Look Mum, no spray!

posted Aug 25, 2014, 7:18 PM by Family Organics
The main feeding roots of fruit trees are close to the surface. Grasses also feed mostly close to the surface and compete aggressively for nutrients. That's why they're so successful! And it's also why many people spray under their fruit trees. So what's an organic producer to do? 

One of the Permaculture principals is to, "integrate rather than segregate". 

A grand companion for fruit trees is comfrey planted in a circle around each tree. Each small piece of comfrey root will sprout so at sometime during winter I dig up and divide a chunk of comfrey and plant about 5 equally spaced pieces about 80cm from the trunks of newly planted trees...or any tree that doesn't currently have it's protective circle. To get the comfrey off to a good start, mulch right around the tree and comfrey to suppress the grass that is there. Just be careful not to pile the mulch right up to the tree trunk or th bark is likely to rot and the tree will die. Not a desirable outcome!

As you can see from the photo, when the comfrey dies down in Winter it leaves a grass free circle right around the tree. The white stuff in the photo is sheeps wool, (dags and bellies), which has been used as a mulch

But wait, that's not all. In the permaculture spirit of not planting anything unless it has multiple functions, Comfrey's benefits go way beyond keeping down the weeds. It's roots go down deep and draw up nutrients from deep down in the soil profile and deposit them back on the surface where they become available to nearby plants, in this case, fruit trees. The leaves can be cut and soaked in a drum of water to provide liquid fertiliser. It flowers so is beneficial to bees. It can be used as a compost activator. Just be sure you don't put any of the root in the compost or you will never see the end of it! The leaves are much higher in protein than most plants so it can be used as a food for animals and in moderation for people. And then there are medicinal uses eg as a healing salve. The list goes on and a web search will reveal everything you ever wanted to know about this special plant.