EACH year the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s first-year horticulture students take responsibility for a small plot within the demonstration garden.
At one end of their plot each student must grow five vegetables – broad beans, peas, beetroot, lettuce and onions. In the remaining area they can grow any fruit, flowers or vegetables they choose.
This layout is reversed each year in a mini crop rotation to help avoid soil-borne pests and diseases from building up.
The plots help students develop their skills, giving them a chance to practice planning, soil preparation, crop selection, sowing, on-going plant maintenance, watering, feeding, supporting and protecting crops. They also have to come up with creative designs and solutions to growing in a small space. A further challenge is the project assessment in June. This is very early in the year for growers and the students have a number of techniques for getting around this. They start their seeds off early under cloches and in the polytunnel and opt for early varieties where possible.
This year’s students are well under way with their plans and have started to prepare the soil. If you visit the garden you will see the plots are looking very tidy and weed-free. Some students are experimenting with mulching the soil to improve nutrient levels and suppress weeds.
Others have covered their plots with black plastic in an effort to warm up the soil and give their seedlings a head start when it comes to planting.
Each plot will be different and the students are often very creative. One plot already has an insect “hotel” in place, consisting of stacked bamboo and wood providing perfect hiding holes for bees, ladybirds and lacewings that are all beneficial to the garden.
n The Edible Gardening Project is funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It teaches people the skills and knowledge they need to grow their own food. For more details go to www.rbge.org.uk/ediblegardening.