All posts by gs

Oilseed rape in flowering broccoli

The wild cabbage Brassica oleracea is the origin of most of our brassica crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, swedes and sprouts. The wild form is perennial, living and flowering year after year on sea cliffs and coastal scree [1].

Many of the cultivated forms, growing in the rich soil of fields, also have this tendency to last more than one season. If they get the chance they will flower and if neglected some of them will recover after the winter and grow again.

This desire for  life among such short-season plants, grown for their leaves or compact floral heads, can sometimes be seen in late summer and early autumn, after a brassica crop has been harvested and before it is destroyed and the soil ploughed. The cabbages are not the only ones to flower illicitly – weeds of a similar type will also take the chance.

lf_5_plnt_crpwd_brocclsrmll17_gs_1100The photographs above show a field of broccoli in east Perthshire, flowering in mid-September after most heads had been harvested. The cultivated plants have the same pale yellow flower colour as their wild relative. In this field, some rows took to flowering more than others, perhaps indicating the planting of different varieties.

Among the pale yellow appear plants of a taller, rangier stature and with flowers of a much stronger yellow (examples circled in the top image). These are ‘volunteer’ oilseed rape [2], surviving as seeds buried in the soil from a previous crop and emerging and growing  when conditions allow.  Oilseed rape Brassica napus is half-cabbage, originated from a combination of the genomes of Brassica oleracea and Brassica rapa, the turnip.

These volunteers are hard to control in crops of cabbage and turnip. Any seedlings emerging in a corn crop are likely to die, but in cabbage or turnip and sometimes in potato, they can flower and re-seed. Volunteers of oilseed rape and also the main cereals, are now all common in the buried seedbank.

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The photographs above show, top, buds and open flowers of broccoli. The flowering branches usually arise as a side head after the main, central broccoli head has been harvested. Each floral sub-branch of the side head extends quickly resulting in the floral ‘bunches’ shown lower left. The large grey-green leaves are of the broccoli; the leaves of flowering oilseed rape are a similar shade but tend to be much smaller.

Such a mass of flowers within the cultivated parts of fields has become rare at this time of year. Flowering broccoli offers a few weeks of food for insects and other small life forms that make up the cropland food web. Bumble bees were foraging (lower right), as they have been doing among the flowering cabbages in the Living Field garden.

The remains of this vegetable crop will soon be dispensed with and the soil ploughed. Seeds on some of the oilseed rape might mature and drop to the soil and join the buried, living population of volunteer weeds. They will germinate, emerge and re-seed at the next opportunity, maybe seven or more years hence, depending on what is grown in between.

Waste and plenty ….. for the past few weeks, this field has held a mass of edible food in the form of broccoli side shoots, compact enough to cut easily before they elongated to flower. Though edible and nutritious, such small broccoli heads are probably not saleable to the buyers that want standard uniformity to a schedule. Yet in this instance, the wasted food quickly became useful to the late summer food web.

Sources, links

[1] The 5000 Years page on Crop-weeds gives background to wild cabbage and its relatives that form the Brassica complex in studies of weediness, geneflow and persistence.

[2] Seedbank studies at the Institute stretch back to the 1980s, started by Harry Lawson and Gladys Wright. At that time, few oilseed rape were found as buried weed seeds in cropped fields. In the last 15 years, they have risen to become among the most common four or five broadleaf (i.e. not grass) seedbank species.

Other pages and posts on Brassica crops and weeds on this site:

Growing cabbages and their relatives in the Living Field Garden: Vegetables and The Garden’s vegetable bounty.

Brassica root sections: The Beauty of Roots exhibition, Sectioned.

Swede and turnip in Burns’ time: SoScotchBonnet.

Contact for this page: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

 

 

 

Labours of the Months

A note to the Living Field’s exploration of The Year. The Labours in Medieval art and craft. Labours in the remaining Easby church murals, Yorkshire, ca 1250. Adam and Eve in the tradition: delving and spanning. The reformer John Ball. Modern Labours and the Crow. 

