Comfrey Musings

Now that we are back from our whirlwind holiday tour of the Midwest, I felt it was time to get down to earth on some gardening planning. First off was to map out some plant guilds for the Big Spring Planting. The week before we left I took 6 30 lb rocks and laid out the outline of my proposed gardens with the incredibly scientific method of dropping the rocks about where I thought a fruit tree would like to live, and then proceeded to kick them around some until I felt that the resulting gardens beneath them achieved a nice flow. I continue to kick them around a little every few days, no doubt the Chi will be well sorted by March.

After rereading much of Gaia’s Garden , Food Not Lawns, and Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture to get my Game Face on, this week I sat down and started dropping in some Excel Sheets on my gardens. I am still slightly uncomfortable in using such a sterile medium, but pixels are a bit more sustainable than the several dozens of sheets of graph paper I would otherwise have used. The fact that I actually graph out my gardens says volumes about me I am sure, but I digress.

Looks like each guild will have 3-4 dozen major plants, with another uncountable amount of misc clovers running amuck underneath. Sourcing much of this will be no problem, as they are readily available from seed or at nurseries. All but one-my beloved Comfrey. I will not get into the myriad uses of Comfrey here, except to say that if you want Biomass (and who doesn’t?!?) you want Comfrey. Not only will Comfrey grow into a nice 3′ mass in virtually any soil with enough water, but you can cut it to the ground 4-5 times a year, and it seems to improve with each cutting. Not only that, but it allegedly seeks out nutrients from the subsoil (the roots on this bugger are insane), stores them in the leaves thus making their mulch basically a fertilizer. The problem is that I only have 3 plants (all I could buy from the one and only vendor I have found selling them locally) which is only enough for one tree. Time to break out my copy of Plant Propagation, by Lewis Hill.

Actually this was almost certainly unnecessary-every account I have read of Comfrey has included strong warnings about its ability to grow from minute pieces of root. But I am a geek, and geeks check books first. So today I went out back hacked one of my Comfrey’s in half, rinsed the roots off and took a dozen cuttings off. In the process I also broke the crown up another 3 times, so I replanted those in an unused area near my veggie gardens-if they come up next year-awesome-if not- oh well. One item of note-its 12/29 and I live in Wisconsin. There is simply no frost in the soil at all. At least Climate Change is letting me burn off some cabin fever.

Should the cuttings root in the pots I brought in I will be egstatic, if not, I will try again in warmer times. But all this planning has led me to wax philosophical for a moment. As I strategically placed my N-Fixers, nutrient gatherers, insect attractors, and barrier plants to keep out the fescue-and then further thought thru how the Comfrey would interact with the Indigo, and which cultivar of Day Lily would yield the best edible flowers and in which color while still serving to hold the lawn at bay. I was struck by how this was diversity-valuing the uniqueness of each individual and how that inherent uniqueness was integral to producing the sustainable plant society I was attempting to create. There is a marked philosophical difference between gardening by using plants like we do with a pepper or carrot, and allowing the attributes that a plant inherently possesses to be brought together with other attributes from other plants to form a whole that is unattainable otherwise. How different would our society be if we thought of each other in similar ways-not in terms of usefulness, but of synergy?

If edible landscaping is helping me lead a more sustainable life, Permaculture seems to be doing something similar with my thoughts.

3 Responses

  1. Hey Beo, where did you find the Comfrey here in Madison?

  2. At the Farmer’s Market, but I had looked for a month before I found it there. Ask around with the organic nurseries.

    If I can get my root cuttings to take and you can’t find any let me know. I can donate some to your cause.

  3. […] have about 6 dozen Russian comfrey plants on property cloned off 2 plants I bought 4 years ago.  Comfrey is a wonder plant, full on minerals and excellent food for soil microbes.  Here is a shot of my a bit of my comfrey […]

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