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Help Growing Comfrey  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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This is a plant I put in from one small piece of root last fall.  It had a couple months of growing before winter hit, and a month or so this spring.  We are in zone 4b, so things start here much later than other areas, but I wanted to show you the size after the first spring cutting.  My boot is size 10. 
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pollinator
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My limited experience is that like a lot of plants comfrey is vulnerable when it is freshly planted. I planted three of them and two are doing fine but not growing super fast (been unusually wet and cool this spring in this area) but the third one was killed due to it being constantly eaten by slugs. My three were all roots with small crowns and all of them started growing but the third one was just repeatedly eaten down and eventually it seemed to just give up and stopped trying to grow. So I think the third one is dead - all three were planted under the same tree.
 
Todd Parr
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Daron, don't be surprised if it comes back again.  Maybe after you forget it was even there.
 
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Thank you everyone who suggested patience for my comfrey.  The instructions that came with the comfrey strongly suggested that the plants should poke their little heads up after only 2 weeks.  Having waited and manifested some patience of my own, I am pleased to have 2 healthy plants and 2 baby plants.  I will post some pictures, but the internet is slow and I may have to post these pictures one-per-post.  Again, thank to all those who helped me through and got me to just settle down a little.

Eric
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Baby Comfrey 1
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Healthy Comfrey 1
 
Eric Hanson
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Two more
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Baby Comfrey 2
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Healthy Comfrey 2
 
Posts: 624
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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You're welcome.

Now find some wood chips and mulch deeply around those little guys.  In fact, from the pictures you've shared, you could certainly integrate mulch throughout your system, not just around the comfrey.

Next year, you'll be able to stick a spade under one of those comfrey plants, bust the root ball out, and have enough material to start another 50 plants.  And where you dug it up?  Don't worry --- there will be enough roots that you didn't get that you'll find a half-dozen volunteer plants coming up.
 
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I purchased a bunch of cuttings from twisted tree nursery for cheap awhile back. Almost every single one took which I thought was odd. Even some that I thought were dead came up the next year after I forgot about them. The plant is pretty bullet proof.
 
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Chris Holcombe wrote:I purchased a bunch of cuttings from twisted tree nursery for cheap awhile back. Almost every single one took which I thought was odd. Even some that I thought were dead came up the next year after I forgot about them. The plant is pretty bullet proof.
when i initially ordered my 1st 10 cuttings they sent me 5 extra 1/2 to 1/4 in root pieces . a few of them were broke in half and still came up! a very hardy vigorous plant! if you want to get rid of it.. good luck! be careful where you put it as its likely there for good!
 
steve bossie
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i just ordered some bocking 4 variety to plant around my pine trees. anxious to see the difference between the 4 and 14. anyone have both?
 
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A few months ago I planted the cuttings from last year and had a few root pieces to break off.  As an experiment, I cut those roots into 1/4" to 2" pieces.  Nearly everyone has put up new leaves.  Now I personally would not recommend someone just starting out with comfrey to make 1/4" cuttings, but it was a good experiment. 
 
Marco Banks
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About 2 months ago I stuck a spade under a couple of comfrey plants that were in a poor location.  I think I've finally dug out the last of the roots that kept volunteering and sprouting back.

I took those root balls and broke them into about 30 root chunks.  I planted them fairly close (about 8 inches apart) on a hillside where I've been messing around trying peanuts as a cover crop.  I get so many volunteer sweet potatoes back there --- I wanted something easier to ignore.  What's better than comfrey when it comes to plant it and then forget about it.

It looks like every single piece of root sprouted a new plant.  I've got a solid block of new comfrey plants growing back there now.  I planted it among some moringa trees, so that space will be pretty much no maintainence from here on out.  Once established, moringa is tough as nails.  And comfrey crowds out any thing else.  Its a plant guild of 2.
 
Todd Parr
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Marco Banks wrote:I planted them fairly close (about 8 inches apart)


That's very similar to what I am doing to the borders of one of my garden areas to try to keep the quack grass from re-invading from the edges.  I'm using a double row with the plants staggered.  I may not grow anything else, but I'm very near to having a comfrey farm   It is the only thing that seems to be working short of keeping a 3 or 4 ft border of black roofing material around the entire perimeter of any garden space.
 
steve bossie
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my wife loves the look of comfrey so much I'm not allowed to cut the ones on the front lawn. never thought of it as a ornamental but even my neighbors commented on how nice it looks. planted a doz. in pots to share with them.
 