The ‘Labours of the months’ was an artistic theme that recurred in cathedrals and churches across Europe in the middle ages, typically 1200-1400 AD or 800-600 years ago [1]. The Labours, depicting rural activities through the year, were sometimes paired with the signs of the zodiac. They were crafted in stone, wood and stained glass and occasionally in wall paintings (murals). The great cathedrals of France and Italy display many fine examples.

The Labours  had a role in reinforcing power and privilege. In the Très Riches Heures for example [2] the paintings show well turned out peasants about their seasonal activities, but overlooked and dominated by great palaces and castles. And not all the Labours were about the agricultural year: hunting with hawk and dog would also have been the preserve of the wealthy.

So now to Yorkshire …

The Easby Murals

In the church of St Agatha at Easby [3] Yorkshire, four of what are thought to have been 12  murals remain of these Labours of the Months, dated to around 1250 along with several murals depicting scenes from the Bible. There are apparently very few other wall paintings of ‘The Labours’ from medieval Britain, and none to compare with these. 
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These murals were originally painted on dry plaster, but found covered with lime wash, presumably to prevent them being seen and defaced during Henry VIII’s purges of the monasteries in the mid-1500s. They were uncovered in Victorian times and restored again in 1994 [4]. The remaining 8 have not survived.

A notice in the church states that two of the remaining Labours are from spring, sowing and pruning, and the others, digging and hunting, from winter. Those of sowing and pruning are the best preserved.

The church at that time was next to a monastery, Easby Abbey, now a well kept ruin [5], and the resemblance of monks’ hair styles (tonsures) in the labourers depicted suggests that the painter’s models were working canons from the Abbey rather than common people.

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Yet the presence of this ‘Labours’, so close to central Christian themes, and in a humble church, shows the importance of the year’s cycle to the people and the beliefs at that time. As in the great cathedrals, hunting on horseback with a hawk features in one of the four (lower right in the images above). The hawk itself looks more like a crow and not too different from the crow observing the sower.

Who was then the gentleman …?

Another of the murals, not part of the ‘Labours’, but one of a set on early Christian themes, shows Adam digging and Eve sat on a rock or tree stump spinning, symbolic mundane tasks that they would have to do for eternity after their ejection from the Garden in the book of Genesis.

lf_ntsmgs_stgth_dgspn_gs_750These symbols of husbandry and craft have resonated throughout recent history, not least when the preacher for social justice and equality, John Ball [6] wrote in the 1300s not long after the Easby murals were painted:

“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman.”

He was querying why privilege and power should still so dominate and make miserable the lives of working people in what was purportedly a Christian country. That power was uncomfortable with the idea of social justice and John Ball came to a violent end, being cut into pieces and displayed in different parts of the country.

John Ball’s memory has also been kept in writings and songs, notably that by Sydney Carter [6].

In the mural at St Agatha’s, Adam is fully clothed, and Eve not quite, but in the folk tradition they can be without. In the song “Old Adam” – which has a delving and spanning refrain –  is the line “he never paid his tailor’s bills because he wore no clothes” [7].

Modern labours

The Labours of the months was given a new treatment by the writer and artist Clare Leighton in her ‘The Farmers Year’ published in the 1930s [8]. She begins with the Labours of Lambing, Lopping and Threshing, then in the month of April, Sowing; and the time of the engraving is more than 500 years after Easby, yet the farmer is broadcasting by hand, carrying the grain in a basket slung in front of him.

Her sower strikes a similar pose to that in the Easby murals, but with right arm back after flinging the seed. Her sower is more rugged, of the earth, not with smock and tonsure but with weathered face and trousers tied below the knee and having a wife waiting for him at the farm.

