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Help Growing Comfrey

 
pollinator
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Mike,

I am not surprised that your comfrey plants are doing well.  It seems that once the plant gets itself established that nothing can stop it.  My plants are still slowly putting out new growth, even in the middle of winter.  

Eric
 
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Since several of you comfroisseurs are still watching this thread, I'm going to bring up a slightly different topic.  Please delete this and/or let me know where to move it if it's too off topic.

Question:  Can living comfrey (root) be deep frozen?  If so, how cold?
I read another website where someone asked about keeping potted comfrey outside.  He was advised that in a pot the roots would freeze and it would die, but if in the ground they wouldn't.

However, it seems like comfreys just below the surface have lived, and they start off from the same root top in the Spring, and I'm in 5a-5b, so it does get below 0 here almost all Winters, with a daily high below 0 most or at least some Winters. I believe here the minimum water line depth is about 4', so a lot of companies install at 5' to be sure of no lines freezing, but maybe that's for a completely different reason.  I kind of want to take one of my little potted comfreys and freeze it and see what happens, but wanted to ask first.

Also, I once read that the comfrey root dies at the actual temperature of around -20F.  Or was it leaves dying at 20F and roots at around -10F or -15F?
Can anyone confirm/deny this?  Have sources or anything?

Any help would be appreciated, and again if this is thread clutter it can be moved.
Thank you!
 
Eric Hanson
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Patrick,

I wish I had direct knowledge of your specifics.  I too have heard somewhere that comfrey roots should not be allowed to freeze in not in soil. but this does not exactly make sense.  Certainly comfrey survives just fine in soil and I don't know what it is about soil contact that would prevent it from being killed (say in deep, frozen ground).  That is a good question though and perhaps someone wiser than me will have an answer better than mine.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Steve,

If I never mentioned it before, I certainly appreciate having had all your input into getting these plants up and growing.  And your gracious help has turned into some very nice plants.  Thanks!  And thanks for continuing to comment on this old, but still continuing thread.  I do have plans to expand my comfrey plants by digging up root cuttings from my healthiest plant and planting them in a new area.  Further, I have mentioned in other threads that I am planning on doing some serious rejuvenating of my orchard and one of my plans was to plant some comfrey guilds around the trees, in addition to getting them some nice wood chips inoculated with wine cap mushrooms, but that is for a different thread.

Thanks again Steve for your continuing thoughtful observation and commentary,

Eric

youre very welcome! keep spreading the root cuttings and the word!
 
steve bossie
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Patrick Owen wrote:

steve bossie wrote:good to see fresh posts on this thread! i too have planted nettle amongst a patch of comfrey and i now use both for fertilizer around my plants. nettle doesn't produce as much biomass but adds different nutrients than comfrey. i grow a less stinging nettle i bought from Oikios. i also put some cut nettle around the comfrey and comfrey around the nettle. they are both flourishing in a partly sunny spot under my red pines.



Steve:  I hope this doesn't put enmity between us, but my nettles were not exactly "introduced".  It's more like they showed up at a party started by comfrey.  To each his own, and I'm glad the nettle/comfrey is working for you.  That almost makes me wonder if I could try to introduce a smaller, less stingy nettle to replace the other.  Then it would be easier to control?  It's worth pondering.

Eric: I am glad that now, all this time later, your comfreys are doing well (or will be again come Spring!).  This thread can be a lesson for folks wanting to start comfrey but having rain in the extended forecast, and maybe save them some time.  This thread has a lot of stuff most of us have already heard, but also has a lot of different stories where I feel that I really added to my understanding of the properties of this plant, and the pictures posted by all have been helpful also.  That's what prompted me to share my unique situation; maybe others can take my little morsel of experience and add it to their general understandings.

