey hedge and the raspberry canes.  But I haven't noticed any significant crop damage that I can attribute to them, and we have a prodigiously talented hunter-cat.  I know he's keeping all sorts of rodent populations in check (when he's not stoned, of course).  So I'm content to let that ride.

As for the eradication part of the project, that's going about as I expected it would.  I have cut back lush growth in the original locations at least five or six times this year.   It keeps sending up leaves, just a bit slower and less abundant each time.  I didn't expect to get rid of the comfrey in a single year, and clearly I haven't.  I'm perfectly fine with that.  I'll keep on with the reaping next year.  If it manages to hang on to sprout after that, it surely won't have much oomph in the third year of the eradication project.  I'll keep you posted.

If you need more information about why I'm growing comfrey in the first place, read about its wonders.


Carolyn said...

Are you interested in sharing some of your comfrey instead of hacking it down? I'm looking to add some to a herbal garden.

Jenni @ RainyDayGardener said...

Good luck with the comfrey eradication. I've heard that it's a challenge. What do you use all of your comfrey for? We have a rogue plant in our garden and it turned out to be a great source of home grown fertilizer :)

Providence Acres Farm said...

I have a row of comfrey in my garden but I really like your edge-hedge idea! I might try that!

Paula said...

I hope you're throwing some of that mown comfrey in your compost pile- it's supposed to be excellent for boosting the fertility of the pile because of all the minerals it draws from way down in the earth. Comfrey is a permaculture plant that is supposed to be part of a 'guild' because of the benefits it provides to other plants.

Kate said...

Carolyn, I certainly have offered rootstock to several friends. If you're in southeastern PA feel free to leave your email address and I'll contact you privately.

Jenni, thanks. I know it will be an ongoing struggle. I use comfrey for all kinds of things. Medicinally, for chicken feed, as a green mulch, and as Paula indicates below, as a compost activator. A lot of it just ends up in garden beds for slow release fertility.

PAF, glad to share an idea that might be helpful to you.

Paula, yes, in the compost bin and other places too. A lot of it goes through the chickens before it ends up in the compost, if you know what I mean. I now have comfrey plants around all the apple and pear trees too. Might consider putting some near the cherries as well. I've added a link to the end of the post detailing all the uses I know of for comfrey.

Jennifer Montero said...

I've made the liquid comfrey feed in a rain bucket but was never able to measure its scientific validity. In my heart I'm sure the borders benefited from the nutrient boost.

I can tell you that the smell is unforgettable!

A comfrey margin is a great idea. We're reticent to plant it except in waste ground as it has a reputation for being invasive. However, I'm sure regular mowing would keep it from spreading. I'd give it a try after seeing your hedge.

Good point about vermin taking advantage.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking everywhere for a comfrey plant and cannot find it for sale anywhere. I would love to purchase some from you if possible.

Kate said...

Jennifer, yeah, btdt on the comfrey feed. It does stink! I have not found the sterile-seed comfrey varieties I grow to be invasive. They do get big, and they are notoriously hard to remove. But they don't really spread from where I put them. They are clumpers rather than runners. Hope the comfrey hedge works for you if you try it, but yes, count on little rodents enjoying the shelter during the growing season.

Barbara, I recommend you look at Richters Herbs online. They carry both Bocking varieties, and while they may show sold out right now, I can almost guarantee they'll have them in stock next year in time for spring planting. If that's not soon enough and you are in southeastern PA, let me know and we may be able to arrange for you to stop by for some rootstock.

Bridget Cowlishaw said...

This comfrey hedge idea is exactly what I've been considering in my garden! I thought there must be something wrong with the idea since I haven't seen anyone else doing it. Thanks for confirming its not a crazy idea!