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Though she admits most sowing and other field work was then done with machinery, Clare Leighton chooses to engrave this sower, and writes ” ….. but here and there a farmer remains who still feels some warmth come up to him from the earth as he strides his fields, and to whom the land is a matter of emotion as well of economics.”

The crow?

The presence of the crow, following the Easby sower, recurs throughout the tradition. Crows observe the human condition, taking advantage where they can. In traditional song, two crows find a ready meal in a new-slain knight, deserted by his dog, his hawk and his lady. The crows are thinking aloud about which of them will feast on the eyes.

Of contemporary artists, Alan Stones has a special eye for crows and ravens [9]. In his lithograph – Brother Sun – a crow observes a man, a shepherd, coiling barbed wire. Another crow flies away low over the field. In a charcoal drawing, two crows peck before a gnarled hawthorn tree. His series ‘Divided self’ show crow-type birds standing on sheep and the series ‘Raven’ brings out the unearthly power of the great black birds.

The murals at St Agatha’s, Easby, are part of a European heritage and a continuing tradition [including colouring-in if that’s your fancy 10].

Contact / author: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk, visited St Agatha’s on 9 July 2017.

Sources, references, links

[1] Labours of the months: for general background and examples, see the Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labours_of_the_Months; and The Paradoxplace web site shows Labours and Zodiac in stained glass at Chartres, France c1217

[2] The illuminated manuscript, Très Riches Heures can be viewed at Public Domain Review: https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/labors-of-the-months-from-the-tres-riches-heures/.

[3] Easy Parish Church – a brief guide. Bargate Publications, Richmond, North Yorkshire, www.bargatepublications.co.uk. A notice on one of the walls states that the murals were originally painted on dry plaster and pre-date the Florentine Giotto (c. 1267-1337) and the Sienese Duccio (active 1278-1319). The church contains a replica of the Easby Cross, of sculpted stone, now in the V&A London. The photographer and historian Stiffleaf has a bank of images at http://www.ipernity.com/tag/stiffleaf/keyword/28360/@/page:69:18

[4] The Easby Church guide states: ‘…. they were uncovered during the Victorian restoration and restored again in 1994 by Perry Lithgow (a company specialising in architectural restoration) assisted by a grant from English Heritage.’ More photographs of the murals can be viewed at Wasleys.org.uk.

[5] Easby Abbey was founded in the 1150s for the Premonstratensian Order, itself founded in about 1121 in Prémontré, in France. The Abbey was destroyed in the 1540s in Henry VIII campaigns. Information at English Heritage http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/easby-abbey/

[6] John Ball: the Wikipedia entry gives general background. Sydney Carter wrote the song ‘John Ball’ for the 600th anniversary of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Perceptive commentary at ‘Songs that grow like trees: an appreciation of Sydney Carter (1915-2004)’ on the web site Early Music Muse – musings on medieval, renaissance and traditional music by Ian Pittaway. Chris Wood sings ‘John Ball’ on his album Trespasser:  ChrisWoodMusic.

[7]  The traditional song “Old Adam” is performed (2016) by Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party on the CD album Old Adam, 2016, Soundpost Records, www.fayhield.com.

[8] Clare Leighton, 1898-1989, writer, artist and engraver. For examples of works, see clairleighton.com. Source: Leighton, C. 1933. The Farmer’s Year – a calendar of English husbandry. Little Toller Books, Dorset.

[9] Alan Stones at www.alanstones.co.uk.  ‘Brother Sun’ and other early lithographs can be viewed at Lithographs – Farming (1984-1992); crows and ravens at Lithographs (1996-1999).

[10] Institute for Medieval Studies University of Leeds
Downloadable page for colouring, Labours of the Months, January to March https://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/download/2753/labours_of_the_months

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[Edited 17 September 2017]

The Garden’s vegetable bounty

A vegetable bounty this year – leaves, flowers and ‘roots’ of all shapes and sizes have appeared in the Living Field Garden. Gladys and Jackie have nurtured a fine array of eatables, which many long term Garden observers say is the best yet, and that’s from a year which has not been ideal for crops.

