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New here, need soil regen help/comfrey advice

 
Posts: 3
Location: NW Indiana, zones 4-5
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My husband and I have been clearing our three acres of old-farm detritus for four years.  This includes 200 year old decrepit and unsalvageable buildings, concrete pads and foundations, god-only-knows-what chemicals or petroleum products, and enough old metal to sink the Titanic.

We are finally (FINALLY!) coming to a place where it is time to cover crop an acre or so, and we (well, me, he really hasn't been clued into my mad machinations yet) are considering comfrey.  I need an affordable supplier of (preferably) crown cuttings.

We are not rich.  We are not prepared to grow food crop yet as we do not know the extent of any contaminants.  We are  considering alfalfa/grass for hay because the lessor of the neighboring property would likely harvest it and remove it.

Anyway, I know our choices are many but few are practical.  We have fought hard to regain literal ground here, and do not want to take backwards steps into Weedville again.

Input appreciated, I am listening.

Shannon
20200801_191654.jpg
Land reclamation site
Land reclamation site
 
pollinator
Posts: 2063
Location: 4b
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I sell comfrey, and for what I think is a reasonable price. Crown cuttings cost quite a bit more than roots because a) you can get 40 or 50 roots from a plant that you can get a half dozen or so cuttings, and b) cuttings take up a lot more room when you ship them.

All that being said, I grow lots and lots of comfrey, but I wouldn't consider it a cover crop in the traditional sense. Once you plant comfrey somewhere, it's pretty much there to stay. I love the plant, but I'm not sure it is right for what you are trying to do.
 
Posts: 99
Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
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I have to agree with it not being a cover crop.  If you put it somewhere you will NEVER be able to move it without it popping right back up in the original spot.  If you want something to take up space?...that’s your plant.

I cut mine back three or 4 times a year and use the leaves and stalks for awesome mulch.

You don’t need much.  It grows rapidly.  I’ve started it from little pieces.  Someone in your area is sure to have a glut of it to share.

 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 1861
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Have you considered buckwheat? It's a good soil builder that out competes many weeds if planted thick. It reseeds itself easily but when you want it gone just chop/mow before it makes seed. Pollinators & chickens like it too.

Dr. Redhawk has much more soil info here.
 
steward & bricolagier
Posts: 5764
Location: SW Missouri
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Hi Shannon, Welcome to Permies!
I agree with the idea that comfrey is not a cover crop, it's not removable when you are ready to plant.
There is a whole forum here for cover crops
cover crops
where you will see a lot of things that will actually do what you want, if you are looking for soil improvement with plans for future planting.
And you mentioned

lessor of the neighboring property would likely harvest it and remove it.  

If you are just removing it, you are losing all the nutrients in the soil it took to grow it, if you would not get a lot of money that you need for it, cut it and use it for mulch to improve the areas you want to plant! Anytime you remove a harvest from your land, you lose the nutrients it took to grow it. Right now, if you are wanting to improve it, don't let any go unless you must.
Depending on your climate, buckwheat, peas or beans, rye etc will probably be more what you are looking for. Check the cover crop forum, you might find something that does really well in your area that's available cheaply and will improve the soil as well as hold it until you are ready for growing other things.

:D  




 
Shannon Godby Lucas
Posts: 3
Location: NW Indiana, zones 4-5
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Awesome advice, thank you all for chiming in!  Especially for the warning of not being able to remove the comfrey once in.  I will choose some plants for my kitchen garden and leave it at that!

As for removing a hay crop, I was thinking that if there were contaminants in the soil those would go along with the crop.  I really just need to do a soil test and know what I am working with.  Soil 101, right?

I will also make a jaunt over to the cover crop section.  Quick question, though ( and I am sure to be embarrassed by the obviousness of the answer):

How do I run a forum topic search?
 
Pearl Sutton
steward & bricolagier
Posts: 5764
Location: SW Missouri
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Shannon Godby Lucas wrote:
How do I run a forum topic search?


Up at the top of your screen there is a label SEARCH... hit that, it'll take you to an area you can search any or all forums. Within each forum, there's a little bar at the top of the forum area labeled "search this forum" with a box by it
And my favorite way to navigate here is the all forums view. There's a LOT here, and that makes the most sense to me. Find in that view the forum called tinkering with this site, that's where people who can help with the forum hang out

 
gardener
Posts: 2950
Location: Southern Illinois
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Shannon,

What is the time frame for getting a usable harvest from your newly reclaimed ground?  If you want a harvest in say one year, there are some steps you can take, but the more years you put to cover crop, the better the overall results.  But don't fear, you can potentially grow crops and cover crops in the same year, possibly by alternating seasons.  Basically, never ever let the soil sit bare.

If you were so inclined, you could grow a row of comfrey, but as Trace already noted, once you have comfrey, you have it for good.  I would suggest using root cuttings for that much comfrey as it really tends to root out from even tiny pieces.  And one row of comfrey would give you a bounty of organic matter that you could just dump on the surface of whatever land you wanted to reclaim.  Just don't plant comfrey on the land you want to reclaim as it will be there for good.  Maybe find an out of the way place for your comfrey patch.

the suggestion about the buckwheat is an excellent one.  You could also consider growing clovers--Dutch White clover, Red Clover, or Crimson Clover are all excellent nitrogen fixers and all will also add a generous supply of organic matter--especially the red and crimson clovers.

Another thought if you just want to stabilize soil is to sow wheat, either winter of spring wheat depending on your region and time of year.  When I moved into my house (newly built), we had not yard and only bare dirt for a "yard."  We avoided erosion by simply hand casting winter wheat on the ground, especially in places where water was already carving ruts.  The erosion stopped in no time and the wheat self-terminated by late spring.  I mention this because this is a super simple cover crop to both stabilize soil and build organic matter.

This list can go on and on, but you have been given some very sound advice, and if you still have questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Eric
 
Janet Reed
Posts: 99
Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
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Shannon...email me and If you can’t find comfrey crowns I’ll send you one..should make lots...if you still want to try it somewhere on your place
 
Shannon Godby Lucas
Posts: 3
Location: NW Indiana, zones 4-5
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Pearl, I figured it would be that easy, and I saw a button this morning.  But none last night, so I just chalked it up to the vagaries of mobile technology.

Janet, thank you, I will!

Eric,  we are not sure on a timeline.  Frankly, there was a lot of discussion about hitting the eject button and going somewhere else, but it looks now like we will be here at least a few more years.  That said, we have not formally decided on a plan.  Our "plans" sound a little like this:  "It would be valuable to have some goats someday," and, "We should think about rebuilding the chicken coop and replacing our hens that got eaten by coyotes,"  'There should probably be a water feature of some kind some where here"and, my favorite, 'How many fruit trees do you think we really need?"

I, personally, would LOVE to see even a small patch of native shortgrass prairie, but we don't want to willy-nilly plant something so long-term with no Big Idea of how the property will work as a whole.  Plus, we are trying to figure out how to procure the 3 acres next door, which will change the overall plan...again....

So, I am thinking basic cover-crop right now.
 
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