Adding Some Structure

Structure is necessary when it comes to planting – for support, shelter, and design.  Across the student plots a variety of structures have been popping up which fulfil at least one of the above.  It’s been interesting to see how varied these have been – from very natural structures made from branches or weaving, straight canes and twine and large pieces of 2×4 or tree trunks nailed together.  Everyone has their own vision and way of doing things and one of the great benefits from doing this as a group is seeing how someone else handles the same challenges.  You learn a lot from your fellow students!

Insect home Broad bean supports Raised bed sections Broad bean supports 2

The main supports at the moment are broad bean supports, but there are also insect houses, cloches and raised beds on the rise.  On my own plot it was finally time for the supports for my canes to go in for the sweet pea cordons.

Cordons base Cordons finished

I measured out my area, cut the black plastic out, laid down the stones and then used measuring tape and a line to figure out where the canes should go.  Whilst I would love to say they were all completely even there ended up being some which don’t look quite perfect due to the simple fact that bamboo canes aren’t all perfectly straight!  However, I was glad to get this ready as my sweet peas (Lathyrus odorata ‘Midnight’ & ‘White Supreme’) are well on their way and I wanted to make sure they’d stand up to our variable weather before tethering plants to them.

Coldframe Broadbeans

Talking of which… as my sweet peas are starting to get going I’ve put them outside in the cold frame – we’re a bit pushed for space inside the tunnels so the sooner they can be out of the way the better.  The broad beans (Vicia faba ‘Aquadulce’) have also taken the good weather we’ve been having as a sign that it’s time to get going – finally some green has burst out into the sunlight.  They’ve joined the sweet peas outdoors as they’re tough things and don’t need much coddling.

Not Quite Spring Yet

Bean Supports

This past few weeks has been a tutorial on the fact that the weather has such a big factor on planting and planning – I had hoped to get a few more things done for the plot but the beautiful sun we had at the beginning of the month has segued into rain and snow and (so the met office tells me) we’ve gale force winds to look forward to in the next week or so.  Definitely not the time to be putting up tall supports!

However, it really is time to get those direct planted broad beans (Vicia fabia ‘Aquadulce’) in the ground and, given their success in the poly-tunnel, I have decided that it’s also probably safe to put some mangetout (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’) outside.  This is the first actual planting which has gone into the ground so it’s an exciting milestone, if the start of the real and proper ‘worrying’ which will likely grow from now until our plot vivas.

The beans have bottle cloches over them – with small windows cut in them to prevent overheating and to allow air flow, something which is beneficial for disease prevention in broad beans as chocolate spot has been a problem in the past.  It was Jono’s idea to do the slots – something I’ve never done before as I usually sow my broad beans in pots then plant out when its warmer or sow before the winter so the seedlings are tough enough not to need the protection.

The shape of the ‘triangle’ canes on the supports is mainly because it looked nice, but it turns out that they really help support the structure and I have a feeling, with the forecast high winds, that I’m going to need as much extra support as possible.  The string, as it’s done here, is for support – the beans will grow up and through it but it’ll allow plenty of airflow through them to prevent fungal disease.

This Friday we had our plot tutorials – a chat with the course supervisors, as well as advice and comments about how things are going so far.  My main worry is my sweetpeas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight’ & ‘White Supreme’) – they’re a large part of my design and if they don’t come up it’s going to be… problematic.  However, some of the ones which I’d thought had rotted have actually come through so I may now have almost double the number that I need.

If we get a clear day next week I’d like to sow some beetroot (Beta vulgaris ‘Albino’) – a white cultivar (no stains!) which is good for both the root and leaf.  I like to use dual purpose plants in my own garden – whether it be that you can eat multiple parts or if they just look pretty as well as having edible parts – or better all three (e.g. nasturtiums!).

Also this week: my Dianthus chinensis heddewigii ’Black and White Minstrels’ have germinated.  They’re something I’ve never tried growing before – it won’t be long until they have to be pricked out and moved into colder environs due to a lack of heated bench space, though, so I hope they are tough wee things!

Some Green Enters the Scene

After several weeks of looking at little trays of compost there’s now some tiny bits of green making their way into the sunlight.

Pisum sativum 'Bijou'

The Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’ were actually the ones I was least expecting to survive the early planting – I had thought mangetout might struggle a little in the cold but I’ve been proven wrong.  This isn’t a particularly early variety but, if I can keep them from getting too much frost, should mean that they have time to produce their spectacularly large pods before viva day.  ‘Bijou’ is a lovely sweet variety – despite the pods being a good 18cm long, this monster mangetout can be eaten straight from the plant.

The next round of seeds also went in on Monday:

Mixed seeds

Some of them are resown seeds – Lathyrus odorata ‘Midnight’ and ‘White Supreme’ have gone in, this time to root trainers, as I have a sneaky suspicion the ones in pots have rotted – unfortunately but not entirely unexpected with the cold, damp weather. I also am trying Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’ (purple millet) surface sown in root trainers as it doesn’t like root disturbance too much.  The last tray is of Tropaeolum majus ‘Princess of India’ – the deep orange and dark leaved nasturtium.

