Winter is the ideal time for mulching , making the most of some physical work during the shorter days when the beds are mostly clear. Ideally, I have all of the outdoor mulching finished by the end of January, but of course gardening doesn’t always go according to plan!
Here in Somerset and across much of England comfrey grows wild, providing an important source of food for bees feeding from the clusters of droopy flowers and other wildlife including moth caterpillars and ladybirds. The large hairy leaves can be spread as a mulch, added to the compost heap (make sure there are no seeds otherwise it will invade everywhere), dried for winter use and made into an excellent plant food. Comfrey is a key element in making more of fertility for the garden at home.
Comfrey roots which reach deep into the soil, it is rich in minerals and healing properties – one of it’s traditional names is ‘knit-bone’. I make comfrey oil from the root and shall blog the recipe when I make it soon.
Comfrey is incredibly invasive, it is best to grow Bocking 14 at home. At my allotment I have a battle every year with invading comfrey planted by a previous allotment neighbour, right on the edge of my plot. Every few weeks during the summer and autumn I have to remove it to stop it spreading. There is plenty of useful comfrey along the top of my plot and in the hedgerow there. At home, I have some Bocking 14 and also the dreaded invasive sort, planted when I first moved here and thought it was the less invasive sort. Most of it has gone but some persists.
The plants growing in my garden and allotment receive an annual mulch of an inch or two of well rotted compost, either homemade or manure, which provides them with enough food for the year and they don’t need any addition liquid feeds. I use comfrey in the compost heap and to make a potent feed for plants growing in pots and will be exploring ways of using it more widely as I try to make most of the fertility needed at home in the back garden.
As well as comfrey, nettle and dandelion leaves are good additions to this potion – make sure there are no seeds though!
The usual method of soaking comfrey leaves in a bucket of water for 2 or 3 weeks works well but the resulting liquid is notoriously smelly. You simply put leaves in a bucket, cover with water and put a lid on, wait for 2 weeks, strain and use.
Another way using no water makes an intensely powerful brew but without the smell and is very easy.
You will need one or more containers with holes at the bottom – plant pots are good – and a bucket.
Stuff the pots with comfrey leaves (plus nettles etc if you are using them).
Put a brick in the bottom of the bucket for drainage and stability. Add your first pot and squish the leaves down.
Add the other pot/s.
Store somewhere dry and safe. I usually put a lid on top of the uppermost pot.
After several weeks, the leaves will have rotted to produce a dark liquid. Store in a sealed bottle or use immediately. Dilute in a watering can 1 part comfrey liquid to 20 parts water.
(These photos were take a couple of years ago at Charles Dowding’s garden, Homeacres, for an article I was writing for Permaculture Magazine)