Posts: 495
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last year i bought seed and put it i a small box with soil. maybe half a gallon or so of soil.
it sprouted and grew towards 5-8 inches. then winter came. i forgot the planter outside. in spring it took off again and i got 12-15 new plants which i potted. and then planted a few weeks later. seems like almost all survived the slugs...
 
steve bossie
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Tobias Ber wrote:last year i bought seed and put it i a small box with soil. maybe half a gallon or so of soil.
it sprouted and grew towards 5-8 inches. then winter came. i forgot the planter outside. in spring it took off again and i got 12-15 new plants which i potted. and then planted a few weeks later. seems like almost all survived the slugs...
yours must be common comfrey as it makes seed. the hybrid bocking varieties i grow don't make viable seed. have to cultivate with root cuttings.
 
Marco Banks
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steve bossie wrote:
Tobias Ber wrote:last year i bought seed and put it i a small box with soil. maybe half a gallon or so of soil.
it sprouted and grew towards 5-8 inches. then winter came. i forgot the planter outside. in spring it took off again and i got 12-15 new plants which i potted. and then planted a few weeks later. seems like almost all survived the slugs...
yours must be common comfrey as it makes seed. the hybrid bocking varieties i grow don't make viable seed. have to cultivate with root cuttings.


I was just about to post the same thing --- you may wish to get some Bocking 14, as non-sterile comfrey can become a bit of an invasive mess.
 
Tobias Ber
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thank you... i had same thought. but it s native around here.
one invasive plant more or less in our allotment wont make any difference
at this moment, i am quite happy to have "weeds" that actually have functions...
i think, the slugs will go after the fresh seedlings quickly and keep it in check a bit
 
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Tobias Ber wrote:last year i bought seed and put it i a small box with soil. maybe half a gallon or so of soil.
it sprouted and grew towards 5-8 inches. then winter came. i forgot the planter outside. in spring it took off again and i got 12-15 new plants which i potted. and then planted a few weeks later. seems like almost all survived the slugs...


you may wish to get some Bocking 14, as non-sterile comfrey can become a bit of an invasive mess.


I have several plants that I grew from seed...I think this variety is not as invasive as some fear or at least that's not the case here.  I get a few new plants around the base every year but considering the number of seeds the plant produces and how it 'spits' them out, this is a very small fraction of the potential.  Mine is a common comfrey 'symphytum officinale' from Richters.  I tried planting the seeds from some of my plants in pots and did not get great germination.  ...and then one can always cut back the flower stalks and avoid seed production all together...I get three or four lush cuttings from each plant.

I can't imagine having too much comfrey.  At the moment I have three kinds, the common comfrey mentioned above, another that I was told was Russian Comfrey with electric blue flowers, it spreads quite well from the roots (maybe it's a bocking?), and the third one stays in a rosette and gradually creeps out, it has pink flowers and I don't have a name...it has survived several moves with us.
 
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Hi Eric - glad to see some of your comfrey finally came up.  I agree that your problem was most likely just too much rain and poor drainage.   My experience in solid red clay here in temperate NC was been that virtually all of my new cuttings come up in a normal rain season with no amendments at all - it's really not picky about soil.

You asked whether you'll have "enough" comfrey to amend your beds...I haven't found any scientific guidelines about how many comfrey leaves are equivalent to different types of commercial fertilizers.   Everything I've found is purely anecdotal and of course, that's specific to each person's environment and inputs.   

I did the same as you, planted a comfrey at each end of my beds.   Also planted a circle around each fruit tree.   At first I thought I would surround the beds until I learned how big they would get.   I love having them there but be prepared for them to grow 3 feet diameter, and in the 4 yrs I've had them the root ball has maybe doubled.   So they do get in the way of my paths a bit - that's when I chop and drop multiple times each summer, and starting this year I'm dividing half of the rootball to keep it small.  And even though my Russian comfrey does not spread by seed, it will very easily spread from tidbits of roots tossed in your compost after dividing!  On the other hand it seems to be easy to pull up as a young sprout if you're paying attention to your weeding - haha!