The Pennisetum is currently nestled into a warm spot in one of the glasshouses, and both the Tropaeolum and Lathyrus have gone into the cooler environs of the polytunnel at the Edible Garden Project as neither needs heat to germinate.

The Plantsmanship student tables are starting to fill up:


If the weather stays a little warmer, as it has been this week, I may even start planting outside relatively soon – I have another row of broad beans (Vicia faba ‘Aquadulce’), and peas (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’) to plant and I’d like to sow them directly outdoors to compare with the pot grown indoors plants.

Storm A-brewing

Not much to report this week in the face of the ferociously unpredictable weather – it’s nice then not, windy then snowy.  Typical Scottish weather, really.  However, I have one more addition to the polytunnel seed crew – some pansies! Viola x wittrockiana ‘Padparadja’ and ‘Black Moon’.  ‘Padparadja’ is a deep, bright fully orange-faced pansy and ‘Black Moon’ a similarly single-toned black, picked to represent the black, and orange-red of the theme in the small edging-plant arena.

Viola xwittrockiana seeds planted

Viola xwittrockiana

I wasn’t alone in the potting shed this time, however – it was a really nice day last Friday and there was a really nice busy atmosphere of sowing, planting and general horticulturalness, followed by the busy rustling of plenty of warm fleece coverings for the newly planted seeds due to the weekend’s bad weather reports – very glad we did, now!

Another small change I made to my plot was to exchange my old bits-and-pieces of plastic for a single sheet.  Whilst they had done a decent job of weed suppression  the fortnightly dash to capture and tie them all down again was getting a bit tedious.  It’s also rather more aesthetically pleasing (as much as black plastic can be…) to have one large sheet rather than a mosaic.

A visit to the polytunnel mid-week confirms the non-existence of anything sprouting just yet but it’s still early days for most of the seed.


And They’re Off!

Pots with labels in.

This year did not have the most promising start in terms of weather – just as I was about to go and sow my first few batches of seed and down came the snow.  I hemmed and hawed, put things back a week but finally decided after a few days of  ominous grey, but unproductive, skies to get the show on the road.

So the first seeds I’ve sown for my plot* were broad beans (Vicia faba ‘Aquadulce’), peas (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’) and sweet peas (Lathyrus odorata ‘Midnight’ & ‘White Supreme’).  I tucked them in with some recycled bubble wrap with the aim of hopefully giving them a bit more protection versus wind chill and a wee bit more night time insulation.

Pots wrapped in bubble wrap.

A check of my plot found the plastic intact – over the holidays it had blown off and I’d had to fix it.  Thankfully, some kind soul from the Edible Garden Project had bundled up the plastic and weighed it down with rocks – which I then used to secure the plastic.  A little grass clipping and pulling the plastic over gaps and it will be good for another while.  I had intended, originally, to put my sweet pea canes up by now but decided against it as I’d like to keep the soil warm until it’s time for the sweet peas to go into the ground.

Stones holding down plastic.

*Not the first seeds I’ve sown this year, however!  That honour goes to some Petrocosmea seeds  (P. cryptica x P. ‘Fluffernutter’) which were sown a few days before.

The story so far…

We were assigned our plots, an area of approximately 2 by 6.5m by lots drawn from a bucket.  Mine is  Plot 19.  On a sunny afternoon in early October I claimed it, grabbing a few photos for posterity:

P1090949 Plot 2 Plot 3

Overflowing with Lathyrus, Cosmos, Alyssum and the flowering heads of some cauliflowers, it didn’t take too long to clear and was an enjoyable task in the late summer sun – especially after having mostly been trapped in classrooms up until that point.  Unfortunately, though, some critters had to be evicted to the nearby hedge:


The next task was double digging – the first metre of the bed only so as not to ruin the delicate soil, but enough to get the technique.  The soil at the plots is fairly sandy, making it quite easy to work with.  This area will be encompassed by the proscribed vegetable section of our plots which will include lettuce (Latuca sativa ‘Reine des Glaces’), broad beans (Vicia fabia ‘Aquadulce’), mangetout peas (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’), beetroot (Beta vulgaris ‘Albino’) and onions (Allium cepa ‘Sturon’).  The type of plants were proscribed but the varieties were not – all of them are ones which I’ve grown previously and have performed well in the changeable Scottish weather.


Weeding and edge maintenance were the main concerns until late in the season, when frost finally tipped us from dreary autumn to properly frosty winter.  During the holidays, I paid a little visit to Plot 19 to tuck it in for the winter.  It’s my hope that the layers of plastic will insulate it a little and warm the soil up sufficiently to plant a little earlier than might be usual in Scotland.  It was a toss-up between black plastic, which warms and suppresses weeds, and clear which warms a little better but does not suppress weeds.  In the end I opted for black to combat weed problems – last year was a very mild winter and if we have another like it, then weeds would be up in force quite quickly.  The black fabric should cause them to waste their energy trying to grow up to the sun.

Normally I might have waited until later in the season to cover it up, especially if I wanted to let frosts break up the soil, but my soil is already at a fairly fine tilth due to trying to level it out.