Posts Tagged ‘Polytunnel Gardening’


How to support tomato plants using string

This year we’ve decided on an alternative method for providing support for our tomato plants. In the past we’ve used bamboo canes … but this week I’ve been looking at using string for the tomatoes in the polytunnel.

I’ve had problems with canes in the past pulling the plants over with the weight of the tomatoes but I’ve seen other gardeners wind their tomato plants around a string line and it seems to work really well.

Not sure if this is the standard way but this is the method I used earlier this week.

1. Dib a 12” deep hole next to the plant. The depth is important to ensure the string isn’t pulled out when the plant is laden with tomatoes.

2. Take a ball of nylon string and dropped one end into the bottom of the hole. You could always use natural string but make sure it’s nice and strong or it may perish before the end of the season.

3. Back fill the hole with a few small stones and soil and use the dibber to ram the string in nice and tight. Keep ramming the string in until the hole is full to the top and level with the soil.

how-to-support-tomatoes-4

4. Tie the other end of the string to the ridgepole making sure it’s nice and tight.

5. Finally … wrap the tomato plant as it grows around the string until it reaches the ridge.

tomatoe-string

Using this method also increases the harvest as when the plant reaches the ridge you can lay it down and send it up another string where it will produce even more juicy tomatoes!

Wow … what a couple of weeks it’s been!

Firstly we decided to move the polytunnel … and if that wasn’t enough we also decided to move the potting shed … and in between that we managed to squeeze in a few days in Cornwall.

Reason for moving the poly and the potting shed is we needed to free up more space at the bottom of the plot to provide better access to the plant nursery.

It was backbreaking work … especially digging the trench for the polytunnel skin. Piece of advice if I may … if you ever find yourself installing or moving your own polytunnel invest in a ground fixing kit. It takes all the hard work out of it and you’ll get the job done a lot quicker.  Look up First Tunnels for details of the ground fixing kits.

The upside of moving the tunnel is we could rearrange the inside to work better for us. Instead of one path down the centre we now have two smaller paths down either side of a central planting bed into which we planted this years tomatoes. This still leaves plenty of space around the outside for the melons, peppers and cucumbers.

At the end of the summer the tomatoes will be removed and replaced with a manure bed to provide stored heat in the winter.

We’ll keep you posted on how the tomatoes are ‘holding up’ as we progress through the season.

Best wishes,

rural-gardeners

AUGUST UPDATE!

Tomato strings

The plants are doing just great with the string supports. I took this pic earlier today (11th August) and the tomatoes are holding up really well.

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My first attempt at a Willow Arbour

Click for LARGE image

The lovely weather at the weekend meant I managed to get loads done in the garden which always leaves me with a great sense of achievement. I even managed to kick start my Willow Arbour project.

I was lucky to be given 20 willow cuttings at Christmas which have been sitting in a temporary holding bed until I could decide what to do with them. I had thought about creating a willow arch at the entrance to the Kitchen Garden, but then I had an even better idea.

Why not create a secret hideaway in one corner of the orchard. The corner I’m thinking of has the most fantastic view across open countryside and has an old a garden bench where I perch myself when I need time to reflect. Not sure if there are stranger things at play, but I always seem to get a better sense of perspective when I’m sitting in that corner of the garden. Probably something to do with magnets! :)

As its my first attempt at Willow I had to swot up on what makes the ideal growing conditions. Appears willow likes damp conditions in plenty of sun, which probably explains why you often see it growing alongside a pond or river. This makes sense as I remember once planting a willow tunnel for the children in my class when I was a classroom assistant. Although it did grow it wasn’t very vigorous, which was likely down to the fact they were planted in the shade of a tree and the tree likely sucked all the moisture out of the ground.

This time round the spot I’ve chosen is in full sun and is a good distance from any trees, apart from the fruit trees and they are far enough away not to affect anything.

If you’d like to grow your own willow feature there’s plenty of information on the web to help you get started and not forgetting the trusty book shop if, like me, you prefer the printed word. Along with the cuttings I was also given a book by Jon Warnes called ‘Living Willow Scuplture. It’s published by Search Press and has all the information you need to get started and at £7.95 excellent value for money.  I haven’t followed the book to the letter but it certainly gave me the inspiration to have a go myself.

