Archive for the ‘Comfrey’ Category

Back in business

October 10, 2016

Before I start, I want to say a big thankyou to those who have made such nice comments about my return to blogging. Real warm glow stuff (I should stop more often!). I won’t reply individually to comments, you’ve all got one big thankyou to share amongst you.

So…the first photo on the ‘new’ blog is one I’m very proud of :


Three beautiful caulis. My first time growing them, although I cheated a bit and bought the seedlings at Bunnings. When they developed huge leaves, on long stalks with no sign of a central flower head, I started picking the leaves for the chooks who love anything in the brassica family. Might as well not waste the leaves, I thought; I didn’t really  expect any flower heads anyway, as I’ve never been very good at getting broccoli to form heads. Then, to my great delight, I noticed tiny heads coming, so I left the rest of the leaves on the plants and waited until the heads were just starting to open a bit and picked them.  Sizewise, they’re the equivalent of a ‘small’ supermarket cauli. Very happy with this effort and will try again next season!

This, I think, is a seedling plum :


I’ve planted it in memory of Bill Mollison who recently went to that great permaculture garden in the sky. The seedling came from a friend’s planter box, which I established for her to grow a few veggies. The contents of her worm farm were routinely emptied in there and some time ago I noticed a dozen or so seedlings that looked like they might be plums. I potted them up and have planted them in various areas in my food forest. This was the last of the batch and I found it when I was looking through my plants for something to plant for Bill.

The comfrey is finally coming back after its winter rest. I must dig up a few more pieces to spread around the food forest. The chooks like it and I can never have enough greens for them :


I’ve been a bit worried about my little Australian Finger Lime. I wrote about it here. I planted it in a large tub next to the gas bottles, up against the side of the deck :


It sat there all winter and hasn’t put out any new leaf growth for spring. The nice, bright yellow-green of the leaves has dulled to a darker green; maybe that was a reaction to the winter cold, but it’s in a sheltered spot facing east and we’ve had some warm days and it hasn’t picked up at all. Some of the leaf tips died and I’ve been expecting it to go to god anytime. Then I noticed these little pink things. Flower buds? Looks like it :


I’m hoping that’s not a sign that it’s making one last try to do its thing before going to god. I’ll be happy to see the leaf colour looking better and new growth appearing. Fingers are crossed.

Tomato seedlings are in the polyhouse waiting to be planted. A bit small yet :



I didn’t bother to sow seeds in the normal way and prick out seedlings. I soaked the seeds overnight and sowed 3  or 4 to each tube. That way there’s no interruption to growth from potting on. I’ll eventually thin to a single seedling per tube by simply cutting off the unwanteds at ground level. I may put some of those in as tiny cuttings. I’ve done it before and it works well.

We have rabbits here. At the far end of the street, there are huge numbers. The property next door to me has breeding burrows which they don’t bother to do anything about. Between us there are two battleaxe driveways to rear properties. The rabbits cross the driveways and head straight into my place. All that side of the property is my food forest; 150 metres long x 15 metres wide. You can imagine how the bunnies love getting in there! I’ve spent the last couple of months going right along the boundary (all 150 metres of it) and adding chicken wire to the bottom part of the existing fencing. It has done some good, I think. The rabbits still come in from the street entrance and from the property behind, but they’re not coming far in. They seem to realise that they can’t get back through the fence and are keeping their retreat options open by staying close to the exits. So the middle part of the food forest has been receiving less damage than usual and self-sown seedlings that normally wouldn’t survive are growing. This large cluster of self-sown poppies is the result :


With any luck, the bees will get some pollen and I’ll get some poppyseed for my home-made bread.

