Cyanotypes by Kit Martin

Click to see larger image

Latest …. Kit is currently holding an exhibition called FRAY at the Verdant Works Dundee. See our News page for a poster and description of the event. Kit has generously allowed us to display one of her works – FRAY I – as this month’s Living Field Image.  She explains that the work consists of various photos of flowers, stamens and other structures taken very close-up and through a magnifying glass, then printed onto linen. Click the thumbnail to see the work at 1000 x 1000.

Kit Martin [1] recently visited the Living Field garden to look at possibilities of doing some experimental photography on the plants and insects there this summer.  As an example of her craft, she kindly offered some lumen and cyanotype prints to display on this web site. Here is an example of a lumen print. Kit describes the cyanotype process below.

See Sources for a link to her web site and the Bones exhibition at Perth running from 17 March to 24 June 2018.


Kit writes “The cyanotype process was first introduced by Sir John Herschel in 1842. Sir John was an astronomer trying to find a way of copying his notes, and through this investigation, discovered the potential of 2 soluble iron salts reacting with ultraviolet light [2].

It was the first successful non-silver photographic process. Two chemicals are used: Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate. The two iron salts do not react with each other until they are exposed to ultraviolet light, when an insoluble blue compound also known as Prussian blue, is formed.

One of the first people to put the cyanotype process to use was Anna Atkins (1799-1871), who was an artist and botanist (and family friend of Herschel). In October 1843 Atkins produced a book called British Algae: Cyanotype impressions [3]. This publication was one of the first uses of light-sensitive materials to illustrate a book as well as printing the text. The book uses 424 cyanotypes. Atkins established photography as an accurate medium for scientific illustration.

Her book therefore precedes William Henry Fox Talbot’s own photographic book Pencil of Nature in 1844 [4]. And all this in a time when women were not generally expected to make serious contributions to human progress!

The cyanotype process has remained virtually unchanged since its invention but a few variations have been developed, one of which is the New Cyanotype II by Mike Ware [5], a UK based photographer / scientist committed to studying the science, history and art of alternative photographic processes. (I haven’t tried his method yet.)”

Ed: More from Kit later in the year.

Sources, references, links

[1] Kit Martin’s web site is at She is also exhibiting at the Bones exhibition in Perth, opening on Saturday (17th) and on until 24th June:

[2] John Herschel’s discovery is described on web pages of the Getty Conservation Institute at Cyanotype (PDF file).

[3] Anna Atkin’s book British Algae: examples and background at The Public Domain Review and The J Paul Getty Museum‘s web page.

[4]  The web site The Pencil of Nature shows Henry Fox Talbot’s text and images.

[5] Mike Wear’s page on the New Cyanotype Process gives a history of the cyanotype process and explains new developments.

Contact for this page: Kit Martin – see [1] above.

Seed sovereignty

Maria Scholten introduces the Seed Sovereignty Programme, funded by the Gaia Foundation, aiming to preserve and promote landraces and crop wild relatives.

The majority of the ‘organic’ products we purchase and consume are grown by organic methods, but not from organic seed. The UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme seeks to address this, and to support small-scale growers by supporting steps towards a more resilient agroecological [1] seed system with regional diversity at its heart.  

The UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty programme

Small-scale seed producers are often maintaining varieties that are too ‘niche’ for larger seed companies. The focus on hybrid seeds has led to dramatic reductions of ‘true-to-type’ or open pollinated varieties (see:  Small-scale seed producers have an important role in the conservation of horticultural biodiversity!   The Seed Sovereignty Programme aims to boost seed saving skills and offer models of diversifying veg growing with seed production for agro-ecological growing.   Our objectives are:

  • support and cultivate regional and national connections and collaboration to provide coherence across the food and seed sector,
  • support farmers and growers with further skills, resources and information,
  • foster a more supportive environment for a biodiverse and ecologically sustainable seed system to thrive.

Small scale seed producers

There are few small scale seed producers in Scotland. On of them is the Biodynamic herb nursery & herb seed producer Duncan Ross at Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on the Black Isle (  Duncan has collected widely and during his 40 year work build up an impressive collection of herbs and salads adapted to Scottish growing conditions.  A short video about his work can be seen on

The only remaining Scottish seed producers association is the Scots Timothy Seed Growers maintaining a grass landrace?

Scotia Seeds is another small-scale seed company specialising in wild native plant seeds & mixtures.

There are still a few landraces around with seed produced and distributed locally.  A good source of information can be found at maintained by SASA.  

The seed programme in 2018

n Scotland in the first year of the programme in 2018 we delivered basic vegetable seed saving trainings in Aberdeenshire, Lothian and on the Black Isle. Over fifty persons, commercial growers, community growers as well as allotment growers attended these well-received events.

The seed trainings covered  seed plant reproduction biology; inbreeding/outbreeding crops and implications for number of seed plants required to avoid inbreeding depression and to maintain genetic diversity; different types of pollination and implications for seed crop isolation and spacing; seed crop husbandry and seed borne diseases;  seed harvesting, processing, drying and storage.

Heritage grain growing

Interest in heritage grain growing among crofters in the Highlands led to a visit to Uist in November 2018 for a crofter-to-crofter technical meeting about traditional grain growing.   This was not a one-off touristic trip but will actually lead to reintroducing traditional grain growing in Lochaber in 2019 – the first time in decades. The grain experiment is planned to link in with the Plant Teams project at James Hutton Institute and facilitated by the Soil Association Scotland. 

For Rye, oats, and bere – the interest is widespread and more crofters and smallholders have come forward with an interest in growing.  The interest is shared by a Welsh growers group keen on starting to grow traditional oats.  This has raised issues such as where the seeds can be sourced and also what is a traditional Welsh oats?  

In Scotland this seems to be less of an issue as oat landraces are still grown – more widely on the Uist than on Orkney and Shetland, in the form of coirce beag, Orkney Traditional Black oats or Shetland Aets respectively – different names for the same species, Avena strigosa

However, for those crofters with an interest in common oats or porridge oats, Avena sativa, the questions arise: which varieties are traditional Scottish oats and where are the seeds?  To start with the latter: the seeds are in genebanks and will years of multiplying before they can be reintroduced to field scale grain growing.  Andrew Whitley did a sterling job with Scotland the Bread and set a good example with his Scottish heritage wheats multiplied by community groups and individual growers throughout Scotland. 

Organisation, funding, contact

The programme is led by The Gaia Foundation, implemented by five regional or national coordinators in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. It works in partnership with the Irish Seed Savers, The Land Workers’ Alliance, the Soil Association and seed companies Real Seeds, The Seed Cooperative and Beyond GM. The project has received funding from the A Team Foundation, Esmée Fairbairne Foundation and the Evan Cornish Foundation.

Contact: Maria Scholten, Coordinator in Scotland for The UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme.

email: Web site: Twitter: @Scotseedsov

2019 events: a series of four seed saving workshops in Glasgow in collaboration with Glasgow Local Food Network starting 30 March: selection workshop at Cyrenian farm on 31 August, and events around traditional grain growing in Lochaber.

Sources, references, links

[1] Author’s note: Agroecology applies ecological concepts and principles to food and farming systems, focusing on the interactions between microorganisms, plants, animals, humans and the environment.

[2] to be continued