By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
As I was searching the Internet I found a response on a website that dealt with agriculture that sadden me.
A boy from Africa had a question on fertilizer.
He was doing a project in school and reached out to the global community for the answer or at least for some direction or hop.
Throughout his response he mentioned how the government was pushing for the farmers in Africa to use more and more synthetic fertilizer to compensate for reduced yields. He reached out to the global community with a simple question that still rings in my ear.
This question was simple and brief. “How long does it take for our soil to recover when soil fertility is gone?”
Soil fertility much like the Gulf after this disaster is hard to bring back to its original state. We as a society have lived through the Exxon spill, the dust bowl, and the black blizzard but as human history goes we have not learned a thing. But you as a gardener can start today by growing your own fertilizer.
Comfrey’s name comes from the term “comfort” which explains a lot about this herb. Comfrey was given to travelers to comfort them on their journey. Today comfrey is still used to comfort humans and soil alike.
Comfrey can be started by seed, root cuttings or division but regardless of how you start this herb control is a key. This herb is a vigorous grower much like mint but can still be enjoyed whether one lives in an apartment, cave, or house.
Starting from Seed
Comfrey seed can be hard to find but if seed is found store in the refrigerator for 3 months before planting. This will increase the germination rate but if you cannot expose the seed to cold you can still be successful.
The steps are simple either broadcast in your contained garden area or plant 4 seeds in an 8-inch container. Lightly cover with soil and water in well.
Starting from Roots or Division
Divisions and roots are generally planted the same. If using a container cover bottom with drainage material, fill in the bottom with soil, place plants and fill in around live plants. The same follows for roots but cover roots with soil. If planting in your garden dig hole, place divided section of comfrey in hole, and fill in around. Place some type of border around to contain comfrey.
Making Comfrey Tea
Comfrey tea is a great alternative to chemically based fertilizers and does not leave a residue on pots or pollutes the environment. It provides a high level of potassium and is highly concentrated so it will have to be diluted with water at 15:1.
To make comfrey tea you will need the following below.
- 1 Large bucket with tight lid and a spout which is optional
- Scissors or knife
- Brick or stone
- 2 Bottles with lids one for comfrey tea concentrate and one for diluted comfrey tea
- Cut comfrey vigorously and place in large bucket. Pack as much as you can in bucket.
- Place brick or stone on top of comfrey. Place lid on comfrey and let rest for 6 weeks. Comfrey at this stage smells pretty bad and adding water makes it worse so DO NOT ADD WATER.
- After 6 weeks take lid off and weight. Drain off liquid either through spout or pour out of top of container into 1 bottle. Label this bottle comfrey tea concentrate. Dispose of leaves in garden or compost.
- To use as a fertilizer dilute down by 15:1 into the bottle 2 and label.
- You can start the whole process again every 6 weeks. The rotation should give you a whole season worth of natural fertilizer.
As recent events have transpired I wonder if we will ever really learn. I personally take true comfort in comfrey to build fertility in my garden, to provide beauty and visual interest, and to return me to the true rhythm of nature. I vow that I will DIY my 1/5 acre of land a chemical-free zone.
This decision may reduce my yield and not produce products perfect by human standards but I will trade this for the birds’ songs and the clear streams.