To the organic gardener, comfrey is invaluable. It’s easy to grow , easy to use and really beneficial to the garden. The roots draw nutrients from deep in the soil and transfer all the goodness into their leaves. This is why it is such a good fertilizer. Comfrey is a prolific perennial herb, so choose a site carefully, or it could take over. Russian comfrey likes rich soil containing rich organic matter! and prefers the conditions to be shady and damp. You can grow comfrey easily from seed, but it takes time to mature. If you want some quickly, buy some mature plants, you can propagate in the Autumn by removing the offsets from the original plant and planting spacing about 3 ft apart. Older plants become less efficient, so every 3—4 years lift and divide the clumps, planting back the only the youngest and these will be more productive. The leaves appear from April to late October. There are several ways in which you can use this plant in the garden:
Chopped Up Comfrey Leaves
You can use the first cut of leaves by chopping them up and placing them in a trench with main crop potatoes. As the leaves are high in potassium, they make a excellent fertilizer. Allow to wilt after cutting, then layer to a depth of 1 to 2 inch. Comfrey can also be used on other plants that benefit from high doses of potassium, like tomatoes and runner beans. It has also been used to as a top dressing around soft fruit bushes, as they break down gently cultivate them in.
The leaves can also be used as a liquid fertilizer. Take the freshly cut leaves and pack them tightly into a plastic container (minimum size of five gallons)
Make sure it has a tap at the base, place the container on a base about three foot high to catch the black liquid as it forms. This black liquid should start to appear in about ten days. It then can be drawn off. This process will last for several weeks. Residue can then be used on your compost heap. Keep the concentrate in a bottle in a cool dark place. When you are ready, dilute using one part concentrate to fifteen parts of water. Use to water around your plants, or as a spray-on foliar feed. It will boost failing plants, greedy house plants and greenhouse crops.
This is incredibly smelly, so don’t use it near your back door. Put about 5kg (12lbs) of leaves in a 20 gallon water butt (with base and top) fill with water. Keep the lid on or you will attract flies. Leave for four weeks, then draw the liquid off.
Transfer the last of the plants leaves in October, together with all their goodness, into your compost heap.
Comfrey can also be used as a activator in the compost heap; as a fertilizing mulch; as an ingredient in potting mixes; and as you will know by now a liquid feed that is high in potassium, its leaves contain 2 to 3 times more potassium than farmyard manure, which is a bonus feed for flowers and fruit alike. There are different types of comfrey, (Symphytum species) grow in Britain and the rest of Europe. The common gives wild comfrey native to Britain is Symphytum officinale which is found growing in damp habitats such as river banks. It grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and has white or purple flowers. Russian comfrey has purple blue flowers and resembles our native comfrey, being a natural hybrid between S. officinale and prickly comfrey, S. asperum, from Russia. The hybridisation was first observed in upland, Sweden, giving this comfrey the name S. uplandicum. Russian comfrey is semi sterile hybrid and rarely sets seed but it has naturalised in Britain where it is now exists in a range of forms as a result of various backcrosses with both parents. One of these forms “bocking 14” has been selected as ideal for use as a garden fertilizer: it is commercially available to gardeners. Cultivar of the Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) a robust herbaceous perennial plant, that will keep growing and supplying you with fertilizer for up to 20 years. It produces a deep tap root reaching as far as 10 feet underground. The large hairy leaves grow in a clump which gives rise to thin flowers between May and August. The leaves die back in the winter and nutrients are stored in the roots for next years growth.
Russian comfrey was introduced into Britain in the 1870’s by a Quaker smallholder Henry Doubleday. He ran a small factory making gum for stamps, at a time when gum Arabic was in short supply. Looking for potential new sources of gum he sent to Russia for some of their indigenous, prickly (S. asperum) which was reputed to be particularly high in ‘mucilaginous matter’. Just by chance, the plants he was sent turned out to be the natural hybrid S. uplandicum, Russian comfrey, this was no good for gum but Henry Doubleday recognised its potential as a prolific source of protein that he felt could ‘save the world’; he developed it in his garden and devoted his life to popularising its use. It has been valued by gardeners ever since. Lawrence D Hills (founder and president of the HDRA) started his work promoting organic gardening with a special personal interest in comfrey. Recognising its worth, set up trials to categorise the different forms of comfrey found in Britain,
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