What a great day, 9 June! Yet another successful Open Farm Sunday at the Hutton Dundee. Crowds of visitors enjoying themselves in sunny weather. The Living Field garden did its bit as before – exhibits on barley and legumes in the polytunnel, potato varieties in the west garden and further science exhibits in the cabins.
Our friends from Dundee Astronomical Society were here again showing people round the new observatory and explaining about the sun, moon and noctilucent clouds. And this year we were helped for the first time by a workshop on cyanotype imagery run by Kit Martin.
The centrepiece was the new Vegetable Map of Scotland, shown top left and centre in the panel above. For more on how it was made, see Vegetable map made real. The map occasioned much comment and wonder that the country was already growing such a wide range of vegetables and could grow much more of its own.
The two posters located next to the Vegetable map are available to view or download here.
The Vegetable Posters
One of the posters – The Vegetable Products of Scotland – explained the background to the original Vegetable map which was first shown at Can we grow more vegetables? The poster is reproduced below as a low resolution jpg image. It is also available as a pdf file printable up to A3 size.
The other poster – Vegetables in the Living Field garden – showed many of the vegetables typically grown in the garden, grouped into leaves, fleshy fruits, roots and seeds. More on the plants can be seen at the garden pages under Vegetables. This poster is also reproduced as a jpeg below and available as a pdf.
Since its publication on these pages in 2017 the Vegetable Map of Scotland  has attracted much interest. There is a growing awareness of the benefits of local, nutritious food – especially if bought from short supply chains that use the least possible carbon.
People want to know where their food comes from, how much is imported and how much grown locally and whether the country can grow more of its food within or near its borders.
These questions are asked especially of vegetables, including pulses and potato, because they are (or should be) mostly eaten very fresh, such as leaf, or else, like carrot and swede, kept not too long on the shelf before being cooked.
With this background of interest, the Vegetable Map was constructed by researchers at the Institute as part of joint interests with Nourish Scotland . The group interrogated EU databases provided by the Scottish Government  to locate the fields in which the various vegetables and soft fruits were grown.
An example of part of the region is shown above. The Map remained available through this web site, then in late 2018, ideas began to form about making the map real – complete with vegetables – and it would be constructed in the Living Field garden .
Time went by. Ground was weeded, cleared and cultivated – a rare barrenness in the otherwise plant-rich garden. Then gradually, over the winter, tectonic plates shifted.
People began to wonder about the strange earthworks dotted with rocks that appeared in the plot. Was the garden being visited at night by strange forces or was the Living Field community finally just losing it? Rumours were rife.
More time went by. Turf was laid in a great rectangle over the whole patch, but people were still unclear of what it was all for …. and what lay underneath.
The turf rooted and formed a fine carpet. But what were the rocks? A ritual landscape? Tayside’s answer to the Ring of Brodgar?
Then one day in late spring 2019 an outline was traced and the turf was cut to reveal the unmistakable shape of ….. Scotland ….. its indented coast now clear and the land inside complete with hills and mountains.
All well so far ……. a map of the country covered in grass and rocks …… nothing new there. But then in May, holes were cut in the turf and plants put in the holes: and you’ll guess what plants – Yes, vegetables.
And that is where we are at the beginning of June 2019. The Farm’s drone was flown to photograph the Living Field garden from the air on 5 June. The image of the map appears below.
Different types of vegetable are being planted in the parts of the country where they are typically grown. It is possible to see the early plantings to the right of the image. The brown holes in the turf are where circles have been cut in readiness for later plantings. (The ‘corners’ and lower border are spare turf in case of need.)
Planting will continue well into the summer. There will be some surprises which we shall show later.
For now, you can read more about the history of vegetable growing at the original page . photographs of the construction will follow – link to be provided. And there will be more articles on what can and can’t be grown in the soils and climates of our northern latitudes.
Living Field people will be on hand at Open Farm Sunday 9 June 2019 to explain more about the Vegetable Map of Scotland. See you there!
With apologies to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, presently missing from the map but to be included.
 The original digital map was produced during work on the distribution of crops as part of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme.
