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How much comfrey does one need?

 
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I wanted to get some comfrey this spring, and before I was able to get some plants, it showed up on its own :-) I am now the lucky guardian of two comfrey plants, onz biggish and one smallish.

I would like to use them as mulch, but I wonder how much I could take from the plant until it starts to suffer? I would like for it to stay healthy and have flowers for the bees... It would seem a bit pointless to take only two leaves as mulch though.

Can I take more than a couple of leaves and still havz flowers? Do I need a comfrey patch?
20200627_203705.jpg
my comfrey
my comfrey
 
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at times i've cut comfrey back to a couple inches tall multiple times in a season. i tried to stop cutting in august so the plants would have some time to store energy for next year. they never slowed down or seemed to flinch much - that's just to say you're not likely to greatly harm them through cutting. i do usually give them a year to get established before cutting much, but that may be unnecessary)

if you're trying to keep it in flower you could probably cut individual stems back and leave some, then when the regrowth starts flowering you could cut back the rest, and repeat as reasonable. with more plants, i've preferred cutting whole plants back and rotating individual plants to keep them in flower...a plant that's been cut back hard tends to regrow better than one that's been thinned but still has some tall older growth, from what i've seen.
 
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Hi Sanna,

When I first started planting comfrey I firmly thought the more the better.  Today I suggest just a little moderation.

I have 3 raised beds filled with woodchips.  Two beds are 8x16’.  The third bed is about 6x32’.  I have a total of 6 comfrey plants and they are more than adequate for my needs.  I first planted comfrey in 2017.  St the time I absolutely baby’d them.  Today nothing can stop them.  On my 4th year of having comfrey, I see no reason to do anything special for them—they are that resilient.  Granted, at first you are not likely to get tons of organic matter, but after a couple of years they will provide enormous amounts of good, green, homegrown fertilizer.

For me, my 6 plants is enough.  At one time I wanted to plant more and I am glad I did not.  6 is plenty for me.

Hope this helps and good luck.

Eric
 
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In my experience, when they look big enough to think about cutting they are big enough to cut the whole plant down. The rebound vigorously from the roots. A plant like in the picture looks just right to harvest the whole thing and you won't even slow it down.
 
Eric Hanson
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Yes, by all means, when you cut them, cut them all the way to the ground.  When they grow back, they will do so with great vigor.  

Just yesterday I cut my comfrey, but instead of using clippers, I used a machete.  There was that much growth.

Eric
 
Michael Cox
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That is how I do mine as well. Or a sharp edged hoe with a long handle. I hate handling them, as the fuzz irritates my skin.
 
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greg mosser wrote:... i've preferred cutting whole plants back and rotating individual plants to keep them in flower...a plant that's been cut back hard tends to regrow better than one that's been thinned but still has some tall older growth, from what i've seen.



That's what I do as well. I cut them right near the ground and cut the whole plant off. The bumble bees and hummingbirds love the flowers, so I cut every third plant or so. I keep rotating through them so I always have some flowering. I do have a lot of them though.
 
Eric Hanson
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Sanna,

BTW,  when I planted my comfrey I went a little (ok, a LOT) overboard.  I dug fertile holes and filled with bat guano juiced up with blood meal.  This was s crazy overload of nitrogen.  The comfrey ate it up just fine and did in fact help it grow very quickly that first year and probably into the second and maybe third year as well.  If this were not enough I added diluted urine on top!  

Those first couple of years I really wanted to get my comfrey off to a strong start, but I just did not know how incredibly bountiful and resilient comfrey really is.

If I were doing this over again, I might fertilize about 1/10 of what I actually did.  This would be plenty to help it start, but not a crazy overload like I did.  Incidentally, the excess nitrogen did not hurt the comfrey, it was just unnecessary.  I did get extra growth, but by now, I have all the growth I need.

Just a little bit of information.  I hope my experience and misadventures can help you in your journey.

Eric
 
Sanna Heijnis
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Thank you so much, all, for your information!

Yes, I have often wondered what was meant by 'cutting' - whole plant or just some leaves? I like the option of leaving some stems with flowers for now and cutting the rest (as long as I have only 1.5 plant). I have to say that I moved this plant in April or so, and it is doing much better at its current location. I am glad to hear the plant is so resilient (and I will be careful not to spread little bits of root everywhere!).

My garden is pretty large, I have about 25 beds, some small (as in maybe 2'x6') and most averaging about 12'x3'. The largest is 20'x4'. So I suppose I could put quite some comfrey to use. I think I will turn a dappled-shady spot near the cherry tree into a comfrey nursery and see where things go. There's plenty of room there so they won't be able to do much harm if they get a little overenthusiastic.

From what I understand, it would be best to not it go to seed, right? The plant in the picture is very close to the first bed of the garden (you can see the French beans that are growing there right now). Would I be very naive in thinking that I could just keep that one plant there (it is such a beautiful plant), or will it plan a coup and take over?