As a soil conditioner or mulch it's not that great.   The leaves quickly shrivel up and decompose to nothing so you'll still need a lot of bulky organic matter like chopped leaves and hay.  Every fall I add about 12" of both as well as a couple inches of compost and a small amount of sand to break up my clay.   I now have an abundance of giant worms working for me but I will probably always add more biomass each fall because, although my red clay is now brown and a bit more friable, it's still sticky and clumps hard when dry in late summer.  
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3 yr old comfrey
 
steve bossie
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Tobias Ber wrote:thank you... i had same thought. but it s native around here.
one invasive plant more or less in our allotment wont make any difference
at this moment, i am quite happy to have "weeds" that actually have functions...
i think, the slugs will go after the fresh seedlings quickly and keep it in check a bit
just clip the flowers before they go to seed.
 
steve bossie
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[quote=Susan Pruitt]Hi Eric - glad to see some of your comfrey finally came up.  I agree that your problem was most likely just too much rain and poor drainage.   My experience in solid red clay here in temperate NC was been that virtually all of my new cuttings come up in a normal rain season with no amendments at all - it's really not picky about soil.

You asked whether you'll have "enough" comfrey to amend your beds...I haven't found any scientific guidelines about how many comfrey leaves are equivalent to different types of commercial fertilizers.   Everything I've found is purely anecdotal and of course, that's specific to each person's environment and inputs.   

I did the same as you, planted a comfrey at each end of my beds.   Also planted a circle around each fruit tree.   At first I thought I would surround the beds until I learned how big they would get.   I love having them there but be prepared for them to grow 3 feet diameter, and in the 4 yrs I've had them the root ball has maybe doubled.   So they do get in the way of my paths a bit - that's when I chop and drop multiple times each summer, and starting this year I'm dividing half of the rootball to keep it small.  And even though my Russian comfrey does not spread by seed, it will very easily spread from tidbits of roots tossed in your compost after dividing!  On the other hand it seems to be easy to pull up as a young sprout if you're paying attention to your weeding - haha!

As a soil conditioner or mulch it's not that great.   The leaves quickly shrivel up and decompose to nothing so you'll still need a lot of bulky organic matter like chopped leaves and hay.  Every fall I add about 12" of both as well as a couple inches of compost and a small amount of sand to break up my clay.   I now have an abundance of giant worms working for me but I will probably always add more biomass each fall because, although my red clay is now brown and a bit more friable, it's still sticky and clumps hard when dry in late summer.   [/quote]                                                                                                                                                   i like to layer the leaves about 3in. thick then mulch with sawedust. works real good. then i use the dark comfrey oil diluted with water to feed thru the summer.
 
Marco Banks
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[quote=Susan Pruitt]

As a soil conditioner or mulch it's not that great.   The leaves quickly shrivel up and decompose to nothing so you'll still need a lot of bulky organic matter like chopped leaves and hay.  Every fall I add about 12" of both as well as a couple inches of compost and a small amount of sand to break up my clay.   I now have an abundance of giant worms working for me but I will probably always add more biomass each fall because, although my red clay is now brown and a bit more friable, it's still sticky and clumps hard when dry in late summer.   [/quote]

If I may humbly disagree, as a soil conditioner, comfrey is great stuff, just for the very reasons you state.  It quickly decomposes and immediately drops its nutrients into the soil profile.  As a mulch around young plants, it's perfect.  Those broad leaves wilt down and make a perfect mat around the base of the plant.  I love mulching with comfrey because it lays right where you put it and quickly feeds the soil in that immediate spot.  Feed the soil, not the plant.  Comfrey is a microbial feast.  Because it breaks down so quickly, it's fast food for your soil food web.  All the bacteria and fungi get a nutritious meal, and the root zone of your plant suddenly comes alive with all that new activity.  If your soil is lifeless, comfrey and compost will punch up the microbial life almost immediately, turning dead mineral "dirt" into rich life-filled soil.