Here are just some of my favourites (writes Geoff).

The cauliflower, below, was football sized and too large to show its halves side by side. One half went the same day as cut, eaten as cauliflower cheese – a strong brassica taste with a milder cheddar-type cheese sauce, in this case Mull (but Anster is good for this), sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then paprika to give it spice and colour.

The other half was cut into small pieces and pickled with wine vinegar, onion seed and peppercorns, to be eaten over the winter. It is now waiting in a jar.

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The carrots (below) grew into complex shapes this year. They are not deformed, just natural.  Some of this year’s carrots looked like an octopus, orange tentacles clasping the main body. Others reclined languorously on the table top, waiting to be peeled and cut. Still others were more or less straight with lumps in strange places.

But  there’s no reprieve whatever the form. Roasted or boiled with herbs, very tasty, real carrot, soon eaten.

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The onions looked a bit ragged on harvest, but were unblemished inside their protective leaves. The smell when cut is definitive, to be savoured and remembered. The layers of leaves, filled with winter storage, are distinct, all white near the centre but with red outers towards the edge of the bulb.

The onions that came to our kitchen from the garden this year were all pickled with seeds and spices in wine vinegar. They are also waiting in a jar, next to the cauliflower.

 

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The beet went the same way as the cauliflower – one half pickled, this time in red wine vinegar, the other half eaten. But the revelation for me – not a great fan of beet – was the chunks of it, coated in oil (try cold pressed rapeseed) then roasted in foil and eaten with Maris Piper. What a taste – fresh cooked beet like this is up there among the great vegetables of all time. Thanks to those pioneers of crop selection who managed to get these red chunks out of wild sea beet.

[more vegetables cut in half to follow, as they are harvested later in the year … ]

You can see more of Gladys and Jackie’s efforts on display at Open Farm Sunday 2017 and at Vegetables on the Garden pages.

Bere battered fish

Grannie Kate’s back with a new use of bere meal ….. she writes …

“Fed up of ‘days old’ fish from the supermarket? Try stopping a local fish van to see the beautiful produce on sale!

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This was what I did last Friday morning at 9.50 a.m. precisely and bought some haddock (landed that morning) from a mobile fish merchant from Anstruther.

The van horn was tooted loudly in the Main Street and behold people silently appeared to purchase from a wide selection of sea food displayed in the back of the refrigerated van. The old word ‘fishmonger’ seems to be out of fashion these days, ‘fish merchant’ now the preferred description

Home made fish and chips then, for tea, using my mother’s recipe for coating the fish before frying in oil. Haddock (and other white fish) tend to break up in the frying pan if they are fried without coating them first.

Fresh haddock from the sea and …… earthy bere meal from Barony Mills!

What to do

  1. Place a large tablespoon of bere barley on a plate and then (if preferred) mix with white flour, e.g. another large tablespoon or less depending on your taste.
  2. Grind sea salt and black pepper into the flour to season it.
  3. Crack a fresh free range egg into a small jug and whisk it until the yolk is well mixed with the white.
  4. Wash the fish ( this is important especially if the fish is not as fresh as you would wish and actually smells; remember, fresh fish does NOT smell!). Cut the fish in half lengthways to give 2 portions. Then cut again diagonally across the portion to give two or three smaller pieces or goujons. You now have about 6 goujons of fresh haddock.
  5. Dip each goujon into the egg, shake off the excess egg wash then place onto your flour, rolling it around until it is covered. Repeat for all the haddock pieces.
  6. Add some light cooking oil into a frying pan and heat – to test the temperature is right add a little bit of flour to the oil and it should start to bubble up immediately.
  7. Add all your goujons to the oil, fry for about two or three minutes on one side, then two or three minutes on the other on a medium heat.
  8. Lift out with a fish slice onto some kitchen towel and blot lightly to remove excess oil.