I did have to comment in response to Todd though.  His comedic post was witty, but the fact that it applies to me so much is what made it so great.  I shared it with someone close to me, someone with whom I have frequent conversations, conversations which have been frequently injected with comfrey related topics.

no worries! nettle doesn't grow naturally here but i planted the roots from Oikios because of the medicinal properties and as a amendment. if cut and left to wither you can handle it bare handed with no issues. i also have borage , a cousin of comfery,  in the same patch. before planting here the soil was very poor and acidic. now 4 yrs later its a nice fertile loam and getting better every year.
 
steve bossie
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Patrick Owen wrote:Since several of you comfroisseurs are still watching this thread, I'm going to bring up a slightly different topic.  Please delete this and/or let me know where to move it if it's too off topic.

Question:  Can living comfrey (root) be deep frozen?  If so, how cold?
I read another website where someone asked about keeping potted comfrey outside.  He was advised that in a pot the roots would freeze and it would die, but if in the ground they wouldn't.

However, it seems like comfreys just below the surface have lived, and they start off from the same root top in the Spring, and I'm in 5a-5b, so it does get below 0 here almost all Winters, with a daily high below 0 most or at least some Winters. I believe here the minimum water line depth is about 4', so a lot of companies install at 5' to be sure of no lines freezing, but maybe that's for a completely different reason.  I kind of want to take one of my little potted comfreys and freeze it and see what happens, but wanted to ask first.

Also, I once read that the comfrey root dies at the actual temperature of around -20F.  Or was it leaves dying at 20F and roots at around -10F or -15F?
Can anyone confirm/deny this?  Have sources or anything?

Any help would be appreciated, and again if this is thread clutter it can be moved.
Thank you!

3  yrs ago we had very little snow and it got down to -40f a half doz. times . i had 0 losses to the roots of the 20+ comfrey on my property with no mulching.  and all of them grew just like the warmer years. I'm sure this stuff could be grown all the way to the arctic and still grow! not sure how they would fare above ground. from what I've read comfrey doesn't do well in pots because of its long taproot.
 
Eric Hanson
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Patrick, others,

I experimented last spring (spring 2018) with giving my comfrey a companion plant.  I naively thought that Dutch White Clover would make a good friend for the comfrey on the grounds that the DWC would fix nitrogen, make a nice low-growing companion and that the two plants would compliment and not compete against each other.  My DWC experiment ended with the comfrey seemingly not caring if it had a companion plant or not.  I still really like the idea of fertilizing plants through plant associations and more specifically, microbiological action in the soil--thus making potentially ANY traditional fertilization (meaning anything from 10-10-10 to fresh manure) irrelevant.  I do occasionally give my comfrey a dose of diluted urine (I pee into a 2.5 gallon jug of cat litter for about 2 days obtain a gallon of my own urine which I then dilute about 50:50 with tap water) and one dose seems to be good for about a year.  However, the more I learn about microbial actions in the soil (thanks largely to Gabe Brown and Permies soil expert Redhawk) the more I am realizing that the addition of fresh nitrogen even in natural forms, such as from manure or urine, break down the chemical messaging that plants in the wild use to acquire all the nitrogen they need through microbial networks.  At this point I am torn--getting diluted urine is dirt cheap, easy and highly effective, but I really like the idea of fostering all of the appropriate soil microbiology to do the job they were meant to do.  In the end, I will probably continue to use the once-per-year diluted urine application while I look for a nitrogen fixer that will establish well, play nice and itself become a useful chop & drop fertilizer plant.

My new goal for my comfrey plants is to make them assist my wood chip beds.  As I have stated numerous times on other threads, I am in the middle of a multi-year long project to compost heaps of wood chips into a very fertile mushroom compost to fill up my raised beds.  At present, I have wine cap mushrooms doing a fine job breaking down the wood chips with much decomposition taking place just in the last month.  I am certain that right now my wood chip "soil" is extremely heavily tilted towards the fungal dominated side which is perfectly fine for the decomposition phase.  However, for the planting phase, I would like to inject some bacteria back in.  One of my thoughts (and I have been given many very helpful suggestions on how to do this.  If you are one of those who gave me bacterial advice, I thank you very much) was to scrape off the chip layer/decomposed leaf combination within about 25-18 inches of the center of the comfrey plants, collect them and then sprinkle that mixture over the top of the chip bed.  I would think that the area under that comfrey, what with all the foliage falling and decaying in place, would be teeming with all sorts of bacterial that I could use to seed my new chip beds and even out the fungi to bacteria ratio.