 Gladys Wright had the idea of constructing the Vegetable Map in the Living Field garden and was soon offered enthusiastic help by The Farm. Together, and with other coopted helpers they measured out the grid, made the mountains (like Titans), laid and cut the turf and raised and planted the plants. A great effort by the Living Field community!
Transition Turriefield was set up in 2011 as a community run growing project, to provide locally produced fruit and vegetables in Shetland. It was established to demonstrate a reduced fossil fuel approach to food production within the isles, to reduce Shetland’s food related carbon footprint, increase Shetland’s food security and ultimately to change the way Shetland thinks about importing food.
Subsistence days …..
Before the era of cheap oil and global food transportation, all Shetland crofts had a yard to grow crops. It was the only way to have fresh vegetables. The most common produce grown, along with the cereals bere and oats, was Shetland kale, neeps and potatoes [see note below]. Produce was used as winter livestock feed, as well as supplementing the crofter’s diet of lamb and fish. These crops were hardy and coped well with the Shetland conditions.
Nowadays yards can be seen all over Shetland, lying empty and unused. Tastes have changed and, along with the rest of the western world, Shetland residents expect more variety and an ‘out of season availability’ of produce that their grandparents could never have imagined. Regular ferry sailings and flights have made food available from all over the world, twelve months of the year, weather permitting.
Encouraging island residents to consider reducing CO2 emissions, personal carbon footprints and make positive food buying choices is an uphill struggle. It is hampered by a belief by many that the alternative means a return to the kale and neep eating of the pre-1960s.
Transition Turriefield has been determined to show local food production can provide better choice, fresher produce, reduce carbon footprints and be available even when bad weather prevents supplies arriving. From the beginning the project has focused on demonstrating that a wide range of produce can be grown in Shetland at market garden scale.
Now small-scale ecological engineering
Based on a small croft on the far west mainland, the challenges for economically sustainable food production are huge. The land is designated by the EU as a ‘severely disadvantaged Less Favoured Area’, of poor land quality and suitable only for rough grazing. The season is short, weather unpredictable and the climate extreme. None of which encourages bountiful crops.
There is no doubt that kale and neeps are the easiest and most productive crops to grow. However, using innovation, along with experimentation to create micro-climates, and combining old fashioned farming methods with modern technology, more exotic produce has been made available to the community instead.
Of the 21 hectares of land belonging to the croft, approximately 1.3 hectares are suitable for vegetable production. Just under 1 hectare is currently in production and includes 500 square metres of polytunnel space and 110 of raised beds as well as outside field space. The main growing area is at the lowest point of the croft. Soil here is either deep and peaty (drained bog) with clay patches, or shallow and stoney, with clay and low in organic matter.
Soil nutrient analysis shows a pH of 6.3 with low phosphorus. Structurally the soil is compacted below the surface and low in oxygen due to the water content. Field drains and ditches have been put in and this has made a difference to the moisture content of the soil during the drier part of the season. As the land is worked season by season, effort is made to build soil and raise the growing area, improve structure, texture and nutrient content.
Muck, seaweed, ash, compost, turf
Beds have been cleared using pigs and hand tools rather than machinery. Muck, seaweed, ash from peat and wood, compost, and loam from composted turf, are added each season in various combinations and quantities depending on type of crop to be grown in each bed. Digging is kept to a minimum and is limited to using forks to aerate topsoil and improve drainage where necessary. When beds are empty they are covered with black agricultural plastic, weighed down with old tyres, to reduce weeds, and lessen nutrient leaching from increasing rainfall. Use of the plastic is new as of January 2017 and has allowed an earlier and more rapid start to our sowing/planting season. Biodegradable, corn-starch based weed suppressant has also been used on experimental beds this season and has reduced weeding markedly.
Using horse powered land-working equipment to reduce labour has been experimented with as part of the commitment to tackling climate change and reducing fossil fuel use. Strong horse working skills are required and it has taken time to learn methods and teach the horse too, but it does show potential. Unfortunately, the land has become markedly wetter over the last five years and is remaining so for longer periods. As yet it is unclear whether horse drawn equipment will be viable on the land without major soil improvements in the long term.