The goujons should be light brown with a thin crispy coating of bere meal on the outside.

Serve with fresh garden peas and homemade chips. Add salt and vinegar or wedge of lemon and perhaps some tartare sauce!

Delicious………!
Links

The bere meal was sourced from Barony Mills in Orkney. For more on Orkney bere, see: Bere line rhymes with hairline and Landrace 1 Bere.

And for other bere recipes on this site – Bere bannocks and Bere shortbread and Seeded oatcakes with bere meal …..

 

ScoFu: the quest for an indigenous Scottish Tofu

Chantel Davies writes:

As a long-time vegetarian and fan of Asian food, particularly tofu, in recent years I have limited my consumption of soya due to the sustainability issues of soya production and potential negative impacts on health.

Beginnings

My inspiration grew from a Japanese anime series, ‘Yakitate!! Ja-pan’ (i.e ‘Freshly Baked!! Ja-pan’), which follows the adventures of the young protagonist, Kazuma Azuma, as he follows his passion to invent an authentic Japanese bread of which the Japanese people can be proud. In a similar vein, I have embarked on a quest to produce an authentic Scottish tofu, using local ingredients and some gastronomic daring.

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I acquired some faba bean powder (flour) from the Institute’s Pete Iannetta, who is growing beans in experimental fields at the Dundee site (and using them to create new bean-based products including craft beers).

My first experiment, ScoFu No. 1, was to test the production method and make some technical adjustments. It was marginally successful, but the quantity of final product after pressing resembled a crêpe with a lot of left-over okara (bean pulp). Not really what I was aiming for, though the okara could be used for faba bean falafel – an experiment I will save for another time.

ScoFu No. 2

For ScoFu No. 2, I increased the quantity of ingredients and modified the processes. Firstly, I produced the purée. After a bit of culinary alchemy, and a handy little tofu box, I managed to produce a very neat-looking block of tofu (image below).

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Block of ScoFu made from faba bean (Chantel Davies)

After a little more magical waving and muttering, the tofu became a delight of pan-fried strips, infused with chilli and garlic, served with spicy rice and a dash of soy sauce. The texture, although soft and crumbly, held together nicely when cutting and cooking.

The flavour was definitely faba bean, with a hint of bitterness due to the preparation method (and maybe the coagulant), but also a touch of umami; beany flavours are often preferred in East Asia. On a firmness scale of 1 to 5, with five being very firm, I would put this at 3.5, or ‘momen-dofu’ as the Japanese would say.

A rather delicious stock was produced in the formation of curds, which could form the base of type of miso soup, or vegetable stock.
Whilst this has been a success, there are so many different variables to consider when making tofu that can influence taste, texture and firmness that I feel my adventure has only just begun. Onward to ScoFu No.3!

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Stir fry with ScoFu (Chantel Davies)

Contacts, sources, links

Chantel Davies email: chantel.davies@hutton.ac.uk; c.davies@growing-research.com

The beans used to make the Scofu are locally grown faba beans Vicia faba. 

Also on the Living Field web:

Feel the Pulse – our exhibition on beans at Baxter Park with Dundee Science Centre and Legumes in the Living Field garden.

Related: SoScotchBonnet – our search for the truly indigenous crop.

[Published 27 June 2017; updated with new images 21 July]

Tina Scopa Edaphic Plant Artist

This year, as a 3rd year Contemporary Art Practice student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (Djcad), Dundee and with the support and encouragement of Geoff Squire & Gladys Wright (& Pete Iannetta who pointed me in the right direction) I was introduced to the Living Field at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie and ran my plant-printing workshop as part of the Open Farm Sunday event.

