Comfrey a ‘companion’ plant for garden

This spring I was hauling five gallon buckets of fertilizer down the Buckhorn Mountain when a skunk ran out in front of me. I hit the brakes hard rather than hit the skunk, the guardrail or a tree. Three heaping buckets of horse manure spilled in the bed of my truck.

The “fragrance” traveled with me the rest of the way home. The next morning, as I was hosing the mess into the sewer drain I decided this would be the year I’d try to grow Comfrey.

Comfrey is a member of the Borage family. The fuzzy bottle green leaves carry two or three times the amount of potassium found in barnyard manure.

It is considered a “companion plant” for the whole garden, because it’s thought to be a kind of season-long fertilizer. It was used as a medicinal herb until 2001, when the FDA banned the marketing of Comfrey products for internal use and slapped a warning label on products intended for use as external medicine.

I planted three root cuttings on May 1. Because Comfrey can grow five feet tall and four feet wide in Zones 4-9, I chose garden locations where plantings were sparse. I wanted to give my new novelty plants space to grow.

I planted one root cutting in dry shade, the other in a well-drained spot that receives full sun. Neither of them would win a blue ribbon at the Sinking Valley Grange Fair. But the root cutting in a wet, shady spot has hairy leaves twice the size of my hand and is about two feet tall.

Comfrey grows like crazy because its leaves have few fibers. When cut and put in a bucket, they quickly break down into a thick black sludge.

Gardeners with Comfrey cut the leaves to within a couple of inches of the ground when the plant is about twelve inches tall. The leaves grow back to cutting size in two weeks or so.

Comfrey is considered a compost activator because it helps heat the compost pile. The leaves can be used as a mulch or side dressing.

Vegetables that use extra potassium, like tomatoes and potatoes, love being tucked in with a layer or two of Comfrey leaves beside them.

I’ve not tried making a Comfrey potting mix yet, but thinking about the fall Sycamore leaves we have to bag, I might try a few experiments.

The recipe calls for well-decayed leaf mold to absorb the liquid released by the decaying Comfrey. Mother Earth News says the mix will be ready when I can’t distinguish the Comfrey leaves from the rest of the pile. (Fair Warning: Comfrey potting compost is too strong for growing seedlings.)

I’ve made fertilizer tea in years past and it’s a disagreeable mess, but very, well, fertile. I’d be a little uneasy making Comfrey tea. Some writers say add water to Comfrey leaves and it smells like “petrol”. Others use words not fit to print.

Contact Teresa Futrick at esroyllek@hotmail.com

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