And perseverance pays
Even with poor growing conditions Transition Turriefield perseveres with organic practice as an essential part of reducing fossil fuel use and protecting the environment. The project is not registered as organic due to the expense of ongoing registration and the impact of maintaining wider crofting practices in a rural and remote area.
Access to organic animal feed for example, is not economically viable and accessing organic compost for seed sowing is an ongoing battle. Compromises too, have had to be made with fossil fuel reduction, for example where plastics are used for polytunnel covers and weed suppressants. Maintaining best practice, financial viability and sustainability will always be an ongoing balancing act.
Crops are grown outside where possible, keeping the limited undercover space for the produce that really needs warmth and protection. During the short summer season aubergines, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, sweetcorn, pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers and even melons can be grown undercover. By experimenting with sowing times and cultivars and using heat and light to start seeds off early, growing conditions can be manipulated to recreate suitable conditions and a long enough season.
Timing is crucial
To achieve maximum production from the short summer season a strict sowing programme is used starting in January. Crops are sown in modules timetabled to enable plants to be ready to ‘hit the ground running’, once conditions are suitable for planting out either in the tunnels or outside. Celery and celeriac for example, are sown in the second week in February under lights and on heated mats at 18-20C, potted up, grown on and hardened off to allow planting out in the field by the 3rd week in May. Harvest begins in late September.
Without additional heat and light, conditions would not be suitable for germination until April and the plants would not mature to a reasonable size before the growing conditions became unsuitable. A similar system and timing is used for aubergines, planted in tunnels and ready for harvest from mid-July onwards.
Raised beds are used for some crops and are proving useful for manipulating conditions to increase productivity. Both garlic and parsnips have benefitted from the warmer, better drained soil in the beds. Mini tunnels are used to improve crop performance when needed. Garlic appreciates the extra heat to produce good sized bulbs unattainable in open ground. Experimenting with black plastic as an aid to warming raised beds from March onwards has enabled earlier sowings of parsnip and beetroot, with crops producing excellent sized roots. Sowing in the field cannot usually take place until end of May due to low soil temperature and waterlogging.
Produce is sold through a veg box scheme, to rural community shops, a wholefood retailer in the main town of Lerwick and local hotels. The veg box scheme operates using a Community Supported Agriculture model. Box customers commit to financial support of the project for a season as well as contributing voluntary hours to vegetable production. This has been a successful method of encouraging community participation in local food production and raising awareness food related CO2 emissions. Additional income is generated through training courses and workshops sharing the learning and supporting others to grow their own. The project works with both children and adults; schools, community groups and the local authority to raise awareness of climate change and encourage carbon footprint reduction.
The largest limiting factor for the project is the ability to grow enough produce on the site—to generate enough income to pay sufficient staff—to grow enough produce, and so on. These particular issues are no different to other, similar, small growing projects throughout the country. Though small the project already cultivates and brings to market a huge variety and quantity (10 tonne+) of crops each season. With further investment, soil improvement, increase protected growing and further experimentation, there is the potential to double the quantity of fresh produce for the Shetland community.
Author and Contact
Transition Turriefield is run by Penny Armstrong and Alan Robertson.
…. the defining sights, textures and tastes of the region must include the vegetables and fruits that are on sale everywhere and form such a nutritious and tasteful part of the diet. The humblest stalls and open-air cafes offer such a range of fresh plant products, boiled or fried, alone or with with rice or noodles, as are rarely found in Europe. Take kangkong – steeped in garlic and soy sauce, a low-cost pure vegetable delight with no equivalent here .
Stalls everywhere sell pineapple, mango, lychee, papaya. In the season, durians and mangosteens, rambutans, custard apples and jack fruit offer unique tastes and textures .
So a visit to the vegetable and fruit markets of Bangkok was not to be missed.
The main flower market sells fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables. Above are a great bank of flowering orchids, for show, not to eat, limes (? top right), pineapples and courgettes, roots including very large ‘radishes’, and leaf vegetables.