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Studio and exhibition space

My work concerns wild plants (and those often considered to be weeds) and the soil in which they grow. I currently work mostly in printing where I have developed a number of plant printing techniques. I also make ‘earth’ paintings, and work in ceramics, photography, and laser cutting. I would be very interested to hear from any scientists who might be interested in this work, have comments, or who might want to collaborate with me, particularly in context of the blue pigment; in making the prints lightfast; or the possibility of employing these printing techniques as a scientific tool.

Edaphic Plant Art

In my most recent work I coined the term, Edaphic Plant Art. This body of work was concerned with a small patch of grass on campus. I was interested in the variety of wild plants growing on this patch and also in the soil in which they were growing. I focused on 5 plant varieties and attended soil science lectures. I documented these plants by using 3 different plant-printing techniques that I have termed, the Pigment Print; the Graphite Print; and the Ink Print.

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These prints were presented on the wall in a grid format together with digital print photographs of the plants. Porcelain tiles were also prepared for each plant. In addition ‘earth paintings’ were made using soil taken from the site and ‘healthier’ soil taken from another site. Besides each painting a soil sample was presented in a hand made porcelain cup.

Weeds

This body of work began with the initial desire to get plants to ‘draw’ themselves. The plants used were those largely considered to be ‘weeds’. The method used to develop this idea has primarily been experimental printing. Experimental photography techniques were also been employed to a lesser extent, as were small sculptural works.lf_tsepa_img4_1100

 

lf_tsepa_img6aThrough the process of experimentation and subsequent development the goal was considered to have been accomplished.

The resulting plant ‘drawings’ were able to convey the inherent beauty of these weed forms and the individual ‘character’ of each plant. In addition, the body of work was presented as a metaphor for our own human condition, commenting on different aspects of ourselves.

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The Blue Pigment

Over the course of developing my Pigment Prints I have often noticed a very blue pigment located just where the stem meets the roots in certain grasses. If anyone can shed light on this I would be very grateful and would love to extract this in the lab.

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More from Tina to follow ….

Contact

http://tinascopa.wixsite.com/website

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The Garden at Open Farm Sunday 2017

The Living Field Garden was looking good at Open Farm Sunday on 11 June this year.  Despite wet weather, we had over 1000 visitors.

More on the Open Farm exhibits appears at the Hutton Institute’s LEAF web pages. Here we look at some of this year’s plants.

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Water forget-me-not (top left, then clockwise), elder flower, close up of male flower on a maize plant, and wild yellow iris.

The hedges are thick with leaf, the hawthorn now filling its haws, the elder and the wild rose still in full flower. Water forget-me-not and wild iris are flowering in the wet ditch, while field scabious, comfrey  and viper’s bugloss are offering plenty for the several species of bumble bees that live in and around the garden.

The east garden’s perennial and arable beds

The three local species in the images above all reside in their own habitats, but are within a few seconds of hoverfly flight to the exotic maize in the arable plot. Maize originated as a crop in the Americas and was unknown in the country before the last few hundred years.

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The east garden (top l, down) across the medicinals bed, the vegetable quarter of the arable, across the meadow, just in flower; (top r, down) the potato patch, wild rose and visitor, bumble be on field scabious, through a gap in the hedge, June 2017

This proximity of the wild and the cultivated is one of the recurring features of the garden. The images above contrast the cropped area of the east garden with the perennial meadow and hedge plants. The  field scabious in the meadow will keep the bees well supplied until late September at least.

Raised beds of the west garden

Through the gate, the west garden’s raised beds are filled this year with vegetables and herbs. There are various cabbages and spinaches, parsley, thyme and dill, companion plantings and intercrops, to name a few, and all are intended to show the very different concentrations of minerals that these plants take from the soil and accumulate in their tops.

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Herbs and vegetables (top l down) parsley, across the raised beds to the polytunnel, cabbage; and (top r down) dill umbel unfolding, pea flower and chard leaf, June 2017

The background and results of this study, which is based on research at the Institute, will be covered in a future Living Field post.

