The first year of development of the Tropical Glasshouse project has been supported by a grant of £7000 from the University Annual Fund, a fund built from donor contributions. In May/June 2011 I submitted a proposal along with Liz Williamson from Pharmacy and Paul Luna from Typography to bring together students to redesign a glasshouse to give an experience of tropical biodiversity that could be used to teach biology, pharmacy and typography and design. That proposal was funded and has allowed us to purchase many of the materials needed for the basic infrastructure of the new teaching and research facility. The major expenses have been railway sleepers from RailwaySleepers.com to build the raised beds for planting and the expenses of good quality signage. Those two costs account for more than half the total grant. The third major cost was installation of the innovative wireless internet system which gives access to online teaching and learning resources and opens up the opportunity for remote monitoring of the glasshouse.
In addition to the Annual Fund resources we have benefitted from generous donations of growing materials from Seramis (Mars), Melcourt and Westland. Donations of plants have come from the Royal Horticultural Society (an associated institute of the University) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. These combined donations of growing media and plants have a market value of around £8000, effectively doubling the value of the grant.
Students from Biological Sciences, Typography and Pharmacy have all contributed both time and ideas to the project. On team days we have manged to fit six students working in the glasshouse together but much of the work has been done by students working in pairs or individually. Justin Groves has spent more time than any other student in helping to build the new structure including sawing railway sleepers, levelling the ground and lining and filling the raised beds.
For those who like numbers:
- The new watering system has over 200 separate components to be assembled,
- the raised beds contain around 20 tonnes of compost,
- the pond and rainwater tank together hold more than 10000 litres of rainwater,
- more than 100 different plant species are being cultivated.
What is the future for this project? Already a final year student has started his honours project investigating the spread and control of pests in the glasshouse with the aim of developing an integrated pest management programme. Next academic year our masters students will be researching and writing blog entries on some of the tropical plant families, the first years students will be able to see each sugar cane as an example of the products of photosynthesis, and students taking the tropical field course will be able to learn some of the common crops before they go on their fieldwork.
Please keep reading our blog to see how things develop and what new ideas are sparked by this exciting facility.