Most produce was bagged, or in the process of being, and taken away on bicycles, scooters and tuk-tuks, most likely on short supply chains to hotels, restaurants and cafes in the city. The bikes and scooters politely elbowed and wheeled their way through people.
No small packets here – but great quantities of things: six-feet high banks of lemon grass (top left above), then ginger, chillies and spiny gourds.
In Europe we are used to seeing and eating the yellow-skinned banana fruits. But here also the banana’s unopened flowering heads were for sale , destined for gourmet cook-shops.
The produce covered the wide range of storage times found at good markets anywhere . Everything from leafy greens and herbs, high in vitamins and minerals, needing to be cooked and eaten within days before they go off, contrasting with the roots and tubers which, like our potato and swede, can last for weeks, months even, sustaining people and animals over bad times. Of the longer lasting vegetables were taro  and various sorts of pumpkin.
It was a busy place: many small traders, most everything visible. Food in, food out, quickly. Another world from the big retailers that most Europeans buy from.
 Kangkong or kangkung – is one of the simplest of dishes, made from the leafy shoots of various plants, the most common being Ipomoea aquatica. Laced with garlic, mild chillies and soy sauce, a culinary delight, served at the humblest of roadside cook shops.
 Of these fruits, the Durian, is the king, they say. It’s of the genus Durio, of which there are many species. There’s little point in a European trying to describe a durian. They have to be experienced. But don’t just try any one that you come across. Durian experts say – select not the first of the season, and not the northernmost, but bide your time, smell each one discerningly, and lingeringly … and blessings will be yours. A bit arcane, this durian lore – but from experience, it seems to work. And they do say that people go to extremes over the best wild durians, keeping them under guard night and day while fruiting, until they are just right. Also the other fruits mentioned may be palate-changing – mangosteens and custard apples, for example – and don’t be put off by the outer appearance of the jackfruit, because inside it’s ….. delicious.
 The fruits of the plantation banana are well known here, but the large flower buds and flowers of assorted plantains including the commercial banana (all Musa species) are widely used in cooking in south-east Asia.
 Taro Colocasia esculenta is not so appreciated in Europe, but is a staple of village subsistence throughout south-east Asia. It is close taxonomically to Arum maculatum, the lords and ladies of the cropland’s hedges and shady corners. For more on taro intercropped with ginger and chillies in Burma (Myanmar), see Mixed Cropping in Burma at curvedflatlands. Note the Latin name esculenta has been used for centuries in Scotland – in the form ‘esculent’ – to refer to tuber crops, including potato. For reference and source, see SoScotchBonnet on this web site.
Notes and experiences by firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to gk-images for the photographs in the first two panels above.
Links to other pages and posts on vegetables on this site:
Vegetables and fruit in Scotland mapped. Regions of historically strategic land and soil. The Iron Age, then the Romans, Picts and 1700s Improvers. Imports vs local production. Opportunities.
As background to the recent Vegetable Summit, held in Edinburgh, London and Cardiff, Nourish Scotland  asked the James Hutton Institute if it was possible to define the places where vegetables are grown in the region. The resulting map, prepared by Nora Quesada, is shown below.
Each coloured dot on the map indicates a field of fruit or vegetables. (The dots are much larger than individual fields.) It is clear from the distribution of dots that relatively little land exists in Scotland on which vegetables and fruit are grown. Even in places where the coloured dots are concentrated, the land area covered by fruit and vegetables is generally less than a few percent. Most of the other cultivated land is under cereals, wheat and barley.
Why do we want to know where vegetables are grown? Questions around diet, health and food poverty at this time of agricultural plenty were raised in a recent issue of Nourish Scotland’s magazine, January 2017, with the title ‘What would Boyd Orr do?’ .
John Boyd Orr was a pioneer of research into nutrition in Scotland many decades ago. His work became known throughout the world. The article asked what he would do today faced with the situation that, while vegetables are essential for a healthy human diet, most are imported and fail to reach the people that need them.
It is important to know therefore whether more land than shown on the maps can be converted to growing vegetables? For example, how much land would be needed to provide an optimum (rather than minimum) diet for the whole country from local produce; and can the cities be supplied with fruit and veg by the land surrounding them?