Creepy towers

We’ve been constructing various small places for insects and spiders since the garden began, but this year, the idea of a more permanent residents block was made real just before Open Farm Sunday. First stack your pallets, add a roof of turf and fill the spaces with small bespoke homes for our creepy friends.

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Old logs and fence posts, with holes drilled in the ends, pine cones, garden canes, bricks with holes through, tubes, sticks, bits of rotting wood – all make ideal residences.

Exhibits at Open Farm Sunday 11 June 2017

The garden made a return this year as the base for many activities at Open Farm. The cabins hosted exhibits on greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen fixing legumes. The east garden, as you go in through the gate by the cabins, had a soil pit, cereal-legume intercropping, pest traps and the urban bug house shown above, while the west section displayed heathy vegetables, soil bacteria, our friends from Dundee Astronomical Society and Tina Scopa running a workshop on wild plant ‘pressing’.

The garden was maintained by the usual crew: Gladys Wright and Jackie Thompson on the arable plots and raised beds; Paul Heffel from the farm kept the hedges in trim and cultivated the soil where required; Geoff Squire arranged the medicinals and dyes and kept an eye on various rarities and curiosities.

Gill and Lauren Banks, with help from the farm, constructed Creepy Towers, for which the ‘chimney’ was crafted by Dave Roberts and the plaque by visiting student Camille Rousset.

There is no formal funding for maintaining the garden – it happens through commitment and hard work, often out of hours.

Contact for the garden: gladys.wright@hutton.ac.uk

 

Burnt whin

The very dry spring of 2017 not only set back crops but prepared moor and rough grazing for fire. These habitats are used to fire.  They have evolved with it as a recurrent destroyer, at least since the last ice retreated and people returned in numbers to begin clearing and cultivation.

The problem for those today concerned about natural heritage is that fire does not discriminate, and while the burning of grass and whin (or gorse) Ulex europaeus will not affect their survival in most localities, it can devastate rare and declining, or even newly expanding, populations of other plants growing along with them.

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This was the case in pockets of whin-dominated land that were fired during the dry spring. Fire left the whin’s stems and branches like blackened bones. They appear intact, but they disintegrate to powder if you try to pick them up.

The intensity of the fire was so great in places that everything had been burned, but at the edges not all was lost. Flowering branches had been singed in the heat, no longer bright yellow, but perhaps not dead; and some small broadleaf trees such as rowan Sorbus aucuparia had one side singed and the other not.

So what made an ‘edge’ that stopped the fire. In one area, it was a narrow road that the fire did not cross. In another it was wetter ground in a hollow that stopped the advance. (It takes a lot to completely dry out a bog in these parts.)

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The fire is stopped in the upper image on both sides of a wet depression, and by a small pile of dung (lower left), and did not burn the bones, May 2017 (Squire/Living Field)

The images above (top) show a wet hollow or depression, which stopped the fire from consuming the willows in the middle ground but not the rough grass before nor the trees beyond.

The fire also failed to take some small areas. One (lower left above) appears to be nothing other than a small pile of droppings (deer?) which presumably was wet enough to prevent the surrounding grass for being blackened.

Threatened juniper

This small fire, covering just a couple of acres (not quite a hectare) would have destroyed any birds’ nests in its way, but it also destroyed juniper and young pine.

Juniper Juniperus communis is particularly vulnerable in many areas of Scotland because it is declining due to a range of factors including over-grazing and disease [1, 2]. The location shown in the photographs, within 10 miles of Inverness,  falls within Zone 1, that of least concern for juniper conservation.

Yet here, even in Zone 1, within an extent of 5 x 5 km (25 square kilometres) juniper exists mainly as isolated mature bushes and some regenerating young plants, not as a complete stand.

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It is heartening to see several young plants in this area [3], but not to see that in this one small fire, some young juniper were scorched to death.

There was evidence that the fire was more intense under and around some juniper (top left above), perhaps because the dead plant matter accumulating under the bushes was more flammable than the surrounding grass? Perhaps there were other reasons.

