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Cover crop for comfrey patch  RSS feed

 
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Todd,

So from what you are saying, it sounds like it really comes down to N after all.  This is the reason I am trying my comfrey cover crop idea in the first place.  I am hoping to charge up the soil with nitrogen for eventual release.  Perhaps the comfrey will crowd out the clover, but by that point, the clover will have done its job and by dying it should give up a last batch of N for the comfrey to feed upon.  You say use urine.  I am totally OK with this and I have already give my comfrey plants a good helping of diluted urine and plan to continue.  This plus the clover in addition to any soil-borne nitrogen already in place will hopefully provide plenty of nitrogen for comfrey plants.

Eric
 
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I hope you didn't get the wrong impression from anything I said.  I think the nitrogen fixing cover crop is a great idea.
 
Eric Hanson
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Not to worry Todd,

You have chimed in on my threads many other times and I always appreciate your input.  I was just trying to understand the source of all the comfrey goodness and wondering how I could help that process along.  I am laboring under the thought that as I harvest the comfrey, I will set back its ability to grow and spread.  If this is the case, then a companion plant works wonders.  If not, then I get a lot of comfrey leaves.  Either way, I have already purchased clover seed and plan to do a partial fall seeding this weekend.  I will post pictures as the process continues.

Eric
 
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A few observations:

1.  If it's green, it's got nitrogen in it.  So as a compost ingredient to a properly built pile (with plenty of carbon/browns to catch that N as the pile breaks down), comfrey is an excellent source of N.

2.  There is some debate about the whole concept of dynamic accumulators.  This is one of those things that has been thrown around permaculture circles for years because, frankly, it just makes sense.  A deep rooted plant would clearly seem to have the capacity of mine the sub-soil for nutrients.  But I'm cautious to attribute to comfrey or any other plant such qualities when they have never been proven.  The truth is ANY plant has the capacity to not only mine the soil for nutrients, but also to support soil life which creates many of the nutrients the plant needs.  Are certain plants dynamic accumulators, while others are not?  That's debatable.  But comfrey clearly is a great plant at enhancing soil and providing a lot of bio-mass for mulch or compost.

3.  Ultimately, if there is such a thing as a dynamic accumulator, trees would be chief among them.  Since carbon feeds the soil food web, and trees are carbon capturing machines, trees do more to feed soil life and fungal life than any other plant.  Forests have clearly been proven to be key to soil fertility in research done around the world for the past 50 years.   Deforestation destroys regional soil fertility.  As a great companion plant for trees in an orchard, comfrey works in synergy with the orchard to bring soil health and vitality.  Perhaps the "cover crop" best suited for your comfrey patch would be an apricot, avocado, moringa or lime tree?

4.  Comfrey is a "self-mulching" plant.  As the outer leaves die, new leaves push up from the middle and lean out over the top of the old decaying leaves.  Thus, its a self-fertilizing plant.  Adding to this trait is the fact that worms really seem to love it.  Whenever I dig out an old established comfrey plant, I'm shocked with the size of the worms around the roots.  Clearly there is something that is attracting those worms: it might be the aforementioned mulch mass below the plant, rotting away; it might be root exudates that the worms find particularly appealing; it might be the fact that the soil below an established comfrey patch is cool, moist and undisturbed so its friable and easy for worms to move through.  My hunch is all three factors play a role in comfrey being a worm magnet.  Where you've got big massive worms, you've got tons of worm castings.  Thus, comfrey is self-fertilizing as well as self-mulching.

 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Todd,

So from what you are saying, it sounds like it really comes down to N after all.  This is the reason I am trying my comfrey cover crop idea in the first place.  I am hoping to charge up the soil with nitrogen for eventual release.  Perhaps the comfrey will crowd out the clover, but by that point, the clover will have done its job and by dying it should give up a last batch of N for the comfrey to feed upon.  You say use urine.  I am totally OK with this and I have already give my comfrey plants a good helping of diluted urine and plan to continue.  This plus the clover in addition to any soil-borne nitrogen already in place will hopefully provide plenty of nitrogen for comfrey plants.

Eric



Eric,
Comfrey doesn't make a good "cover crop" for larger areas, but does for under trees and along paths. Your better off with a fast growing annual, such as Kodiak spinach, to start with, then progressively expand your other perennials. Just chop the spinach before it goes to seed and you'll have a great mulch starter.

With regards to the nitrogen issue, but a cheap bag of beans or peas and scatter them about, let them grow, then chop and drop them. Your Comfrey isn't a nitrogen fixer, but it doesn't strip it out like a lot of other plants. Most of it's resources are pulled from well below the depth of other plants. So, once the Comfrey takes hold and gets it's roots down deep, you'll find that chopping and dropping it will help with nitrogen depletion.

Another nitrogen fix is to run wood chips through a 1/4" screen, mix that 2 to 1 with aged manure and spread a few inches around your plants for a fast breakdown and release of nitrogen. Then just take the remaining wood chips and spread in thick layers to keep the process going.

You can also add a little chicken manure for a quick nitrogen fix.

Within a few months you'll have a few inches of beautiful, healthy, active soil.

Hope this helps.
 
Eric Hanson
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Comfrey Update

Though it took me a lot longer to get to it than I anticipated, I planted my comfrey patch with dutch white clover.  At present I only have 4 comfrey plants in this patch, but I plan on adding another 6-8 later this spring.  I started by creating a grid pattern at about 2 foot intervals to plant lines of clover.  For the moment the plan is for the comfrey to grow on its own, maybe helped along with additions of urine.  At the same time, the clover grows and gets itself established.  By the time the comfrey and clover meet. I am sure the comfrey will crowd out the clover, but by that time the clover will have nicely conditioned the soil and more importantly added nitrogen to the mix.  To plant the clover, I made tiny little trenches with a flat bladed shovel, a garden hoe, then sprinkled clover seed.  To cover I used some wood chips from a nearby pile that have partially broken down.  Finally I gently tamped everything down gently.  For those who patiently suggested to me that I enrich my soil with wood chips, you may be happy to know that the parts of my patch already under wood chips were soft, loamy and already had significant worm activity.  I attached a few pictures to show a basic step-by step of my little project and will keep this thread updated as the season progresses.

Eric
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Grid view
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close in grid view
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Covered grid rows
 
Marco Banks
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David Gould wrote:

Jared France wrote:

Chickens help keep comfrey down & it's supposed to beneficial to them & their eggs .



My nitrogen "fixing" strategy is to run comfrey and other available greens through my birds.  Nitrogen fixing plants are not the only source of N for your garden.  Chicken poop is tremendously hot and high in N.

I pull my chicken tractor directly over the top of the various comfrey plants throughout my garden.   I only keep 8 birds, but they'll take down a huge comfrey plant in just a few hours.  What they don't eat they shred and throw the leaves all over.

 
Eric Hanson
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Marco,

You are right, chickens would make a great source of nitrogen for my comfrey patch.  Unfortunately I do not have chickens.  I do have access to chicken litter from my neighbor for about another 2 months, but he is leaving and so are his chickens.  Without those, I thought that the clover-as-cover-crop would work out well.  I just planted the clover seed and they are starting to germinate into little grids of clover.  I am hoping that the comfrey will feed on the nitrogen infused ground and my gardens will in turn feast on the abundant nitrogen leaves. I will post pics once the clover really grows in.

Eric
 
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i cut and drop 1/3rd of comfrey i harvest, around each plant and have never fertilized my comfrey with anything and they grow like crazy! they feed themselves. a little mulch over the dropped leaves helps them break down quicker.
 
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