Southern Comfrey: a liquid lunch for spirited plants

Now that our fruit and veg have transferred their efforts, from upward growth and leaf manufacture, to flower and fruit manufacture, it’s a good idea to give them a liquid feed with a potassium-rich fertiliser. This will keep the flowers coming, setting and fruiting.

Whilst you could go out and buy something in a bottle (I am partial to liquid seaweed, but it’s not cheap), one of the best liquid feeds is actually free. Or it will be, once you’ve established a couple of comfrey plants and started your own comfrey ‘tea’ company.

Comfrey is a rather primative-looking plant, a member of the borage family, with robust, prickly stalks bearing large and equally prickly leaves. Round here it grows native in ditches and by the sides of streams, where it’s roots go deep and search out minerals that get brought up into the leaves. The leaves contain nitrogen, phosphorous and, important for fruit formation, loads of potassium. In fact it has 3 times the potassium found in your average farmyard manure. Once you have a mature plant, the leaves can be harvested over and over, year on year, to make a liquid ‘tea’ packed with nutrients that your fruit and vegetables will love. They quickly grow more leaves, so with a couple of plants you can easily keep your production going through the season.

You can also use the leaves as a mulch, laying them around the base of tomatoes and other hungry/thirsty plants helps keep the moisture in and quickly rots down, releasing their nutrients into the soil.

Comfrey is notorious for self-seeding and becomes difficult to great rid of, due to the long tap roots. However, there is a variety that’s been developed that does not self-seed prolifically, and this is the one to get. It’s called Boking 14. I got 5 mini plants from the Organic Catalogue last spring (click here to go to their shop).

As these plants get quite big and a bit unruly, you want them in an unimportant part of the garden. Or why not go a bit Georgian and adopt the Enclosure Act on that strip of land out front/back/side/ditch that no one seems that bothered about, and surreptitiously start a comfrey colony that you can raid as and when you need it?

I planted mine at the end of the tricky slope where I hoped they’d help hold the soil from sliding into path by the stream. Three have survived this rather dry spot, which is plenty for me, and they are now huge and a bit floppy and unruly. Just right to make comfrey tea!

Be warned, this brew stinks! But it soon disappears watered into the soil.

You’ll need:

  • a large bucket. Preferably with a lid or something you can put over the top to keep the rain and insects out and the smell in. I used a plank of wood. And positioned everything behind the shed.
  • Gloves (those leaves are prickly) and a pair of chunky secateurs, to cut the fibrous stems.
  • a load of comfrey leaves, stripped off their stalks. I’m experimenting using the prickly stalks as a snail barrier around my cabbages. Otherwise, pop them on the compost heap.
  • A brick or plant saucer… something to weigh the leaves under the water.
  • water

I find water cooler bottles useful for DIY liquid feed.

Choose a mature plant and cut the stems down to the ground and pull off the leaves, pressing them into the bucket until it’s full. Fill with water, and weigh the leaves down under the water line with a brick. Pop on the lid and leave for 4 weeks. This can then be sieved off and watered in around your plants.

You can read more about Comfrey and it’s uses by visiting the website. 

They also have a recipe for a concentrated ‘black tea’ which can be stored in plastic bottles for up to a year, and diluted to use. Apparently it’s not as smelly.

I’m trying that next.

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