Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Comfrey day

Tuesday, the first day volunteering at Chris Dixon’s. We hadn’t really discussed what I’d be doing, only that it needed to be something that I could get on with on my own. Craig (Transition House) was at CAT attending a thesis module for his masters.

(Oh, the reason I was volunteering is on Craig’s blog)

It was a gorgeous sunny day, a good day for working outside. After a cup of tea, Chris explained that his comfrey needed sorting out and asked if I’d be happy to do that. Of course I was.

Comfrey bed beforeChris’s comfrey bed is next to his polytunnel, in the enclosed formal productive garden (by formal I suppose I mean more allotment style garden as opposed to food forest). The gates to this area are kept shut for most of the time (as far as I could tell), which meant that I couldn't be distracted too much by Mac (the dog) and Scamp (the lamb (that kind of thought she was a dog because she’d had been reared in the house)). It also meant that because Chris’s khaki campbell duck slug patrol unit do such a good job at eating slugs outside of this area, it’s worth scooping up any slugs found within the fencing and giving them to the ducks (I didn’t find any slugs).

Chris makes a liquid feed for his vegetable and fruit garden from the comfrey plants (the feed of course needs to be diluted before it’s applied). The latest crop of comfrey plants were big enough to transfer into the comfrey barrel for fermenting into the liquid feed, but before that could be done, a few things had to be tackled first.
  1. Take out the buttercups, wild raspberry and other “weeds” from the comfrey patch.

  2. Trim the surrounding hedge

  3. Add the “weeds” and hedge cuttings to the causeway (water slowing and filtration system, more about that later)

  4. Empty the comfrey barrel of the last batch of liquid feed

  5. Take the old comfrey leaves out of the barrel.

  6. Add the fermented comfrey leaves to the compost

  7. Straighten the barrel (it was sitting a bit on the wonk).

  8. There are two things to know about comfrey, the first is that some people have a slight reaction to handling the plant (where it touches the skin it can bring you out in a rash), the second is that fermenting comfrey leaves smell, I mean really smell.

    So on this sunny day, I kept my long-sleeved hoodie on. Which was probably a good idea anyway. And I tried my best to keep my distance from the stinky comfrey.

    Thankfully when I got to step 5, Chris was on hand to help empty the barrel. Boy did those leaves smell! Probably Chris reckoned five seasons worth of plants. Blimey! – I stayed up wind as Chris pitched his fork into the barrel and heaved the soggy, stinky mass out and into the wheelbarrow. The top of the barrel was almost at shoulder height; Chris did really well not to get any of the contents on his clothing. I was really glad that he was doing this, if I was doing it, I just know I’d end up smelling of old comfrey for the rest of the day.

    Lunch was great, a fried duck egg and probably the best salad I’ve ever eaten all straight from the garden, it was also a good time to chat with Chris and Lynn (I’d also taken Chris up on every tea break he had offered as I wanted to talk about permaculture design with him as much as possible).

    After lunch:

  9. Cut the comfrey crop and fill the barrel

  10. Place cardboard along the poly-tunnel edge for extra weed protection

  11. Cover cardboard with straw

  12. Plant extra comfrey plants to fill in any gaps

  13. Mulch the comfrey crop with horse manure

  14. Tidy

Comfrey bed after. Note the now upright barrel to the left and the bed full of onions now visible in the middle distanceJob done.

It was a good piece of work to do as it was completed in the day. Excellent job satisfaction. I know that Chris was pleased with the work, which makes it even better.

At some point during the day, I think it was as we were emptying the smelly leaves from the barrel, I commented to Chris that Craig (Transition House) would be disappointed not to be here. I think Chris thought I was joking, but I was serious, and I was right. Pretty much as soon as we got home, we made our own comfrey bed, see Craig’s blog. Fab.

Thanks Chris for all the excellent tips and for providing us with the plants to divide to make the new bed.

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