Preparing the ground for planting

I going to create  a small arc of growth to surround my garden seat, which ideally will grow to look fairly symmetrical. When I need to create an arc in the garden I use the old string line method. Simply hammer one end of the line in the ground, then take the other end and keeping the string taught, scrape an arc out of the ground. If like me you’re planting on grass it can take a few attempts, and keep the line nice and taught and it should work just fine.

How to plant a willow arbour

Click for LARGE image

It’s worth taking your time over the marking out as when the willow eventually grows it will look all over the place.

When I was happy with the basic shape I dug the top 6 inches of soil out into my wheelbarrow. Like most plants Willow will benefit from a little helping hand, so I added some compost to the top soil and a sprinkling of Fish Blood and Bone.

Then before putting the new mixture back I first loosened the next 8 inches of soil so the cuttings would have the best chance to grow away. Into this I worked some of the mixture and gave it a good watering.

As willow likes water I thought I would add some into the bottom of the planting hole before planting the cuttings. I then put the new enriched top soil back into what was a small semi circular trench, and gave them another good watering.

I’m not sure if they will root but they have a fighting chance, so fingers crossed in a few months we should have our very own secret living willow Arbour!

Back soon &

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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Well it’s that time of year when it’s all change in the polytunnel.

As you may know I’m a great advocate of growing in the polytunnel ever since we first installed ours 3 years ago. Since then it’s provided us with superb tomatoes, peppers, chilli’s, melons, and a whole host of other gorgeous fruit and veg.

This years Chilli's in the polytunnel of the Rural Gardener

Excellent crop of Chillies this year. They had a bi-weekly dose of tomato feed which has made quite a difference.

At this time of year the produce is at it’s most prolific as the tomatoes achieve the most amazing looking red colour, along with the red chillies and red peppers. But soon we will have picked and stored our surplus for Winter and be moving the staging back in and getting on with taking more cuttings and planting a few winter salads, and winter greens to keep us going.

Winter salads in the Polytunnel ready for planting out ... should be ready in another 3-4 weeks.

Maintaining your polytunnel

Nasty Green Algae on the polytunnel of the Rural Gardener

Looks nasty, but with a little Eco detergent and a soft brush it comes off in no time.

Before then there a few jobs that need to be done. Firstly the plastic needs a good wash to remove the green algae that builds up on the surface. It’s amazing how much more light is let in if you keep the plastic clean. Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get so engrossed in growing all the lovely plants and forget they need as much light as possible.

The secret is to use a soft brush, or you stand a good chance of piercing the plastic. All I do is add a little Eco friendly detergent to the water, and using a soft brush, rub as much algae off as possible.  I try to clean mine on a sunny day, so it has a chance to dry out in time for me to tidy up the inside.

Slight Design change next year

When we first put up the polytunnel we went for a single path down the centre, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’ve come to the conclusion this isn’t the most efficient method, especially if you have a watering system, that delivers the water from sprinklers on the ridge pole, as we have.

Although it works, lots of water is dumped on the path, which is a waste and provides no benefit to the plants. So next season I’m planning on having a single bed down the middle, with 2 narrow paths either side, with a small bed running along the outer most sides.

I’ll grow my tomatoes in the centre bed so I can run up a line of wires and train the plants straight up to the ridge bar. This way I’ll have no problem with tomato plants hanging over the edge of the path as I’m walking, which was a complete pain this year. Also the sprinklers will be directly above the tomato plants, which should mean using less waste.

I’m also going to have a try at making a raised planting box on one side for my strawberries that will run the entire length of the polytunnel. I’ve been growing strawberries in the fruit beds outside for the last 3 years, but this year the birds had a field day and pretty much ate the lot.

What I’m hoping is as the strawberries grow over the sides of the raised planting box they straddle the sides which should keep them dry  and away from any pesky predators.  (I’m thinking stray chickens) Also they should be much easier to manage if they are at waist height, not so much kneeling down. Although I love rooting around in the soil, I’m always on the look out for easier ways to garden if I can.