This is a blueberry in a large tub. Nothing strange about that. But look at where the arrow is pointing. How did that get there? A single asparagus :


I just checked the rainfall figures for May, June, July and August and compared them with the average for Melbourne. We had 360 mm and the average is 220 mm. No wonder the lower rear section of the block is squishy to walk on. It’s meant a huge explosion in germination and growth. This is part of the food forest which is on a slight slope and better drained :


The light-green ground cover is chickweed. The thicker mass in the background is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. All that ground was completely bare at the end of summer. The rest of the food forest looks the same. I’ve been pulling the chickweed for the chooks. It’s flowering now and setting seed, which will mean similar growth next winter. The Warrigal Greens will probably die back if we have a dry summer like the last, but it will leave masses of seed, too. I’ve always envied those photos of permaculture gardens which show a huge abundance of growth. Now I’ve got it too. Must be doing something right (or should I just put it down to a beneficent rain god?)

October update

November 16, 2014

I’m a bit late with this owing to activities on the chicken front taking precedence, but anyway here it is—better late than never and just to prove that things other than chook things do happen here.

The passionfruit climbing over the old chook run has finally decided to flower… :



…and produce fruit :


The redcurrants are colouring up. I suppose I’m going to have to think about netting them, although last year I didn’t, and the birds left them alone (although that ant seems to be interested) :


I put three cucamelons into a wicking tub and they’ve been slow to establish; maybe the weather hasn’t been hot enough yet. Their thread-like tendrils have finally found the wire support, so maybe that will jog them along a bit :


Last year was a poor year for the persimmon, with only three fruit and the blackbird got all of them while they were still green. There are only three buds on the plant again this year, but this time I’ll get in ahead of him with netting :


I planted out all the tomatoes during October because they were big enough and it looked like all the cold weather had gone. I did a quick tour & count and there are 36 plants out, most in wicking boxes or wicking tubs and just a few in the garden. This one, in a wicking tub, has trebled in size in just a couple of weeks :


These are in a wicking box :


The comfrey re-appeared with a vengeance :


These three chokos in pots are looking for something to grab onto. I don’t know where I’m going to plant them as I don’t have a trellis prepared. Maybe I’ll see if they’ll climb up a tree :


Well, I finally put one next to the wire corridor connecting the two chook runs. I have a feeling I’m going to regret it if it takes over the whole area :


The raspberries are in their first year of growth. Looks like I might get some fruit :


Basil futures. I froze pesto last year and it worked so well, I’m aiming for plenty more this year :


This is Wild Rocket. I think it has a stronger flavour than the common variety and the foliage is more attractive :


I go through 3 litres of milk a week. While I know the bottles can be recycled, it still pains me to have to throw out something I could maybe use. So I came up with this:


I’ve put 4 tiny holes in the bottom and I fill them from a bin that contains water with seaweed fertiliser, worm juice and comfrey tea, then sit them on a wicking box or wicking tub and let the contents trickle out slowly. It helps when I don’t have time to stand and water with the hose and it adds a bit of extra nutrient along the way.

I picked all my garlic. There were three batches, one (supermarket purchased) in a wicking box and two in the garden (one from Yelwek and another from a local source). The garlic in the wicking boxes didn’t form single bulbs, but separated into cloves, each with a single stem. Not worth eating, not worth replanting. I composted it. Was it because it was supermarket garlic or because it didn’t like the wicking box? I’ve grown it successfully in wicking boxes before, so I’m blaming the supermarket. It wasn’t that stark white Chinese stuff. I know better than to plant that! :


The local garlic in the garden was OK, but the bulbs were very small :


The Yelwek garlic produced the most robust plants, with the thickest stems, but that still didn’t translate into large bulbs. I think lack of fertiliser may be the problem. I really need to do more research into growing garlic :


The potato onions, also from Yelwek, aren’t doing well. After planting the bulbs way back in April, some in the garden and some in a wicking box, they sprouted and seemed to be growing well. Then in winter, they grew backwards and some died. Now it’s warmed up, the leaves are growing again, but the bulbs are small and I don’t know if they’re going to get any bigger. The batch I put into a wicking box all rotted away in winter. Too much water probably :


I’ve put pumpkins in the hugelkultur bed, in between asparagus which are only in their first year. In the other hugelbed I’ve put zucchini and button squash. I’ve made a huge hugelmound from raked leaves and twigs and put 3 extra pumpkin in there.

Pumpkin :


Zucchini & button squash :


Pumpkin on the hugelmound :


The strawberries in the strawberry wicking buckets are bearing, but a lot of the fruits are deformed. They look awful. I’ve never had this happen before :


Google tells me it could be caused by inadequate pollination or lack of calcium or boron, or attack by certain types of mites. I inspected, and there are aphid-like insects on them so I’ve removed all the trusses of developing fruits and given the plants a good spray with a garlic-pyrethrum spray. I wouldn’t be surprised if pollination was a problem, because they’re up on the deck against the house wall, where insects might not find them.

I always like to have a patch of calendula somewhere in the garden. The bees love the flowers and I can pick the petals for salads :


That’s all I can remember for October. I won’t write anything about chooks because you’ve had that ad nauseum by now and anyway that all happened this month. I’ll bore you with more on that in next month’s update.

September update

October 3, 2014

Good things finally started happening.

For one, the spring equinox occurred on the 21st. That means the sun will speed up on its return to the southern sky and that means more generation from the solar panels (it doesn’t really speed up, what changes is the rate of change. Or something. Don’t worry about it).

And those aforementioned little darlings (the solar panels) turned 1 on the 18th. I forgot to wish them happy birthday or otherwise mark the occasion, because the smart meter wasn’t reconfigured to show solar exports until the 1st of November and all my spreadsheet calculations in regard to solar credits start from there. But I was recording what the panels produced every day up to then, so I know that over the year they produced nearly 4000 kWh and that’s a daily average of 11 kWh. Much more than I would ever use from the grid so it’s not surprising I’m in credit moneywise and expecting to stay there.

It warmed up, too. How nice to be able to shed a few layers of clothing and not have to trek daily to the wood pile for firewood.

The new chook run is finally finished, the coop is ensconced within and all awaits the new occupants :


The first run had one wall protected by being built against the polyhouse; this new run, although covered with a tarp over the top, was open on both sides. I was really pleased to be able to re-purpose some pine panels (the remains of the original vegetable planter boxes) from down in the back corner and use them to cover one of the sides. They were treated pine which concerned me a bit (the reason for abandoning the original beds), but a neighbour, who’s a vet, said he wouldn’t worry about the chemicals in possible contact with the chooks :


The various varieties of kale in the big planter boxes suddenly took off. I put a few plastic butterfly look-alikes in amongst them to see if they had any effect on dissuading egg-laying females. I watched as a butterfly hovered near. It flittered and fluttered over the plants, dithered and dathered, hither and thither and finally flew away. Success! I smirked to myself for a couple of hours afterwards until I suddenly thought—maybe it was a male looking for a bit of what you fancy and was so bemused by the multitude of potential lovers that he couldn’t cope with so many to choose from and departed the scene in utter frustration. I haven’t found any butterfly eggs or caterpillars yet, so maybe the phoneys are doing their job :



Blueberry futures :


This dark purple variety of kale called Redbor has been in a wicking box on the deck for ages. It’s finally flowering which means I can collect seed :


The strawberry buckets are covered in flowers. Can’t wait for fresh strawberries on my breakfast cereal :


I started planting out the first of the tomatoes. Most are going into wicking boxes where I don’t have to worry about constant watering :


This is Senposai, also called Japanese Greens. It produces huge amounts of foliage which is great for stir fries. Being a brassica, it has the obligatory white butterfly look-alike to guard it :


The plants in the old wheelbarrow have really taken off. I’m not surprised as I filled it with compost from the bin where I put the stuff from the composting toilet :


I’ve made a new bed behind one of the rows of wicking boxes. The dwarf nectarine had been there for some time and also some sage and I’ve added some garlic chives and a couple of strawberries. The rabbits don’t usually come this close to the house, but if they do, it’s easy enough to put up a wire fence :


I’ve planted a Heritage raspberry into one of the hugelkultur beds :


Down in the food forest, the tamarillos that didn’t ripen earlier are starting to colour up :


There are a couple of odd coloured ones that look like they’re going to ripen yellow and orange even though all the others on that particular tree are turning from green straight to red. I know a yellow-skinned variety exists; I’ve grown a single plant of it from seed, but it hasn’t flowered yet. I’m wondering if there’s been a gene mutation somewhere in the development of these two fruits. (I’m doing an online genetics course at the moment so my mind is full of mutations…not literally though, I hope) :


The yacon is starting to appear :


The comfrey is shooting up again. The Girls will be glad; they love it :


The basil mint is running rampant. I don’t really like it that much, but I can do the permaculture chop-and-drop thing with it and use it as mulch :


The redcurrants have come into leaf and there are lots of tiny flower buds forming :


The cherry is flowering for the first time :


The Bartlett pear is covered in flowers but its pollinator mate next door doesn’t have a single flower on it, so I’m not sure if it will set fruit  :


The flowers are so pretty :


The rabbits love nasturtiums and I can’t grow them unprotected, so I throw a few seeds inside a circle of wire which is protecting a fruit tree. Somewhere in there there’s a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple :


Yep, there it is :


Plum futures :


Apricot futures :


And possibly, apple futures :


Chokos sprouting :


The passionfruit that was hacked to bits to get a new trellis into place around the water tank seems to be none the worse for its ordeal. There won’t be any fruit this year though :


But there are flower buds on the one over the old chook run :


And plenty of oranges for a vitamin C hit until the tomatoes ripen :


The egg situation has been the only flaw in the month. The Girls laid 4 eggs between them at the beginning of the month and haven’t laid since. So I’m buying eggs. Not pleased Girls.

Lessons from the meltdown

January 18, 2014

I took the camera around the garden this morning (loving the coolness!) to assess the damage.

The most important thing is to learn from this. If this sort of weather is going to be the new normal, we have to learn and adapt or die. Natural selection eliminates the unfit and preserves that which adapts and survives. That goes for us, our gardens and our animals.


Most important, three happy chooks who survived:

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It was upsetting to see that both Green Gavin and rabidlittlehippy each lost a hen to heat distress. In my case, the Girl’s secure run and playground is close to the house on the morning sun side. Once the sun goes over the house there’s shade at least on the secure run. There’s also a large tarp over the top and a row of greenery along one side. I covered the floor there with leaves and kept them wet. The Girls made themselves a hollow in the wet leaves and sat there during the hottest part of the day. I pegged a heavy old curtain over the playground and sprayed it every half-hour with the hose. Eventually going out into the sun to do it started to stress me out, so I used the hose which I always connect to the cold water outlet of the washing machine on fire risk days and with that I could stand in the laundry doorway and spray all over the chook’s area, without going outside.

In the garden, the first thing to notice was that everything in wicking boxes was unaffected. Frogdancer has also commented that her wicking boxes were OK. I think it’s the way to go. I lost some cucumbers planted in the garden down the back, I’m guessing because they were lacking sufficient water at the roots. These cucumbers in a wicking box were unaffected. Not even any burned leaves (no, I didn’t cut them off for the photo!):


So long as there’s plenty of water in the root zone, plants won’t be too badly affected. Even if I think I’ve watered the garden well, that sort of weather really rips it out of the plants and if there’s no adequate reserve in the soil, the plants suffer. In a wicking box the soil below the drainage holes is always saturated. I could have watered every second or third day and still not have lost any plants. The only thing I did was cover the beans in wicking boxes with shadecloth. Those large leaves lose water faster than they can take it up and even though there’s plenty of water in the root zone, the leaves will fry.

Down in the food forest there was a lot of damage. Unfortunately, it’s on a slope (the only place on the property that was cleared of existing vegetation), and the soil is heavy and compacted. It’s hard to get water into it. If I stand there holding a hose, within a couple of minutes the water’s running off, so I water by gravity from the tank using a fine spray, which means it takes ages to water the whole area. The furthest parts were really dry and plants there suffered.

The loquat’s large leaves really burned:

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The comfrey just lay down and (almost) died:

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That’s not a problem, though. I’ll cut it back and stuff it into a bin of water and make nutrient tea. I’d been going to do it anyway, but just hadn’t got around to it.

I’d picked all the Satsuma plums, but there were a few on the Mariposa that were still green. They’re not green any more:

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Anyone for stewed pears?:

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The rhubarb plants in the hugelkultur mound were OK as they had dappled shade from eucalypts, but this one was out in the open:

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I’d been giving the tamarillos plenty of water, but those dinner-plate sized leaves were not going to like the heat regardless:

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The developing fruits were mostly OK but a few got a bit of a tan:

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Here’s one surprise…the asparagus fern. It hasn’t had any water except rain since I stopped picking the spears in November, yet it was untouched. Since it’s about 2 metres tall, it makes me think a row of asparagus might be a good shelter for a row of something smaller, say strawberries:

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The corn was fine. I’ve been pumping water into it and it had a tamarillo for afternoon shade:

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Another surprise was the quince. It’s next to the loquat, so is in a dry spot, but look at the new tip growth. Green and unburnt. Those dark spots on the older leaves are the fungus disease it always gets—quince rust, I think—not burned areas. Maybe this is another plant that can tolerate dryness and be used as a shade tree:

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You know it’s hot when bracken will burn. This frond was out in the open, but even so:

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Redcurrants won’t tolerate hot sun. I knew this from last year and should have protected them:

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Burnt apples:

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And right in the middle of it all, tomatoes in a wicking box, untouched:

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What have I learned? Wicking boxes are the way to go for vegetables. They’re small, so individual shade can be erected, if necessary over a single box. Plants with large, soft leaves, like beans, need shade even in a wicking box. Site them so that they receive morning sun only. Poke the boxes  in behind a tall plant that shades them from the afternoon sun. I have a row against the side of the deck, which gets only morning sun.They were fine.

Cover any developing fruit. If you can’t keep water up to everything, prioritise. I’m letting one orange tree go, the Lane’s Late Navel. It’s never been a good bearer and I have a Valencia and a Washington Navel which are better trees and get priority. It’s under the drip line of a eucalypt and even though it gets afternoon shade (it wasn’t burnt) it competes poorly for water. When I take it out I’ll put a couple of wicking boxes in it’s place. They’ll get shade from the eucalypt and the plants in them won’t have to compete with its roots.

Look after your animals. That goes without saying. The chooks were my biggest worry. I’d have taken them inside if I could. I bought a half-watermelon at the beginning of the week and gave them some every day. They love it and it helped to keep them hydrated. I didn’t get any myself!

I’m still making notes about what did well and what didn’t and how I can change things for a better outcome next time. I think it’s safe to assume summers like this are going to be the norm from here on.

Comfrey ointment

April 11, 2013

I think everyone who grows comfrey knows about its legendary healing properties. It’s also useful as a dynamic accumulator and compost accelerator. My chooks love it, too.

Years ago I bought some comfrey ointment but it’s well past its use-by date now and I wanted to have a go at making my own. I found this recipe which looked pretty easy and simple.

I used:
300 ml sunflower oil
30 gm beeswax
About 15 large comfrey leaves, cut into 2 cm strips

I decided I wouldn’t heat the oil on the stove, but would infuse the leaves in it at room temperature for couple of weeks. I thought it just possible the heat might change some of its properties, although I did warm it in the dehydrator on those days when I had yoghurt curing in there.

I put the chopped leaves in a bowl and poured on the oil:

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That’s the potato masher on the left. I used it to keep pushing the leaves down:

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Eventually they wilted enough to remain under the oil. I covered the bowl and left it.

I had trouble buying beeswax at first. I finally found a craft shop selling it by the sheet:

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I drained the oil in a sieve and put it in a saucepan. By now it was quite green. I cut the beeswax into small pieces, added it to the oil and gently warmed it on the stove. It didn’t take long to melt into the oil. I sterilised a couple of  jars in the oven and poured in the mixture:

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Within an hour it had solidified, at least on the outside:

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It smells a bit like old socks…that typical comfrey smell. Next time I’ll try a few drops of lavender oil in it.

I thought it looked a bit hard, but when I dug my finger into it, it was quite soft:

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I’m storing it in the refrigerator as it doesn’t contain any preservatives. It will be interesting to see how it goes.