I also have numerous other plans for comfrey as the I have been thoroughly infected with the comfrey bug and while I can cope with the symptoms, there is no cure and I will always relapse--fall off the wagon again dreaming up ways of using comfrey to spread garden goodness all across my land.

Eric
 
pollinator
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Comfressuires! Love it!

Eric, in regards to the nitrogen and comfrey and the concerns about messing with the rhyzobia fixing nitrogen- you are thinking too much. Urine is a very normal soil addition. It is the very basis of Alan Savory's model which the rest of us are just implementing. Don't drown them in piss like bad art but don't be afraid of it. If you have an Oktoberfest party and 20 of your buddies come over- then you might think about putting down some chips to soak up the nitrogen and time-release it. Comfrey in particular seems to do the same thing, soak up what it can get and then you can have that in the leaves for wherever you want. I would put comfrey in the same call with figs, it can really scavenge nitrogen. For that reason I put it around plants that are getting aphids since that is a sign they are getting too much nitrogen! As I mentioned before the clover growing naturally around the comfrey here is red clover. Bees going crazy on there!

Todd, someday I have to meet you you are like my intellectual brother. You are doing the same thing I am doing. I can't propagate this stuff fast enough to use as a rhyzome barrier. It goes everywhere that I want to keep the bermuda out! When I am establishing a new bed, it gets ringed with a double staggered row exactly like you are describing. Yes that is a lot of comfrey, but it grows here most of the winter and is a great forage for the chickens and whatever else. I am experimenting with peonies for the same function, they don't grow as fast but will flower at a different time of year. I made about 40 new peonies this fall and will double them again in two years. You have any other ideas for similar border plants? Shade areas maybe hosta?

In terms of propagating this stuff, the way I do it is to take cuttings, put them in a giant tub of degraded wood chips, jumble them in there so they are mostly covered, pee in the tub, and get the mix damp, like to the point that there's probably some water collecting on the bottom. Then I cover the whole top in saran wrap and put it in the garage where it gets a little light but not much. This makes it a little greenhouse, the condensation drips back down. I remember its out there maybe three weeks later and the whole thing will be going crazy with roots. Then I plant them with no special care at all. Like none, little shovel dig, plant goes in, stomp. I am totally beating these plants up, I split them sometimes twice a year. They don't care at all. Granted I am more interested in geometrically expanding them at this point, I rarely let them flower. They produce the most fantastic soil very quickly and I have the same clay soil Eric is contending with.
 
Eric Hanson
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TJ,

No doubt I am overthinking my plans--it is what I do, especially in winter!!  As it stands now, My comfrey plants are surrounded by a nice, thick layer of wood chips so I think that even the Oktoberfest party would not give them too much urine.  And I still use about 1 gallon of urine to fertilize all 6 plants, and that is all they seem to need for about a year.  My obsessing about the microbia is just that--my obsessing.  I assume you likely think that the once-per-year urine addition is about right for comfrey plants?  

Thanks for the input and tamping down my flames of over enthusiasm--I just get that way sometimes, especially with comfrey,

Eric
 
steve bossie
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i keep a 3in. layer of chips around  my berry bushes and trees. i ferlilize 2x a summer with pure urine around my plants with no ill effect. i pour maybe a cup or so in a ring around them. the chips absorb and distribute it so there is no burning. other than comfrey , its the only other fertilizer i use. the comfrey loves it too.
 
Eric Hanson
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Steve,

You are spot on about the comfrey loving urine for fertilizer.  Despite my obsession with all things microbial,  mine get their nitrogen boost via urine soaking through a thick layer of wood chips.  When the weather dries a bit I want to scrape back some chips just to see if the plants rooted into the chips as well as the clay soil beneath.

