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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Plant migrations

Awhile back I showed off, here, this picture of my small comfrey patch, which utilized the north side of the house.

Although comfrey is said to be twenty percent protein and chock full of nice vitamins and minerals, as well as excellent for stock feed, it has recently been deemed by the food and medical establishment as too toxic for regular human consumption. I'm not going to question this publicly, other than to note that the way things are going, the approved stuff, such as GMO corn and soy, seems to me likely to end up more toxic than comfrey ever was, if it isn't already.

So, since our poultry were ignoring any comfrey I brought them, I fell into the permaculturist's practice of using it as a sure fire compost starter. This entailed going after it with scythe or sickle, and I ran afoul of household aesthetics. The harvested patch did look pretty ragged for a couple of weeks after each cutting.

Fortunately the poultry changed their mind and began begging for the stuff, so a deal was negotiated. I could create a border along what's left of the (now-tiny) yard, next to the chicken moat, so that the birds could graze through the fence at will. There would be enough plants, multiplied through the magic of root propagation, that I could harvest all I would need from my side of the fence without creating that ragged-haircut look.

And, if starvation conditions ever set in, there would be yet another perennial crop to fall back on if need be, toxins or no toxins. As I have been known to say, my alien-attack meal plan is chips-and-dip anyway.

I once listened to a Chinese famine survivor who said she got by through the expedient of stripping leaves and bark from just about every tree in sight. She was in her nineties when she told this story, and looking pretty spry.

Comfrey roots are famous for their resprouting properties, and in fact the patch I'm moving has been in three other places (don't ask). Usually I've been able to easily start the entire patch in its new location by simply forking up one plant and dividing it with the shovel. This time I am using all eight.

They say that a very tiny piece will do but I try to use a more or less intact chunk of the crown if possible, with some intact side roots as shown. Facing the tree-planting shovel toward me (which I used in this manner as a professional reforester, years ago), I drive it about six inches deep, lever it away from me and then back, set the d-ring against my shoulder, and pull the soil up and toward me. This gets a nice hole just about right for a six-inch crown fragment to be buried up to its chin with a juducious tamp of the foot. It all goes very quickly, given that young tree planters sometimes set out more than a thousand seedlings in a day.

The birds are highly interested in the proceedings.

A couple of hours' work and I'd hopefully set out about seventy comfrey starts. If you look again at the mere eight plants in the first photo above you'll see that this is a huge amount, but for our style of gardening we really need all the green mulch/compost we can get -- we're a little heavy on the barn straw and brown leaves.

The old patch, which now belongs to a fuchsia (still in bloom in November) and two goumis, will of course sprout lots of comfrey from broken-off root tips so it will have to be mulched heavily with cardboard under straw and watched carefully. But there's plenty of room along the chicken moat for more strays. I hope to establish more goumi bushes through holes in the cardboard, as I did before when we were smothering the vinca that formerly occupied this spot.

If you can replace vinca you can replace anything.

You can also insert unwanted comfrey roots around the base of your apple trees for a nice companion planting, so I am told. Ours are in with the birds and we are stone-mulching them at present to prevent damage from the hens, but we could have left the wire cages and gone with comfrey and might yet.

It was hot out, 73F, and I stopped to water all the roots in, a good practice even in the rainy season (which this is supposed to be) as this helps the soil and roots snuggle together. Air pockets are injurious to roots.

After lunch I was still in the mood for more of this kind of thing, so I moved eight raspberry canes that had strayed into the path, divided one hops vine and set it around the corner of the house from the others, and dug up and moved a daughter fuchsia -- that last one for aesthetics, of course. ;)

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