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The Plants In Your Life

In response to an earlier question about the non-domesticated animals people commonly encounter, Irregular reader Mark has asked the following additional question:

“What plants do you cultivate and experience other than the ones you buy in the store and eat?”

As for myself, I am finding that I’m most successful in cultivating onions, chives, garlic and that sort of thing. Herbs are also successes for me, and the reason is the same: Deer don’t want to eat them.

I’ve tried many sorts of defenses, but the deer keep on breaking into my garden. They’re eating tomato plants, squash plants, sunflowers. They’re even eating common milkweed, which has a milky sap that tastes so nasty that monarch butterfly caterpillars gain a competitive advantage by eating milkweed leaves to saturate their own bodies with the bitter taste, deterring birds from eating them.

This wild animal, the deer, is becoming quite comfortable with humans and the accessories of humans in my neck of the woods. This morning, a young deer walked right up to sniff my bewildered cat as I looked on from 10 feet away. The deer knew I was right there, but didn’t seem to judge that I was anything to worry about.

Of the plants that I cultivate not to eat are foxgloves, which contain a dangerous substance used to make cardiovascular medicine. The health of my own foxgloves is currently in question, however, as they have suddenly withered, right after flowering, leaves and flowers alike turning a crispy brown in the middle of rainy weather.

Now, for other readers, I repeat Mark’s question: What plants do you cultivate, not for the purpose of eating?

9 thoughts on “The Plants In Your Life”

  1. Jacob says:

    I have an extremely pretty vive that has taken over my back fence line. I had no idea what it was, I just knew I liked it. My neighbor came over a couple of days ago and asked me, “Are you are ever going to take care of that giant poison ivy plant?”…

  2. Denny says:

    My favorite plant is Comfrey!! Fantastic stuff. It has many non-food uses including medicinal and a great food source for bumble bees and other insects. Most important of all though is its use in the garden. Its huge green leaves grow super fast and mine the nutrients from deep in the soil. As a dynamic accumulator it is able to pull nutrients out that many other plants are not able to access. Feed it lots of nitrogen, it can take the hottest manures and human urine watered at about 50%… this plant loves nitrogen but will give it back when you harvest for use as mulch around plants or put in a bucket of water for two weeks to make fantastic tea to be applied to your plants. You can spray or sprinkle it right on the leaves of your plants as they will absorb nutrients there. Apply to the soil too. The tea stinks terribly but I think that has the added benefit of masking the strong smells of plants like tomatoes and might provide them a bit of protection from pests such as hornworms. Grow it all around your fruit trees and chop and drop it as mulch around the trees 2-3 times each summer. The leaves melt into this sticky brown goo quickly and will go to work feeding the trees.

    From Wikipedia:
    Comfrey is a particularly valuable source of fertility to the organic gardener. It is very deep rooted and acts as a dynamic accumulator, mining a host of nutrients from the soil. These are then made available through its fast growing leaves (up to 4-5 pounds per plant per cut) which, lacking fibre, quickly break down to a thick black liquid. There is also no risk of nitrogen robbery when comfrey is dug into the soil as the C:N ratio of the leaves is lower than that of well-rotted compost. Comfrey is an excellent source of potassium, an essential plant nutrient needed for flower, seed and fruit production. Its leaves contain 2-3 times more potassium than farmyard manure, mined from deep in the subsoil, tapping into reserves that would not normally be available to plants. More here:

    1. Rowan says:

      Is comfrey an invasive self-seeder, or is it manageable in that way? Do you pull it up / cut it down before or after it flowers?

  3. Denny says:

    You can get a root cutting of Russian Comfrey Bocking 14 of you want plants that are sterile, divide them to propagate. That said, I’m using the non-sterile variety and it is easy to just hack it down to control self seeding. I definitely would not pull it up to control, just hack it which is super easy to do. I’ve been letting mine go to flower though and don’t mind a bit of self-seeding. I’ve got so many rabbits and deer that I doubt it will get out of control. They love to eat it and I’ve struggled to get it established. You can hack it a week or so after flowering and I doubt you’ll have to worry about seeds. You could probably wait 3 weeks after flowering and not have any ripe seeds. If you’re not sure just keep an eye on them.

  4. Rowan says:

    Well, maybe if I set up a rotation system with a relatively unprotected comfrey patch to benefit soil as the first part of the rotation, that patch could serve as a distraction to the woodchucks, bunnies and deer… or would they just use the nutrition to make more babies? Hm…

  5. Jim says:

    You know, Rowan, it’s the funniest thing, but I have a garden right no more than 50 feet from the woods and the deer haven’t taken so much as a nibble at it this year. I suppose I’m fortunate.

    The plants I’m taking the most joy from (without taking food from) are sunflowers, lupins and black-eyed susans.

    1. Rowan says:

      It may also have to do with the fact that there’s lots of woods in your area with lots of great nibbly buds for them to forage on, whereas my village is surrounded by farmland which is devoid of forage. These are semi-domesticated deer.

      Won’t you try some seeds from those sunflowers?

      1. Jacob says:

        Maybe this has been tried already but, when I was a kid we lived next to the woods and had a large garden. There were dear everywhere. My grandma would hang dozens of pie pans (the cheap throw away tin kind) around the garden. They are shiny and they bang against each other in the breeze. It would scare away the dear and rabbits. Of course, you may have deer that are already used to this…

      2. Jim says:

        Well, yeah, some of them. But really I’m mostly giving those up to the birds, and hoping to be able to scavenge enough leftovers to plant some more next year in different spots.

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