What are “Superfoods For Your Soil” ??
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Every Month I write an artcle for Permaculture Noosa’s ‘Perma News’ The articles profile many useful plants and include how they grow and some of their uses. This is a great way to get to know the many useful plants that are used for permaculture and sustainable gardens. Here’s this month’s article…enjoy !!
Plant Profile by Cath Manuel
This month I’ll start a series on a group of plants that are used as support species throughout our gardens. I like to call them “Superfoods for your Soil”
Comfrey is a clumping, rhyzomatous perennial, growing to about 1m high and up to 2m in size. It has soft to course, hairy leaves and produces small purple flowers throughout the year. It’s a close relative to Borage and bears a similar resemblance during flowering.
As Comfrey likes most soil conditions and grows well in part shade to full sun positions it’s a very hardy and highly useful plant to have around your garden. Due to the huge amount of large leaves it produces it will be nitrogen hungry, so applying manures, blood and bone or some chopped up comfrey or legume leaves (eg Pigeon Pea) around the soil will supply the plant with plenty of nitrogen.
The reason I call Comfrey a superfood for the soil is the plant, when established, has a deep tap root which mines its way deep into the sub soil and accesses nutrients that we usually cannot. It then draws up these minerals and stores them in its leaves, which we then cut and use in so many ways around our garden, for medicinal purposes and also as a food source. It also has no or little problems with pests or diseases so I guess this is why so many people grow Comfrey and it’s recommended to all gardeners.
Here’s a few ways to use Comfrey…
Comfrey Tea is one of my most used foliar sprays and liquid plant fetilisers. Apart from using my worm juice I regularly make a batch of Comfrey Tea.
By making Comfrey tea you’re creating a plant food that is easily absorbed through the roots and the foliage. This so easy to make and I highly recommend having many Comfrey plants on hand in your garden. I plant them next to new fruit trees at planting time and also all around my garden beds for easy access.
Using a small to medium bucket with a lid, add about 10 or more chopped Comfrey leaves to the bucket and fill with water. Place the lid on loosely and place in a shady spot in the garden. The bucket can be heavy to carry so place it near your water access or near where you’ll use it. Leave for about 3 weeks or until the water becomes dark and smelly, yes it stinks !! It’s now ready to use.
I dilute mine to one part brew to 4 parts water in a watering can. Pour over soil around all your plants, especially your greens and high yield plants like tomatoes, and also use as a foliar feed over vegetables and herbs. Your fruit trees will benefit from an application of this each season.
Chop and Drop to improve your soil. Knowing that the Comfrey leaves contain so many essential minerals, it’s good to apply directly to your soil. Having many clumps of Comfrey growing throughout the garden allows easy access to plenty of leaves. In garden beds, around trees (fruit trees love it !!) apply a good amount (many handfuls) of chopped leaves under the mulch. To apply move back your garden mulch, apply the chopped leaves all around the soil, you can then top with rotted manures, organic manure pellets or blood and bone, then recover with mulch and water in well. When the Comfrey leaves decompose they will add all the minerals to the soil and increase the earthworm and microbe activity at the same time…what a superfood !!!
Comfrey is used as an activator for compost. Due to its high nitrogen level it will help to heat up the compost. Make sure this is always balanced with a good level of carbon, as too much comfrey (nitrogen) can make the compost anaerobic (lacking oxygen) and will become sloppy and smelly.
Comfrey poultice is also easy to make and a great relief for muscle, bone or joint problems. Harvest a good bunch of large comfrey leaves and you can either mash them, bruise the leaves and chop up or puree in a food processor and then wrap in a piece of muslin or an old tea towel and wrap around the sore part of the body. I find this helpful when children fall over and bruise themselves, as long as they can’t feel the hairy leaves they won’t complain!!! I’ve also used this on tired, aching feet and it works very well…
Comfrey Ointment can also be made to use on bruises and bones. Thanks to Heike Farkas who spoke about Comfrey ointment at the February meeting.
Comfrey as a food source – There’s some controversy over using Comfrey as a food source as there’s legislation around serving and eating it. Some organisations claim that there’s a link to digesting comfrey and liver toxicity, so I’m not going to tell you all to eat it…but I can say that I have a delicious recipe for Comfrey Pie, have made and eaten it and it was so good !!!
I’ve found my dog just loves to eat Comfrey leaves. Whenever she’s out in the garden she has a good chew on a few leaf tips. I’m not sure why she likes this, and she really enjoys it, so I guess it’s doing something good for her…
So now I’m sure you have a good understanding on why Comfrey is such a favourite to all gardeners and a very important part of a sustainable garden.
For more information on growing and planting Comfrey and also making Comfrey Tea please visit my Youtube Channel ‘Organic Food Growing’ http://www.youtube.com/user/organicfoodgrowing/videos as I have a few video tutorials on Comfrey…
Next month more on “Superfoods for your Soil”…
© cath manuel 2012