Tag Archives: Comfrey

Home-grown-potatoes

Home-grown Potatoes

One of the special moments in the gardening year is digging down into the earth to harvest your very first batch of first early potatoes of the season.

In the shops, these early potatoes are known as ‘New Potatoes’ … but there is nothing like the the taste of delicious earthy tubers you have lovingly raised yourself.

‘First Early’ potatoes are simply the type that are normally planted earliest in the year and are therefore ready to harvest first. The ‘First Early’ potatoes I chose to plant this year are the Pentland Javelin variety.

Back in the cold days of January, I took delivery of my Pentland Javelin ‘seed’ potatoes and set them up on cardboard egg boxes to ‘chit’. ‘Chitting’ potatoes means leaving them in a light, frost-free place to start sprouting little shoots from the potato ‘eyes’.

01Pentland Javelins chitting in greenhouse
My Pentland Javelin seed potatoes chitting in the greenhouse

Here in the northern UK, we would often expect to be planting out our first early potatoes during March. But with our cold Spring, this wasn’t possible this year. My Pentland Javelins sat patiently in the greenhouse until 11th April before I felt the Winter had sufficiently turned to Spring to risk planting out my first earlies.

Planting potatoes on comfrey leaf beds
Planting potatoes on beds of fresh comfrey leaves

Each seed potato is set into its own little planting hole on a bed of fresh green Comfrey leaves. For me, this is another indicator that it’s time to plant my early potatoes – when the Comfrey has grown enough leaves to make the potato planting hole beds. I add Comfrey leaves because Comfrey is a wonderful natural plant food that feeds my growing potato tubers as the Comfrey leaves break down in the soil. I’d also added a good helping of garden compost to the planting row, as potatoes really benefit from a nutrient-rich soil.

The seed potato tubers are then covered over with a generous amount of soil – and then, you just sit back and wait …

Potato bed - bracken mulch
Bracken mulch to protect the potato bed from snow

But then … oh no! Two weeks after I’d planted my early potatoes, the Winter returned with a final icy blast! I had to dash off and collect bracken to cover over my already-planted potato bed. The bracken mulch provided its protection beautifully – though, I did leave it in place for a few weeks … just to be on the safe side!

Early growth of potato plants
Early growth of potato plants

Gradually, the green shoots of the potato ‘tops’ began to push up through the soil. By mid-May all of the potato plants were showing some green leaves.

Happing or earthing up potato plants
Happing (or earthing) up my potato plants

We had some heavy rain leading into the Bank Holiday Weekend at the end of May and this ample watering produced something of a growth spurt in my potato plants. This meant my task for Bank Holiday Monday was ‘happing up’ the potato plants – otherwise known as ‘earthing up’ – which involves drawing up the soil around the potato plants, leaving a small tuft of green leaves sticking out at the top.

Well-grown potato plants - tall as a garden fork
Well-grown potato plants – tall as the garden fork

The potato plants then grew, and grew and grew … the potato tops were like trees! The potato tops became a regular topic of conversation on the garden. By the end of June they had grown as tall as the garden fork!

Checking if First Early potatoes are ready to harvest
The very first tuber – are the potatoes ready yet?

Now it was time for the Big Question – the exciting part. The tops were well grown. The flowers were beginning to show. But were my early potatoes ready to harvest? All the signs were there, though I still wasn’t quite sure if the potatoes had been growing long enough.

Full of anticipation, I dug up my first Pentland Javelin potato plant. There was my first potato!

Harvesting Pentland Javelins - not quite ready
Harvesting Pentland Javelins – tubers are still a bit too small

When I dug in further, I could see there were a promising number of tubers growing, but, as I’d suspected, they were still a bit too small. I would need to be patient and wait a little longer.

Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016
Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016

Two weeks into July was the Big Day – my first potato harvest in my new garden space. I selected two plants with open flowers and dug in with great expectations. I wasn’t disappointed this time. Each plant produced a selection of decent sized tubers.

First kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016
On the scales – my first kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016

When I returned home with my first cargo of newly harvested potatoes, I weighed them. There was about a kilo of potatoes from the 2 plants.

As I’m sure you know, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ … and I can tell you, my Pentland Javelin first earlies did not disappoint. They are very tasty, with that genuine ‘earthy’ flavour of home-grown potatoes. Now I’m looking up more potato recipes … 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

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Take a bunch of Comfrey and make organic plant food

Take a bunch of Comfrey and make organic plant food

When my Soapwort was looking sickly and needed a tonic, I knew just the thing to help restore it to a healthy state. It was time to give this plant a shot of my ‘magic potion’ for plants … or as some of you may know it, liquid Comfrey feed. Fortunately, I have some left over from last year so that has given the Soapwort a boost.