Eric, I have been handing out the occasional pee to whatever plant seemed to need it, I will consider comfrey next time!

Thanks again, this has been so helpful.
 
Eric Hanson
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Hey Sanna,

I plant my comfrey right next to my garden beds to make utilizing easier.  I don’t know if can do that but if you could, I would say that 1-2 plants per bed is plenty.  The urine makes a great quick burst of nutrients, especially nitrogen.  Chop-n-drop comfrey will certainly take longer but is probably better in the long run.  The worms seem to love broken down comfrey leaves.  I think planting comfrey in shade where nothing else grows is a good use of land.

I may have sounded dismissive of comfrey in my recent posts, but that was not my intent.  I was trying to convey just how bountiful a single comfrey plant can be and how my earlier concerns were wholly unwarranted.

Comfrey is a great companion plant for the garden and I wish you luck in your endeavors.

Eric
 
Sanna Heijnis
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Hi Eric,

You didn't sound dismissive to me at all! Thank you for your suggestions, I like the idea of just putting a plant near every bed - let's see if I can work with that :-)
 
Trace Oswald
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Bocking 4 and 14 are both sterile. If you have one of those, and your plants look like it, you don't have to worry about it going to seed. It can't reproduce that way.
 
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There is probably a practical limit but it seems hard to harm a comfrey from taking too much. I cut it to ground level several times per year & haven't lost one yet. About half of the plants at a time so some are always blooming. Bees, butterflies, & chickens all love it. They pop out new leaves within a day or two & just start growing again. I also have at least one for every planting area. It's usually the first thing I plant in new spaces. I have a sterile variety but it propagates by root division very easily.
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Hi Sanna,

When I first started planting comfrey I firmly thought the more the better.  Today I suggest just a little moderation.



I laughed when I read this, as I've been killing comfrey for some time now.  It's easy to over-plant.  I've got upwards of 100 plants all over the place.  I've been taking a lot of it out this past spring/summer.

My go-to method of killing it now is to put something over it (a sheet of plastic or some kind of large basin) and then bury that in wood chip mulch.  Sometimes you'll find it creeping out the side and you'll need to rebury it.

I'll chop and drop it 2 or 3 times a year, but what I really like it for is to keep the chickens from kicking the wood chips out all over the place.  They get to roam freely from time to time, and inevitably, they think that the best place to scratch is right next to the swimming pool.  I'll come out there and they've thrown all kinds of stuff all over the place.  Drives me nuts.  So I've planted a "hedge" of comfrey all along that hardscaping to keep them back.  Once the plants are 18 inches tall or so, the chickens tend to steer clear.  It's a nice boarder plant.

Now if I could just keep them from jumping up on the picnic table and crapping on it.  OK -- back into the tractor, all of you!
 
Sanna Heijnis
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Trace Oswald wrote:Bocking 4 and 14 are both sterile. If you have one of those, and your plants look like it, you don't have to worry about it going to seed. It can't reproduce that way.



I think is is the original one. It must have grown from seed as it just popped up in the grass without any other comfrey plant anywhere near.
 
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Guess I should hack mine down.  I've had a hard time getting it established here.  Suspect the off and on drought conditions are the issue, as in my garden where they  get more water they have done better.  Been babying them, but that may be contraindicated where they are bushing out well from what everyone is saying here.  Do like the blossoms as the pollinators do also, and I am seeing fewer than I would like (need to get some hives going soon!)

My transplants out in my wannabe orchard have failed as often as not, and what remains alive is struggling.  That's 400' or so from my water, and I just don't haul it out by hand that often. Been an issue trying to establish elderberries and such too out there.

Soon as I get this house done and I move in I am going to go more strictly permaculture planning in close where I have water until I get some base plants established! Zone 1... the wet zone! :)
 
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I probably have 50 or so bocking 4 and 14 plants right now and planning to propagate more.  I use it for comfrey tea, as a compost activator and as a mulch. The only ones I've lost are some I planted around the base of my blueberries and forgot about. The weeds choked them out.  I recently transplanted some bocking 4 cuttings at the corner of the house and although they were a good 4" taller than the surrounding grass, my husband decapitated them with the weed whacker last week.  They have grown an inch this week.
 
Eric Hanson
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So Michelle (or anyone), I have a question about comfrey fertilizer.  My original plan for my comfrey was simple chop-n-drop.  What could be easier?  I also think that it’s decay on the ground is good for the soil.

Comfrey tea of course is much faster acting but takes quite a while for preparation and is notoriously stinky.  Would it be possible to purée some comfrey leaves to make a quick application?  If so I could really see using comfrey as a foliar application to help out any struggling plants without keeping a bunch of stinky fluid around for weeks.

Thanks in advance,

Eric
 
Trace Oswald
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Eric Hanson wrote:So Michelle (or anyone), I have a question about comfrey fertilizer.  My original plan for my comfrey was simple chop-n-drop.  What could be easier?  I also think that it’s decay on the ground is good for the soil.

