Sunday, July 31, 2016

Permaculture Plants - Comfrey, the Queen of Plants

Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum)
I have planted lots of comfrey in the garden for many reasons. Perhaps the most important one is that it fulfills one of the three ecological gardening principles - succession. Except for the Cut Flower bed, all of the beds in the Backyard Project were new with bare soil. By using comfrey as a first coloniser/pioneer plant it helps prepare the soil for other plants, soil organisms and insects. It starts a progression of life.

Comfrey is an insectary plant in that the flowers attract bees to the garden. Slugs devour the leaves while they work to break down organic matter in the soil. The slugs are a food magnet for birds, frogs, snakes and many other creatures needed in a garden.

I put my shoe beside a leaf to show you how big the comfrey leaves are getting. The plant has a long soil-busting taproot capable of bringing lots of minerals up to the surface. As the soft decaying leaves quickly decompose these minerals are released and made accessible to other plants.
The large leaves cover the soil holding in moisture while providing a cool home for the slugs and many other soil critters.

This is the 'mother bed' under a big leaf maple but it is not working to plan. It is dry under the tree, is not irrigated and the hose doesn't reach this far so I don't expect them to thrive over the summer.
The plants that are thriving and have grown the biggest leaves are in locations that correspond with the sunniest places I found when I did the 'Sun/Shade' analysis map.

Here is the comfrey growing along the bottom edge of the Leaf hugelkultur bed. The leaves are small and the plants are reaching towards the sunny south. But they are still doing a good job building up the soil by making mulch.
Whenever I plant plants I don't need to put a compost soil in the hole first. My sister showed me how to pick a few comfrey leaves, crunch them up and put them in the bottom of the hole before putting the plant on top. It is a mineral boost for the new plant.
I make up a herb tea for the plants by putting comfrey, nettle and horsetail in a big tub of water and leaving it until it has decayed. The plants and soil love this tonic.
I harvest the comfrey three times over the spring and summer laying it on the soil as fertiliser. At the end of August, I leave the plant to grow leaves to protect itself over the winter. 
I haven't even touched on the medicinal or culinary uses of comfrey - I'll save that for another post.
Comfrey well deserves its title 'Queen of Plants' in the permaculture garden.

The happy result of what I thought was a mistake.
A few years ago I planted some irises near the edge of the pond. During the winter rains, the pond water level rose and covered the irises. I thought that was the end of them because they would rot. But no, each spring they grow back out of the pond mud and put on a magnificent show.

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