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

Growing comfrey

Comfrey cuttingsHopefully you're sold by now and can think of at least one use for comfrey on your homestead.  So how do you grow it?

Choose a good location.  Comfrey isn't picky about soil quality, but it requires deep soil with no hardpan, rock layer, or high water table to prevent the roots from reaching deep.  Heavy clay is no problem, and is in fact preferred.  Although comfrey is moderately shade tolerant, it will be less productive when planted out of the sun.

Propagate your plants.  Comfrey is only grown from cuttings, so unless your pockets are deep you will want to buy a few plants and then divide them up.  The good news is that one good-sized comfrey plant can be divided into dozens of small plants, many of which can be harvested starting the first year.  First dig up the large plant and cut off sections near the top containing leaves --- each leaf crown area can become its own plant.  Then take all of the small roots that are left, cut them into one inch sections, and plant them in a nursery bed one inch deep and two inches apart.  These youngsters can be transplanted into permanent locations the next spring.

Rows of comfreyPrepare your ground.  Comfrey will outcompete almost anything once it gets a foothold, but you could lose your crop to weeds while it's getting established.  So take a bit of time to root out any perennial weeds.

Plant your comfrey.  Comfrey needs a permanent location, much like an orchard, since it's very difficult to eradicate once comfrey has gained a foothold on a plot of ground.  Space plants three feet apart in good soil, or half that in poor soil.  Plant in the fall (September to November) or spring (March to May.)

Chickens cleaning weeds out of a comfrey patchWeed and fertilize.  One tantilizing system consists of planting comfrey in the chicken run.  Since chickens don't like unwilted comfrey leaves, the birds will weed between the comfrey and fertilize it in the process, only requiring you to add wood ashes or another form of potassium every few years to balance the fertility.  You can cut a plant or two every day while feeding your chickens, and the poultry will eat up the cuttings the next day once they're wilted.  If you're not using chickens, dig out any perennial weeds by hand and fertilize annually.

Harvest.  You can begin cutting leaves as early as the first year, but the plants produce the maximum yield starting in the third year.  After several more years, productivity will begin to decline as the centers of the huge comfrey plants die out.  This is the point at which you'll want to dig up the plants and divide them, or just turn in pigs to root out the comfrey and start a new comfrey patch elsewhere.

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This post is part of our Comfrey 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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Just wanted to add that our chickens don't touch the wilted comfrey... But... They absolutely LOVE fresh comfrey still attached to the plant.
Comment by David Wed Jan 26 23:39:43 2011
Intriguing. It sounds like there must be a lot of variation in how chickens respond to comfrey, maybe because individual chickens and types of comfrey are very different?
Comment by anna Thu Jan 27 12:15:08 2011

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