crime & comfrey – grow the most functional plant of all time & how to make liquid life insurance for your garden
Is it weird to sit around with your husband and watch crime shows about how couples knock each other off? We don’t watch a lot of TV but when we do, we get obsessive about the Crime and Investigation channel. Hopefully one of us is not secretly engaging in some type of ‘research.’ From my armchair profiling, the motive for murder on these types of shows are pay outs from life insurance. However being a narcissist or a sociopath or both is usually a prerequisite. As an ex-relationship therapist now studying criminal law, I can assure you my excessive commentary throughout these shows is UTTERLY fascinating.
So if I can use the very loose sedge way of life insurance and apply it to the garden, it means growing comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Not only is comfrey a priceless backup to everything, it is THE permaculture poster plant because it is THE most functional plant of all time. Also very hardy, you can’t kill it! I grow it all over my garden and it gets run over by the lawnmower and still lives. Comfrey is a herbaceous perennial (it dies back annually but the roots are still alive so it grows back) and thrives in a range of climates from cool temperate to tropical. It loves fertile, well watered soil and either full or partial sun. Comfrey grows up to 1 metre but be warned, it can grow up to a metre wide.
In Brisbane and other warm sub-tropical/ tropical areas, comfrey is best planted during the wet season. Try planting in Spring for cooler areas. I recommend buying a comfrey plant from a good nursery if you are starting out. Otherwise, it can be propagated by root cuttings or crown division (dividing clumping plants into two or more plants). Root cuttings are pretty easy, you just cut 3 cm long pieces of root and lay them horizontally in your garden area or a styrofoam box filled with potting mix. Bury the cuttings about 3 cm deep and keep moist until the first leaves appear.
C O M F R E Y U S E S
If you plant it in strips around your garden (around 50 cm between each plant), it can actually prevent weeds like running grasses getting through so you can protect your other plants. This is a revelation.
Awesome in compost
Give your compost a nutrient boost by adding the leaves which are very high in nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. The leaves can be used as a compost activator due to the high content of nitrogen which results in increased microbial decomposition of the compost. Remember nitrogen is the most important chemical element in all plant growth.
As comfrey grows so fast and in abundance, you can use the nutrient dense leaves as a green manure to mulch everything in your garden. It adds heaps of nitrogen to the soil so other plants can access it for growth, unlike carbon-based mulches like straw that actually draw nitrogen out of the soil when decomposing. Fantastic for the veggie garden but particularly under fruit trees (I grow it around my orchid). Grow it all over your yard!
Rooting for your soil!
Comfrey has a deep root system (up to 2m) that basically ‘mines’ soil for minerals and other nutrients that are often inaccessible to other plants. All of those lovely minerals and nutrients go up into the roots and leaves (that’s why it makes super mulch). It can also break up compacted soil. Comfrey’s ability to help cycle nutrients through soil has given it the reputation as a dynamic accumulator plant.
Comfrey flowers can attract beneficial insects particularly bees. Bees prefer blue and purple flowers so they love these little purpley bell shaped beauties. However comfrey rarely flowers in subtropical/ tropical areas as there isn’t sufficient winter chill to induce flowering. Comfrey is also very nutritious for chooks in small amounts.
Make your own fertiliser
When soaked in water, the leaves decompose until they form a dark, thick (and stinky!) liquid manure or comfrey tea. When you make your own it’s free! See my comfrey tea recipe below. DON’T DRINK IT! FOR PLANTS ONLY.
C O M F R E Y T E A
A large bucket that has a well fitted lid
A couple of handfuls of torn up comfrey leaves
Throw a couple of handfuls of torn up comfrey leaves in the bucket. Fill the bucket up with water about half way and put the lid on. Keep in the shade and leave for a week. Fill the bucket up to the top this time and replace lid. Leave for another week. After this 2 week period, you now have comfrey tea! Make sure you dilute the tea about 5:1 prior to application on your garden. Apply to plant roots.