To answer such questions, it is necessary, first, to know what is grown and where. That is the purpose of the present mapping.
How is it done?
The EU’s Integrated Administration and Control Systems (IACS), which is used to manage farm subsidies, collects data on the crops grown on each field. The Scottish Government provided that information to the James Hutton Institute. Each field in IACS is geo-referenced and can be located on a base map that is of high enough resolution to show the outlines of the fields. The IACS reference then allows the fields on the base map to be linked to specific crops in specific years. This is how the maps shown in this article were constructed .
The IACS system does not account for vegetables from gardens and allotments and inner city and rural small scale production. There is much activity at these small scales, which we’ll look at in future posts.
Here we consider two examples of areas where vegetables are now produced: Strathmore and Angus and then Moray, Cromarty and Tarbat. Commercial growing needs good soil and a not-too-extreme climate, and given the difficulty of finding this combination in Scotland, it becomes apparent that today’s vegetable-producing regions have had strategic importance for hundreds and even thousands of years.
Strathmore and Angus
The main area for production of vegetables lies in Strathmore (map below), which stretches over a generally lowland region, from east of Perth and then in a north-east direction to the coast north of Angus. Angus itself is a major source of fruit and many types of vegetable. Across the Tay, parts of Fife are similarly productive.
The crops occupying the greatest surface area are still the cereals – barley and wheat – but they are not shown on the map. In addition to potato and a wide range of vegetables, this area is the centre of fruit growing in Scotland – strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.
Increasingly in recent decades many vegetables are sown in the field then covered with a protective fleece to encourage early growth and to distance them from pests. Similarly, most soft fruit growing today is under the protection of polytunnels, where again the environment is less severe in winter and pests can be regulated.
The fertile soils and maritime climate here were of strategic importance to the iron age communities who built their many hill forts along the Sidlaw Hills that form a barrier between Strathmore and the estuary and coast to the south. The famous Dunsinane, or Dunsinnan as it is referred to on old local maps, is one of them . One of the photographs shown below was taken from Dunsinnan, north across Strathmore.
Later the Romans invaded, moving north from the region of Hadrian’s Wall, not finding much of a welcome it seems, and erecting forts and watchtowers along the Gask Ridge and in a line just within but near the northern extremity of the cloud of coloured dots in the image above .
The Romans’ massive Legionary Fortress at Inchtuthil, within the northern boundary of the strath (see map above), was built and deserted in the 1st Century AD, and was probably sited to guard the passes north along what is today’s A9. The fortress and marching soldiers would have needed constant supplies of food, and probably achieved this by access to the rich land of Strathmore.
The image at the top of the three above was taken from Dunsinnan early in year, looking across Strathmore. The nearest fields are still in stubble after last year’s harvest; the intermediate ones, showing rich brown soil, have been ploughed; and the green ones just beneath the low cloud were sown the previous autumn with winter cereals or oilseeds. The Roman line stretched this side of the hills.
Centuries later, the Picts made this productive region integral to their southern kingdom in the 7th and 8th centuries. Many symbol stones and ‘pit- ‘ place names survive here from that time . Some of the crops grown here today would not be known then – potato, for example, was yet to cross the Atlantic, and the other ‘root’ crops – turnip and swede – were probably unknown.
Yet Strathmore, Angus and Fife would have offered enough agricultural land to feed this civilisation with its basic grain and protein. You can see it was a prize that other peoples would want to take for their own – the Scots moving across from Ireland would have found little land of comparable quality on the west coast.
The Black Isle, Moray, Tarbat, Cromarty
A hundred miles directly north of Inchtuthil Fortress, across today’s passes of Drumochter and Slochd, the land falls to the coast and becomes productive again. The area (map below) grows fewer types of vegetable today than Strathmore, but grain and tuber yields remain high.
The coloured dots show that seed and ware potato were the commonest vegetables in this region, but interestingly carrot is also prevalent. Go back to the 1780s and the farmer/traveller Andrew Wight had this to relate when riding along the northern side of the Cromarty Firth :
“….. that Robert Hall, the farm manager of Fowlis ‘introduced a crop, rare in Scotland and an absolute novelty in the north, which is carrot. ….. The farm-horses are fed on carrots instead of corn; and they are always in good condition.”