Sad and sickly Soapwort in need of a tonic
Sad and sickly Soapwort in need of a tonic

Comfrey is a substantial herb, growing about a metre (3 feet) tall, with hairy leaves and rather rough stems. The oval leaves are larger at the base, decreasing in size as they grow up the stem.

Russian Comfrey growing in undergrowth near allotment gardens
Russian Comfrey growing in undergrowth near local allotment gardens

The flower colour varies depending on the particular species. In our neighbourhood it is Russian Comfrey Symphytum x uplandicum that grows abundantly and this species bears pinkish-purple flowers in curved clusters.

Comfrey is an extremely useful herb for gardeners. The leaves are rich in plant foods and as Comfrey leaves decay quite quickly, these vital substances are then released. The leaves can be used in various ways:

  • as a mulch
  • as a lining in a potato trench
  • as a compost activator
  • to make a nutrient rich leafmould for potting compost
  • to make a liquid plant food

I’ve used it for most of these purposes in the past but I still collect some every year to make up a new batch of free, organic, liquid plant food. This plant food is rich in potash and has useful amounts of nitrogen and phosphate too. I find it works well on flowering plants and fruiting plants (such as tomatoes).

This rather sinister-looking liquid is my 'magic potion' plant food.
This is the remains of my Comfrey concentrate from last Summer. (Another recycled milk carton there 😉 )

Off I went into the damp undergrowth in my wellie boots – Comfrey grows best in the shady areas under some trees. I’d gone prepared in garden gloves too as the Comfrey stems can be rather rough – plus it always grows in the vicinity of Stinging Nettles so gloves are generally a good plan. (Nettle is another marvelous plant, but that’s another story.)

My armful of Comfrey stems ready to make magic.
My armful of Comfrey stems ready to make magic. You can see how well the Soapwort has recovered now, up in its jute plant hanger on the fence.

I cut an armful of Comfrey stems which looks quite a large pile, but as I am only using the leaves I knew this would be about the right amount for what I needed. The next task was to make my Comfrey concentrate container from some recycled milk cartons (oh! those useful milk cartons again!).

When making Comfrey concentrate, the key is to pack the container as tightly as possible with shredded leaves. There is another way of making Comfrey feed by steeping the leaves in water in a bucket but I know from past experience this is rather smelly and therefore less suitable for my small backyard. So I prefer to make the concentrate and then dilute it as I need it.

I created my Comfrey concentrate container from three upcycled milk cartons. You can see the small hole that will allow the liquid to drain through into the collecting pot below.
I created my Comfrey concentrate container from three upcycled milk cartons. You can see the small hole that will allow the liquid to drain through into the collecting pot below.

I created my Comfrey concentrate container from three milk cartons. Two cartons were 4 pint size and the third was a 2 litre size which fitted conveniently inside one of the 4 pint cartons. I cut off the tops and handle parts of the cartons and cut a small hole, about an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, in the base of the 2 litre carton. That’s where the liquid feed will drain through into the lower 4 pint carton.

Tearing up Comfrey leaves to pack into the container
Tearing up Comfrey leaves to pack into the container

Then it was time to begin shredding Comfrey leaves and packing them into the milk cartons, starting with the 2 litre carton first. I wasn’t cutting the leaves in any special way, just tearing them up. Some of the lower leaves are larger than my hand, around 8-9 inches (20-22 cm) long. Again, I took the precaution of wearing gloves as plant fibres can be quite tough and can easily tear through skin, if you aren’t careful.

That's one half of the container full of shredded Comfrey, now for the second half
That’s one half of the container full of shredded Comfrey, now for the second half

When the 2 litre carton was full of shredded Comfrey leaves, I then shredded the rest of the leaves from the stems I had cut and filled up the 4 pint carton too. This part was then ready to form the ‘lid’ to my Comfrey plant food concentrate container.

Time to fix together  the two halves of my Comfrey concentrate container
Time to fix together the two halves of my Comfrey concentrate container

Finally, I carefully fitted the ‘lid’ section in place and that was my Comfrey plant food concentrate prepared. Now all I need to do is wait a few weeks until the leaves break down and the rich dark brown Comfrey concentrate will be ready to feed my Sweet Peas and other plants.

My Comfrey concentrate container filled and fixed - ready to rot
My Comfrey concentrate container filled and fixed – ready to rot

When I use the Comfrey concentrate, I will add a little to 5 litres of water in the watering can when watering my plants. The recommended ratio for use is 1:10 – 1:20 according to my Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – which I found to be an incredibly useful and practical book, when starting out in organic gardening. To use Comfrey feed on fruiting plants, such as tomatoes, the feed should be used three times a week.

My well-read copy of the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening - a useful practical book
My well-read copy of the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – a useful practical book

So, all I have to do now is wait for my Comfrey leaves to decay gently and turn into my ‘magic potion’ – free, homemade, organic plant food.

J Peggy Taylor