Also young Scots pine Pinus sylvestris were badly affected. The one top right above was 100 metres from the nearest tall mature native pine tree; and though it looks small, it  could well be several decades old, checked in growth by the poor conditions. It’s a pioneer spreading from a native remnant, but not likely to survive this fire.

This was a very small bush fire by local standards, and insignificant compared to the fires raging over thousands of square kilometres in some parts of the world, but even so it caused a lot of damage to populations of juniper and Scots pine that are struggling to maintain or expand their range.

It may add to the demise of juniper in this region. The fire was probably started illegally by someone.

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Links

[1] Forestry Commission Scotland. Conservation zones for Juniper. The locality shown in the photographs above is in Zone 1 (self-sustaining juniper populations – conservation management beneficial in some places to promote natural regeneration). See also Species action notes which consider juniper along with black grouse, capercaillie, red squirrel, pearl-bordered fritillary and chequered skipper.

[2] Forestry Commission Scotland. Planting juniper in Scotland: reducing the risk from Phytophthera austrocedrae. Link to Online Guidance.

[3] Scotland’s Nature (Scottish Natural Heritage). Good news for Scotland’s juniper.

Contact/author/images: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Maize paper

Most of our paper comes from plants, but the process by which leaves and stems are converted to sheets that we can write on or wrap things in is unknown to most of us.

As part of her work with the Living Field, Jean Duncan has been making paper from plants grown in the garden.

She started with some maize, which is a tropical and sub-tropical species originally from the Americas. Some types can now grow in our climate, and it was one of these that was grown in the garden for its cobs (corn on the cob).

Jean used the maize plants to make the paper. Here is a description of what she did.

Step 1 is to collect maize leaves and stems when they are in good condition, still green.

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Step 2 is to cut the leaves and stems into small pieces. Leaf pieces should be about the size of those in the white bowl. The tough stems were cut into larger pieces (right  below).

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Step 3 – put the cut material into an enamel bowl or pot (above left). Add soda ash to the material, 1 teaspoon for a 10 litre pot, and mix.

Step 4 – cook the plants for 3 hours, or more if the material is tough. At this point you will need pH indicator strips (litmus paper) to check that the cooking is going according to plan. (Litmus can be bought on-line or at some gardening shops.) The pH of the mixture should be around 8, but if it drops to 7 or 6 then add a little more soda ash. When cooked, the fibre should be soft and easy to tear.

Step 5 – rinse the fibre thoroughly in water; when fully rinsed the pH or the water should be neutral (i.e. about 7).

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Step 6 – the fibre now needs to be beaten to a pulp. The traditional way is to beat it with a mallet for a few hours. (Craft-workers in some countries still use this method).  An alternative, if you have electricity, is a kitchen blender working in short bursts so as not to burn out the motor. Jean uses a machine called a Hollander beater.

Step 7 – the fibres are now ready to be transformed into sheets of paper. The pulp is suspended in water. A ‘mould and deckle’ is lowered into the water (image above) and brought out slowly with a flat layer of fibre on it, or else the pulp is poured into the mould and deckle until there is a flat layer of the right thickness for the type of pulp (which you work out by trial and error); the water drains out through holes leaving the moist fibre.

Step 8 – the moist sheet of fibre is  turned onto an absorbent fabric  or board or something similar for drying and pressing, a procedure that takes about 3 days (top right in images below).

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Maize paper: lighter sheet (top left) is from the husk round the cobs, the darker sheet from stems; etchings below of root cross sections (Jean Duncan)

 

And that’s it – a sheet of paper!

Info, links

Khadi papers India. Web site: khadi.com. Youtube: Papermaking at Khadi Papers India

Jean’s recent work on an exhibition of etchings using her own-made paper: The Beauty of Roots and Root art.

[Update with minor amendments 10 June and 27 July 2017]