Over a longer term, the living plant is a tremendous soil conditioner.  I'm always amazed with the number of worms in the soil under a comfrey plant, and the SIZE of those worms.  Huge.  All those worms are eating the decomposing comfrey leaves and dropping their castings throughout the soil profile.  If you dig under a comfrey plant that has been there for 3 years or so, the difference is stunning.  That's why comfrey is such a great addition to a tree guild. 

One example:   I had a failure-to-thrive cherimoya tree in my orchard.  Whatever I tried, it just didn't seem to grow very well.  I mulched around it regularly, but it just didn't want to grow.  It had been in the ground for 8 years, but very poor growth and hardly any fruit.  Four years ago I planted about 20 comfrey plants around it, starting at 2 feet from the trunk and then out past the drip line.  Very quickly, the comfrey filled-in and created a green moat around the little struggling tree.  Twice a year, I chop and drop all that biomass around the tree.  The first year, not much difference.  The second year, the comfrey had fully grown in around the tree and it started to look much better --- healthier leaves, more blossoms, and some significant growth with the branches jumping up about a foot.  Last summer, that tree took off and grew a couple of feet.  Without going to heroic lengths to pollinate (which you'd understand if you grew cherimoya), we had a dozen nice fruit on it.  This summer, it's grown about 3 feet thus far and probably will grow at least another foot or two before it drops its leaves in Feb.  Nothing changed in terms of my care for that tree other than the addition of the comfrey.  But the effect upon the soil around the tree is stunning --- black, crumbly, full of fat worms --- and there are about 30 ripening cherimoya hanging on the branches.

So as both a mulch as well as a living plant in a guild, I'd suggest that comfrey is a tremendous soil conditioner.  100 billion microbes in the soil around my cherimoya tree say "Amen to that".
 
steve bossie
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I've noticed similar effects on my plants since using comfrey. and comfrey won't burn your plants no matter how much you put down. i lay a 3in layer covered by some sawdust in spring . 2 weeks later its all absorbed into the soil.
 
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I started spreading my comfrey into my back yard this year.
The chooks have been a problem,since they love it.
I planted in milk crates, with a second one on top as chook protection.
I think my protection failed,none of these plants seem to have made it.
 
Eric Hanson
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Susan, Marco, Everyone,

Thanks for all the feedback!  When I first started this thread I thought at first that it would only garner one or two responses at best.  Thanks so much everyone for your information and sharing your own experiences.  As of now (October), I have 6 plants that grew up over the summer.  4 of the 6 have nice foliage and I would just about bet would tolerate a cutting (I am going to let the foliage stay on as long as possible this fall).  The other two are still healthy, but they are not a fountain of foliage as of yet.  I did a little experiment and gave two plants a nice covering of wood chips early on and those plants did the best!  Now I have chipped/mulched over all of the plants for the fall and I hope that by spring they will grow back as quickly as some have stated they will.  In addition, I did some serious trimming of autumn olive bushes around my property, rented a chipper and chipped them all up.  I posted a picture of the chips I managed to collect in my 4x8 foot trailer. 

I do have plans for those chips for next spring, but for the moment I am going to let them sit in the trailer where they are getting nice and hot.  At least some of those chips will be put down on my comfrey plants.  The rest will go on my garden beds (beds I hope to keep better weeded as the weeding got away from me last summer).  I also included pictures of each pair of plants plus a small area I may dedicate to a small comfrey patch where I could potentially grow a total of 8-12 plants.  If I do decide to grow a comfrey plot, then much of those chips will be dedicated there.

I am still transitioning to permaculture gardening, but I hope that with all of this comfrey I will have a good amount of my fertilizer needs met with these plants.  I plan to chop&drop them.

Again, thanks much and if you have any thoughts on my plans/pictures or comfrey growing madness, please let me know.  I promise not to go so long without a post this time.