Eric
 
Patrick Owen
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Tj Jefferson wrote:In terms of propagating this stuff, the way I do it is to take cuttings, put them in a giant tub of degraded wood chips, jumble them in there so they are mostly covered, pee in the tub, and get the mix damp, like to the point that there's probably some water collecting on the bottom. Then I cover the whole top in saran wrap and put it in the garage where it gets a little light but not much. This makes it a little greenhouse, the condensation drips back down. I remember its out there maybe three weeks later and the whole thing will be going crazy with roots. Then I plant them with no special care at all. Like none, little shovel dig, plant goes in, stomp. I am totally beating these plants up, I split them sometimes twice a year. They don't care at all. Granted I am more interested in geometrically expanding them at this point, I rarely let them flower. They produce the most fantastic soil very quickly and I have the same clay soil Eric is contending with.


I'm guessing pretty much all of those come up?  The typical comfroisseur answer is "of course", but I like to verify.  Measure twice, cut once (or with comfrey cut fifty times).

What I was thinking was digging up half of one my larger plants, diving the root into 50-200 1-2" cuttings, and then just doing what it sounds like you do after yours start growing.  
To be clear, you basically stick a shovel in the ground, wiggle it so the slice is at least the root width (.2-.5"), remove shovel, (I'd optionally splash water in crevice if dry), use finger to poke root chunk just under the surface, press crevice closed with foot.  I feel that would work, but wanted to see if you've done that.  I think I saw a video where someone did something similar and it worked.  I could put them in some sort of humid medium first, to start growing, but then I feel I'd have to be more careful putting them in the ground, and they'd have a higher chance of breaking off the leaves.  It almost just seems simpler to plant them directly.  While some of our soil is good, some is more just clay, but I still feel like as long as it's adequately moist, they'll mostly grow and do well even in the clay.  (Again, at NE/IA border FYI)

Edit: I was just reading the Bocking number descriptions in Comfrey:Past, Present, and Future, and it seems like most of the flowers are purple/lilac, and a lot of what I see of of Russian Comfrey, which I assume usually means Bocking 4 or 14, is usually purple, pink, or something.  I'm looking up pictures now, and they all seem light pink to purple.  My main comfrey flock has white flowers.  I talked to a family member who also would remember the color, should I be going crazy, and the white flower was verified.  Now I'm wondering if I have some "different" comfrey.
 
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To be clear, you basically stick a shovel in the ground, wiggle it so the slice is at least the root width (.2-.5"), remove shovel, (I'd optionally splash water in crevice if dry), use finger to poke root chunk just under the surface, press crevice closed with foot.



That's all it takes. another good comfrey thread
 
Patrick Owen
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Mike Barkley wrote:
That's all it takes. another good comfrey thread


Thanks!  That's a good link, and I read the whole thing.

I did find this guy doing pretty much just that:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a3rmspuUng
The only thing was that he was planting much longer (4"-6") pieces.  I figure why not 1", or 2" to be safe.  It would take more comfrey plants, but a similar amount of work.  I'm thinking instead of a shovel I could just stab a knife into the ground, twist it a bit, and that would be more than enough to push a root down in there.  That seems like less work.
 
Mike Barkley
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The lady who owns & runs this place told me that one inch of root is all it takes. Her outdoor herb gardens are amazing.

It would probably grow if you just dropped it on the ground & covered with some compost or soil. Comfrey seedballs? hmmm that just might be useful here!

 
Eric Hanson
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Steve,

I believe we need to designate you as the Grand Master of all things comfrey here at Permies.  You certainly helped me become a competent comfrey gardener and now Patrick is benefiting from your keen tutelage.  I think I can speak for Patrick when I say thanks for all the sound advice.

This is not to say that I did not benefit from others keen insight—I certainly did.  But you have been a highly visible fountain of knowledge for me and now for Patrick.

Thanks for all your contributions and thanks for helping to keep this thread relevant long after I became sufficiently competent to use comfrey without outside help.  Mostly, thanks for helping new generations of novice comfrey gardeners.

Eric
 
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