Wednesday, 26 April 2017

What Is Comfrey?

Here are a few notes based on my own research and use of comfrey since 2013.

Comfrey has long been recognized by both organic gardeners and herbalists for its great usefulness and versatility; of particular interest is the "Bocking 14" cultivar of Russian Comfrey.

This strain was developed during the 1950s by Lawrence D Hills, and was my preferred type as it is sterile and can only be grown from root cuttings so it's not going to take over your plot from seeds spreading.

There are various ways in which comfrey can be used as a fertilizer. These include:

Compost Activator
Liquid fertilizer
Mulch or side dressing
Companion plant for trees and other perennials.
Production of potting mixture

Location of the Comfrey Bed

 A comfrey bed is basically a permanent feature with a lifespan in excess of 20 years on your plot or in your garden so getting the site right is fairly critical. Once established, killing off comfrey is very difficult unless you resort to chemicals.

On Mill Green allotment I made a comfrey bed in the corner of my plot under the shade of a tree, in an area where there were tree roots and it was not particularly useful for anything else really. 

On Spencer Road I decided straight off the back to place two comfrey beds behind the Daleks at the back of my plot where it abuts the path in a compost making area to save the effort in transporting the cut comfrey to where it will be used. That's why the comfrey pipe and the comfrey water butt are all in the same area.

Harvesting Comfrey

In the first year (second for autumn planted) allow the plants to grow to the point where it throws up flower stalks and then cut back to about 150 mm (6″) from the ground.

Mature comfrey plants can be harvested up to four or five times a year, in the photo above which is comfrey in its second year, there is only 29 days between the two photographs. They are ready for cutting when about 600 mm (24 in) high, and, depending on seasonal conditions, this is usually in mid-Spring. Comfrey will rapidly regrow, and will be ready for further cutting about 5 weeks later.

Comfrey leaves have small prickly hairs on the leaves and stems that can cause skin irritation, so its worth wearing gloves and something with long sleeves when handling it. Because of these hairs I have found it sticks like manure to a blanket on your gardening gloves, so when I'm filling the comfrey pipe I use rubber gloves.

The best time to cut comfrey is shortly before flowering, for this is when it is at its most potent in terms of the nutrients that it offers, I use the coming of flowers as a cue to harvest. Comfrey can continue growing into mid-autumn, but it is not advisable to continue taking cuttings after early autumn in order to allow the plants to build up winter reserves.

Making Comfrey Tea

As mentioned above, it can be used in various ways, however a few thing to bear in mind the first of which is depending on how you produce your comfrey tea the liquid can stink like raw sewage as the comfrey decomposes. If you don't cover it up it attracts fly's as they think it is actually sewage.

Here is a link to Gardeners World site on how to make tea using a bucket with a lid and a weight, add water wait between 2 - 5 weeks, strain into a container, dilute with water to a weak tea looking colour. This was the first way I tried making my comfrey tea & feed, its very messy and smelly to do this way.

I then saw a post where it was suggested that you chopped up leaves and put in the milk bottle added water and waited for it to turn weak tea colour, but this took ages and then you had to dispose of the bottle once used or re fill and it was a real faff and didn't really work on an allotment level.  

Finally I saw and got recommendations from other allotment holders on forums about the comfrey pipe see previous post. No real smell when compared with the bucket & lid method, produces concentrated comfrey that I add to a water barrel so I have weak looking comfrey tea on tap.

I use a PowerBee Perfect Solar Power Pond Oxygenator in the barrel which I have found neutralises the smell, and obviously being solar powered cost me nothing to run.  

I hope you found this information useful, and if you have any more questions about comfrey or the pipe, please use the comment link below.


After writing this post I found links on a chat on UK Here We Grow Facebook group to Permaculture News - Comfrey Believe The Hype and  Does Comfrey Really Improve Soil ? both are excellent articles and are very informative about Comfrey, Thanks to Myles Adams for posting the links.

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