Eric
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Chip-O-wagon
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Good Growing Pair
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Great Growing Pair
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Little Pair
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Potential Comfrey Plot
 
Todd Parr
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I have quack grass that takes over everything.  One of the things I am trying now is surrounding garden beds with comfrey to act as a rhizome barrier.  The entire process works like this:  I put down black rubber roofing to kill off a new garden area.  That can last anywhere up to a year.  When everything under the rubber is completely dead, I pull away the rubber and either cover crop or wood chip the area.  Around the entire perimeter, I put a double row of comfrey.  As soon as the comfrey comes up and gets a little growth, I surround it with cardboard and mulch with wood chips.  The idea is to create a rhizome barrier to keep the quack grass from moving back into the new garden areas.  The cardboard/wood chip combo should keep the grass out until the comfrey is big enough to do the job.  In some areas I still have a 4 or 5 foot strip of rubber all the way around a garden, but it's ugly and I would much rather replace it with comfrey plants.  It's too early to tell if it will be completely successful, but I have high hopes for it.

Edit to add:  Eric, I would leave the comfrey grow without cutting it any more this year.  I have read that hundreds of spiders can over-winter under a single comfrey plant.
 
steve bossie
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i agree. don't cut it at all the 1st year. let them get well established roots. start cutting the 2nd year. wood chips are a gardens best friend!
 
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I planted comfrey for the first time this year.  I'd go out and take some pictures for you but it's dark out.  Do not worry about having Comfrey...it's like Willow., from another planet.    I think....I started with 7 or eight chunks of root and I have thirty plants now.  The initial transplants have been chopped and drop 2x and I'm getting ready to do a third.  The stuff is bulletproof.   If you have leaves popping you will get some sweet plants in the Spring.
 
Eric Hanson
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Todd, Steve,

Fear not.  I have no plans to cut my comfrey this season.  In my earlier post I was trying to suggest that the comfrey looked healthy enough to cut, but it is staying put till spring when I will start using comfrey for chop & drop fertilizer.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Todd,

I forgot to mention in my earlier post, but I really like your idea of using comfrey as a quack-grass rhizome barrier.  I too have quack-grass and would love to contain/eradicate it.  Overall, how much width do you think you need to stop the rhizomes?  Off hand I would think that 1-2 feet would be enough, but your post suggested you were being more aggressive.

Thanks in advance,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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So I know that this is a tangential question to the original theme, but the more I think about growing a comfrey patch the more I think about companion planting with a legume to fix nitrogen for the hungry comfrey plants.  Does anyone know if planting perennial white dutch clover with comfrey would be a good combination?  The assumption is that this would be a permanent bed just for growing green manure and growing a nitrogen fixer along with the comfrey seems like a good idea.  Is there any reason this would be a bad idea or does anyone have a better suggestion for a nitrogen fixer to accompany the comfrey?  I am not yet set on this plan, just testing out the waters at this point and as always, thanks in advance.

Eric
 
Todd Parr
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Eric Hanson wrote:Todd,

I forgot to mention in my earlier post, but I really like your idea of using comfrey as a quack-grass rhizome barrier.  I too have quack-grass and would love to contain/eradicate it.  Overall, how much width do you think you need to stop the rhizomes?  Off hand I would think that 1-2 feet would be enough, but your post suggested you were being more aggressive.

Thanks in advance,

Eric

One plant will quickly be a foot or more across it's base.  Right now I'm using 2 rows staggered so I would guess it will end up being 2 or 3 feet wide at the base of the plants.  I'm planting them about a foot apart in the rows, so they should make a pretty solid barrier.  I'm not sure if that is too close for them or not.  Time will tell.
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:So I know that this is a tangential question to the original theme, but the more I think about growing a comfrey patch the more I think about companion planting with a legume to fix nitrogen for the hungry comfrey plants.  Does anyone know if planting perennial white dutch clover with comfrey would be a good combination?  The assumption is that this would be a permanent bed just for growing green manure and growing a nitrogen fixer along with the comfrey seems like a good idea.  Is there any reason this would be a bad idea or does anyone have a better suggestion for a nitrogen fixer to accompany the comfrey?  I am not yet set on this plan, just testing out the waters at this point and as always, thanks in advance.

Eric


I have been thinking along these lines. The comfrey gets huge, and dutch white will not possibly compete. Red clover might. Alfalfa would but it is the same type of root. Still if you want a truly perennial chop/drop mix- I would try alfalfa.
 
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https://permies.com/wiki/65175/videos/digital-market/Jacqueline-Freeman-Honeybee-Techniques-streaming
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