The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Comfrey in Permaculture

Lucy beside a large bush of comfreyMost farmers --- and I'm no exception --- get tunnel vision about producing the crops they're interested in.  But permaculture admonishes us to put in some species which have other uses beyond going in our bellies.  I don't spend too much time worrying about planting nectaries since the majority of our property is one huge nectary and our "lawn" is primarily flowering weeds.  On the other hand, I'm now starting to think seriously about dynamic accumulators.

Dynamic accumulators are plants which are good at mining nutrients out of the soil, often because they have taproots which reach deeper than normal roots can go or because the plants team up with bacteria to fix nitrogen out of the air.  Permaculturalists harvest the leaves of dynamic accumulators and use them as mulch or to make compost to feed their gardens --- yes, I know that fertilizing is all I ever seem to talk about.

Of all the dynamic accumulators out there, comfrey is king.  A single comfrey plant (like the big one at the top of this entry) can produce four to five pounds of leaves multiple times a year.  The leaves are extremely high in potassium and also have a low carbon to nitrogen ratio, making them a great mulch.

Badly planted comfrey putting up new leaves.The plant is also extremely easy to propagate.  I have a big clump which I cut into bits a couple of weeks ago --- I whacked at it with a shovel, not worrying about how much root each plant got.  In fact, none of my new plants had any small roots at all since I was only able to cut off the top six inches of the massive taproot.

I planted the comfrey starts in my new forest garden and then proceeded to completely ignore them, giving them no water during a hot, droughty period.  The big leaves withered...and then new little leaves popped up.  Before long, I expect each comfrey section to turn into a massive plant ready to feed my garden and bees.  (Do be aware that comfrey is nearly impossible to eradocate once you plant it somewhere --- put it in a place you don't mind it staying forever!)

This post is part of our Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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