Thursday, May 21, 2009

Comfrey bed

The Transition Housewife and I recently spend some time at Chris Dixon’s permaculture designed place in Wales. In return for a tour of his smallholding we volunteered a few days of our time.

I first heard of Chris’s work when he replied to a letter I wrote to Permaculture magazine (issue 59) about the viability of hill farming. Shortly after that the BBC2’s Natural World program - A Farm for the Future aired, in which he was interviewed by Rebecca Hosking about his permaculture designed smallholding.

The tour was very informative. Chris and his family have been converting the land since they bought it in 1986, from traditional hill sheep farm lawn to the integrated, complex and useful ecosystems that is it now. There is a full history of their land site on I particularly enjoyed listening to the way that the land changed in the early years and the pioneer species of plants and birds that brought essential plant nutrients back into the environment. Gorse (nitrogen), bird droppings (phosphorus) and Bracken (potassium), all of which combine to make an NPK fertiliser in natural, organic, no-work way which enabled the ecology to evolve and become more complex. It was difficult to remember that the areas we were walking through used to be sheep grazed lawn.

The second day in Wales I spent at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) attending a thesis workshop for the MSC I’m studying. The Transition Housewife returned to the smallholding and was set to work on the comfrey bed. Comfrey is an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium. In this instance Chris had been using the plants to make a liquid fertiliser and it was time to make more, but I’ll let the Transition Housewife tell you about her comfrey day.

We have some comfrey at home, but it’s struggling at end of the garden in a very hard patch of land. I’m keen to use it in our compost bins and by laying the leaves on the ground to provide essential nutrients to food forest front garden.

Comfrey waiting to be plantedChris very kindly gave us some comfrey to take home. We divided the roots and got just over 20 plants. When they were in the ground, we covered the area around each plant with cardboard (free boxes from the local supermarket) and mulched with compost from one of our compost bins at the back.

Newly planted comfreyWhile we were working on the front garden, we mulched around the hazel trees with grass from mowing the remaining parts of the front lawn. We both quite liked the daisies and grasses that were growing, but as the Transition Housewife says too much change in one instance might be a little difficult, all the other lawns are very nicely manicured so it’s essential that ours looks maintained too. (The back garden? – that’s another story!).

I’m pleased with the transformation so far.

Comfrey patch in the food forest front gardenAlthough it’s difficult to tell from the photo, the hazel trees are in leaf and all doing well apart from one, but there is no sign of insect or other damage, so hopefully it will pull through.

If all the new comfrey plants grow, there will be plenty for liquid fertilisers and mulch.


  1. 13 comfrey plants so far have new growth

  2. That's more than half of them!

  3. Greetings! I am just writing to let you know that I have nominated your wonderful website as one of the 7 blogs to which I have awarded the Kreativ Blogger award. Have a look at to see the esteemed comany in which you sit! The latest post also sets out the 'obliations' that go with winning it, mainly to nominate 7 others as being your favurite blogs. I hope this leads to more traffic and to more spport for yur great work!
    With very best wishes and thanks
    Rob Hopkins
    Transition Culture

  4. Hi - I just wanted to say how much I admire what you are doing and an excellent blog (and the Housewife too!). I went on a Mike Abbott course last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I don't have enough space for my own lathe (although I would very much like one!).

    There's load of questions I'd love to ask, but suffice to say well done for walking your talk.

    Martin (Birmingham)