There’s a lot of information about this species of comfrey, and for good reason. I’m a big advocate of organic gardening as I’m aware that there is considerable damage being done to our environment and to our wildlife with other forms of horticulture. Wildlife that isn’t just there to look nice or sound beautiful, but is there to maintain a balance that has formed over the last hundreds of thousands of years. I’m aware that a new order will form over time, but that has every chance of being dominated by species that aren’t conducive to the world that we know. That isn’t what I set out to write about though, this is just one step on a route to self sustainability.
Symphytum x uplandicum Bocking 14 orRussian comfrey is a non fertile species of comfrey that contains a perfect a balance of nutrients for use as a general purpose fertiliser. Comfrey in general is well known to gardeners for a usefulness and versatility, but Bocking 14 is particularly good having been created specially as a good balance of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. It was developed in the 1950s by Lawrence D Hills, the founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association following trials at Bocking in Essex.
Comfrey is a vigorous plant that will grow a lot in a season, this makes it quite Nitrogen hungry as it has to make all of the leaf that we’re after. Because of this it will benefit from a healthy mulch of well rotted animal manure each year or other nitrogen rich mulches like grass clippings or nettles. It will also tolerate fresh urine mixed 50/50 with water, unlike many plants, but this is often not a practical ocupation.
You can get away with harvesting it 3 to 4 times a year, more if you do well, but not too much to harm the plant. When the leaves are about 60cm high, cut it back to 2 inches and it will grow again with even more vigour, allowing you to harvest again maybe just 5 weeks later. Avoid harvesting from new plants in their first year though as this will cause them to take much longer to reach maturity, or at worst may kill them off. Also remove any flowering stems should be removed as they could harm the plant in it’s first year. Once it’s in however, you’ll have a fun time trying to get rid of it, so make sure that it’s somewhere that you want to keep it, like Horseradish, it will send a tap root down that will endeavour to re-sprout if any is left in the ground. It’s this deep tap root incidentally that is one of the reasons that makes this plant so great as it has access to nutrients that are out of reach of most other plants.
To make a fertiliser from it you can soak the harvested leaves in a bucket of rain water for 3-5 weeks to make what’s known a ‘comfrey tea’. Be warned though, this stuff smells awful, really awful, but the benefit that you can get is well worth it, having 2-3 times the potassium as farmyard manure, just make sure that you keep the bucket well away from where you sit and relax. Alternatively you can pack the leaves in a container with a hole in the bottom, and put a weight on top. This breaks down to a thick black liquid that will seep from the hole into another receptacle. The stuff though must be diluted 15:1 as it’s very concentrated. Alternatively you can put a layer of wilted leaved in the bottom of a trench before growing potatoes for fantastic results.
The wonders of comfrey go well beyond the scope of this post, but if you have any interest in organic gardening you’ll be looking at this for one of your main routines.