Andrew Wight visited the area as part of his survey of the Improvements in the late 1700s, but the rich coastal land here has a historical legacy stretching back centuries.
The map above shows the area around the Cromarty and Moray Firths, the Moray coast stretching to the right and the Black Isle left of centre.
The northern Picts established their ‘elite’ farm and monastery at Portmahomack on the northern tip of the Tarbat peninsula. Their massive carved stones, at Nigg, Cadboll and Shandwick, were major contributions to European art. They arose within a civilisation based on the stability afforded by this good agricultural land .
As for Strathmore, the rich soil around the Dornoch and Cromarty Firths must have been eyed by the Scots from the west and the Norse from the east. Pictish civilisation, with its distinctive art and craft, did not survive.
The maps derived from IACS data show the extent of vegetable growing today. Vegetables and fruit could be grown over a much wider area and a much higher density if the demand was there.
For example, the pulses – beans and peas – plants that fix their own nitrogen and so save on mineral fertiliser, have been reduced to a minor crop. The IACS map shows concentrations of peas and beans in the Borders, but overall the pulses cover less than 5% of the arable land. This is low by global standards. Countries that have transformed their agriculture in recent years now assign a quarter of their land to nitrogen-fixing crops.
Developments towards greater veg and fruit production and nitrogen fixing pulses will not be just though existing growers expanding their production. There are many local initiatives, some in areas considered inhospitable for vegetables. There is great scope therefore for increasing production but the demand for quality local produce has to be there from consumers.
Future posts on this web site will look at the value of fruit and veg to health, the degree to which Scotland depends (and it depends a lot) on imports for its fruit and veg, the new vegetable products that are appearing on the market (including beer and bread from beans), the increasing local initiatives in veg production and the possibilities for growing much more fruit and veg and making it available to those who need it.
For more on vegetables on the Living Field web site…
Next up –Veg at Bangkok markets, Thailand and Minerals and vitamins from vegetables and fruit.
 What would Boyd Orr do? Nourish Scotland Magazine, Issue 6, January 2017. The link is to a pdf file. The article by Pete Ritchie explains John Boyd Orr’s contribution and his continuing relevance today. Other articles cover diet, food poverty, vegetables and right to food.
 IACS and map construction. Information of the Integrated Administration and Control System IACS scheme can be found at the web pages of the European Commission and the Scottish Government. Examples of a major exercise in mapping based on IACS data are given in a CAP Greening Review carried out by the James Hutton Institute for Scottish Government, published 2017: for links to the multi-part documentation, see CAP Greening Review on the SG web site; the section on mapping is Part 3 – Maps by David Miller, Doug Wardell-Johnson and Keith Matthews. Maps of vegetable growing produced in the present article were prepared by Nora Quesada.
 Dunsinnan hill fort. The Canmore site gives a detailed description. A string of Iron Age ‘forts’ along the Sidlaw Hills south of Strathmore and just north of the flat, reclaimed coastal plain of the Carse of Gowrie, can be seen on the OS map of the area. Search for hill ‘forts’ by name. (Ps. Shakespeare promoted a different pronunciation – Dunsinane.)
 The exhibition Roman Empire – Power and People in 2015 at the McManus in Dundee was an invaluable introduction to life at the northern limits of the Roman Empire. The LF article Feeding the Romansgives some background on the land use around the line of fortifications along Strathmore. For comprehensive coverage of this northern Roman frontier: Woolliscroft, DJ, Hoffmann, B 2006. Rome’s first frontier – the Flavian occupation of Northern Scotland. The History Press (reprinted 2011).
 Carver, Martin (2016) Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts. Edinburgh University Press. (2nd edition). Excavations of the farm and monastery are described. The Picts, flourishing between the 600s and 900s were part of a wider European culture . In their travels, they most likely imported various plants for use as food and medicinals, yet very little other than remnants of grain have survived. Maps in the book show the location of pit- place names.
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 .
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.
The 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 , 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.
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.
 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.
 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: