Bees like comfrey

There have been a lot of days this year that have begun and ended with me despairing over the human race. This week we’ve seen Saudi Arabia, Russia and the USA come together to sabotage a global agreement to do something about climate change. And Brex*t makes me feel like a lemming being herded off the cliff in a tidal wave of other lemmings.

I have been an environmentalist for 20+ years, and whilst there have been some notable victories along the way, the planet is not nearly saved. And let’s be honest here – when we talk about saving the planet, we’re really talking about saving the human race. If we annihilate ourselves, the planet will go on, and create a new era of biodiversity without us. So at the moment I really do wonder why we bother.

Comfrey flowers

Christmas is probably one of the hardest times of year to be an environmentalist, as everyone is constantly being bombarded with messages to shop until they drop, most of what’s on sale is plastic tat that will be in the bin before people have given up on their New Year’s Resolutions, and any suggestion of reigning in the greed and gluttony is met with “Party Pooper”, “Scrooge” or “Grinch”. This is, of course, what capitalism does – it not only turns people into mindless consumers, but also turns them into agents of capitalism who put pressure on people to conform.

They want us all to feel powerless to resist, to give in and give up and just become good little spenders.

It feels like we’re all surrounded by selfishness, greed, corruption and short term thinking, but there are plenty of people trying to make a difference. Everywhere you look there are people who are trying to make a difference, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of people who are making a difference without making any noise.

I started gardening because I was an environmentalist. I was concerned about Food Miles, and recycling, and I wanted to create an organic, peat-free garden. One of the plants I have always had in the garden is comfrey, and if you don’t know why that might be then you’ll find my article on how to grow comfrey explains why it’s useful, and how to turn it into a (stink-free) fertilizer.

This year, Garden Organic surveyed members on their use of comfrey, and they’ve just published their preliminary findings (the full report will be a little while yet). They found that:

  • Comfrey is grown by gardeners across the whole UK, from from Helston in the South West to Inverness in the North
  • Many gardeners have been growing comfrey for a long period of time. 64% had grown it for more than 10 years, and 37% for more than 30
  • 44% of those surveyed said they originally obtained their comfrey from Garden Organic or the Organic Gardening catalogue
  • The top two uses of comfrey were to improve soil fertility (97%) and attracting bees (74%)
  • Most growers (72%) never fed their comfrey plants despite the commonly upheld advice that feeding it is necessary
  • Bocking 14 has made a big impact, with 62% of respondents growing this variety

One respondent suggested using a cutting regime that always leaves at least one comfrey plant in flower for the bees. I tend to cut mine after it has flowered. In the old garden I did have Bocking 14 (a non-seeding purple-flowered variety), which I originally bought from the Organic Gardening Catalogue; this garden comes with the white-flowered wild variety, which is endemic to the local area.

Comfrey flowers

So… you start bombarded with horrible humans who are deliberately trashing the planet, and then you remember that there are still lovely humans who are trying to make a difference, and you end up with a plant that’s really easy to grow, has pretty flowers, helps bees and feeds the soil. And suddenly you’re able to face the world with a smile again 🙂

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