Comfrey tea of course is much faster acting but takes quite a while for preparation and is notoriously stinky.  Would it be possible to purée some comfrey leaves to make a quick application?  If so I could really see using comfrey as a foliar application to help out any struggling plants without keeping a bunch of stinky fluid around for weeks.

Thanks in advance,

Eric



I think your puree idea would work well.  

I made comfrey tea once.  I'll never do it again.  I find the stench unbearable.
 
Eric Hanson
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Trace, I think you get my idea.

While I would like to have comfrey tea, I don’t want the stench.  I would think that using a purée would mean that I could make and use it in an hour or so and I could avoid both the considerable lead time to make it and of course the associated stink.

Thanks Trace,

Eric
 
Michelle Heath
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Lately I've been chopping and spreading it around plants. I agree the tea is putrid!  I still brew a few buckets each year and keep it in empty 2-liter bottles.  Why?  Because I can keep these bottles of tea for use in the early spring when I really don't have enough leaves to go around. I added some full strength tea to an early compost pile that was mostly carbon in the spring. It really got it working fast.  I also diluted some and added to my beds that were struggling.  It smells exactly like fresh cow crap to me, in fact my husband came outside immediately after I used it and said that the neighbors must be spreading manure on the fields again.  

I don't see why the purée wouldn't work, in fact I may just borrow that idea and give it a try.  
 
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Michelle Heath wrote:It smells exactly like fresh cow crap ...



I think I would rather roll in that than use comfrey tea again.  Ugh.

I'm going to dry drying a bunch of comfrey leaves if I can dry them without them getting moldy for use as fertilizer in the spring.  Another experiment...
 
Eric Hanson
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So Michelle, I am just throwing out ideas here.  My only experience with comfrey has been chop and drop simply because of the ease of use.  I value your input as you have more experience than I do.

I am thinking about filling up a blender with comfrey leaves and water, purée, then pour and strain into a 5 gallon bucket and dilute.  From there I can add to a pump sprayer and give a foliar spray to perk up some veggies.  I imagine that any strained out material can simply be dumped either onto a compost heap or right into the garden.  Also, I don’t think I want to keep the liquid comfrey around so I will probably just dump the remaining liquid along some veggies and then thoroughly rinse to avoid the stink.  I knew that comfrey tea stinks, but I did not know that it had a powerful manure smell.  That is good to know.

So I am curious as to what you think of this plan.  Is this about what you were thinking?

Eric
 
Michelle Heath
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Eric, I dont really consider myself more experienced unless it's in the pungency of comfrey tea.  Your idea sounds like a winner as long as you're thoroughly straining as it's easy to clog a sprayer.  I've always added what remains of the comfrey tea after straining for the compost or wood chip pile.

Trace your idea of drying the leaves sounds good too. As a matter of fact I went to check on the garden after I first read your post and the leaves I put around my veggies a few days ago are dry and crispy.  I crumbled them along a few of the plants and watch to see if there's a noticeable difference. I just dug some comfrey to share and haven't done anything with the leaves yet so am thinking of spreading them on some racks and letting them dry.  I'm wondering if I could pulverize them once they're thoroughly dried and store for use in the spring?  I have a good friend who dabbles in wild medicinals and she freezes the fresh leaves in zipper bags for use during the winter.  

 
Trace Oswald
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Michelle Heath wrote: spreading them on some racks and letting them dry.  I'm wondering if I could pulverize them once they're thoroughly dried and store for use in the spring?  



That is exactly my plan.  I'm going to use them in place of seed meal in my version of Steve Soloman's Complete Organic Fertilizer.  My thought is to use fertilizer for 2 or 3 years as necessary until my beds are fertile enough that I don't need to do it anymore.   These are for new beds I am building this year.
 
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How much comfrey does one need?

I’m laughing also!  When we built our new home our excavator spread little bits of comfrey throughout my acres.  I have comfrey everwhere...my lawn, compost, garden, flowers, sidewalk.  

ZOMBIE COMFREY. SAVE ME.
 
Sanna Heijnis
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Does comfrey tea smell worse than nettle? I make nettle compost tea and the stench is... intense! In Dutch we actually call it 'brandnetelgier' which means nettle manure.

Janet, oops! That does sound like too much of a good thing!

I split my big comfrey plant in four and planted the pieces near other beds. We had some big rain last night so I hope they'll start to grow.
 
Michelle Heath
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Sanna, I've never made nettle tea but if it's sealed for a few weeks, I'd guess the smell is probably pretty rank too.

I think your divisions will be fine. As an experiment a few years ago I cut some comfrey root into pieces ranging from 1/2" to 2" and surprisingly quite a few of the 1/2" pieces grew.  I'm sure that one plant could be turned into hundreds by the average individual in just a few years.
 
Sanna Heijnis
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Michelle Heath wrote:
I think your divisions will be fine.



They seem to be! This was basically just a stem without roots so I was a bit sceptical about it, but it is already growing new leaves:
20200705_111248.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20200705_111248.jpg]
 
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