The cover of my polytunnel is looking a bit tired, and has started to crack, so I may need to invest in a new one next year. They say they need replacing after 4 years, so it’s about time really, and given the amount of fruit and veg we’ve had out of it, it doesn’t me owe us any favours.

Next year will be the fourth year we’ve grown in the same soil in the poly, so I think it’s time to think about changing it.  Although the soil has been replenished with compost every Spring, it is looking very thin, and I don’t want to encourage disease.  So I’ll be removing the top 4 “ and replacing with imported top soil from a local supplier. Hard work I know, but will be well worth it in the end.

Heating a polytunnel

As you may know we are very enthusiastic about using as much free energy as we can, so I have a new plan for keeping the frost out of the poly this winter. We’re going to install a small solar powered light.

During the day it will store up the daylight in a small battery, ready to release as power to a couple of DC night lights. I’m told this should produce enough heat to keep the temperature above freezing, which is all you need to keep the plants alive.

Rooted Cuttings Waiting to Go Into The Polytunnel For The Winter

Rooted Cuttings - Soon be time to put them in the polytunnel for Winter

Also a gardening friend of mine suggested building an inner section inside the polytunnel for a little extra protection for cuttings and tender plants,  so I’m going to give that a go this winter. And just to be on the safe side I’m going to add a small solar powered light inside for extra protection.  Solar garden lights have improved considerably in recent years and providing you position the solar panel in direct light, it will produce enough power during the day to keep a small halogen going all night.

I’ll let you know if its a success, or not in a future post.

Now I’m off to get started as it’s a glorious day outside, and they say it’s going to reach 26 degrees later.  Wahoo!

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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First of this years Kohl Rabi in the Poly Tunnel

It’s at this time of the growing season that one of my most favourite vegetables, Kohl Rabi are starting to mature in the Polytunnel. Kohl Rabi are so easy to grow, and are usually ready to harvest just 6 weeks from first planting the seeds, so if you haven’t grown them before I’d urge you to have a go.

We grow our Kohl Rabi both inside the poly and in open ground, usually in rows about a foot (30cm) apart.  The preparation is the same for both, but we do have to protect the young plants outside from the chickens, and the pigeons who are very partial to fresh Kohl Rabi leaves!

Growing Kohl Rabi

I start the seeds off in a 3inch pot, and then when they’re large enough to handle I plant them on into seed trays. When the plants are about 4 inches,I plant them out into a well prepared bed.

I find the secret to good Kohl Rabi is regular watering, and just as the bulbs are starting to swell  add layer of compost mulch, which will help reduce the amount of watering in the height of summer.

Pick your Kohl Rabi when they are about the size of the palm of your hand, when they are at their most tastiest.

When it comes to cooking Kohl Rabi I remove the root, the leaves, peal them and cutting them into bite size pieces, before adding them into Stews and Mince. One tasty alternative is to cook them off and mash them in with a few fresh cooked carrots, a knob of butter and a little grated nutmeg. It makes a wonderful sweet mash, that goes with pretty much anything.

General update from Blackbirds

We’re almost at the end of July and so much has happened in the garden this year. The wildlife pond and stream are looking good and we’re attracting all manner of birds to drink and bathe in the stream.  So far we’ve seen Blackbirds, Robins, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Woodpeckers, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows, Pigeons, a male Pheasant, Wrens, and not forgetting the Bats, which have returned, I’m pleased to say, since we put up a bat box in the Walnut tree back in the Spring.

I’m so pleased we decided to have a  wildlife pond, as it’s a constant source of fascination for all the family.

Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you like what you read.

Best wishes,

Tania.

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Tomatoes growing away in the Polytunnel
This weekend I’ve been planting out my tomato plants in the Polytunnel.  I’m a bit behind this year I’m afraid as I usually try to get them in the ground by the last weekend in April.

Varieties

This year I’m going for a few different varieties. Cherolla which is an F1 Hybrid and my choice for cherry tomatoes this year. Roma for plum tomatoes and Tigerella for something a little unusual, with its yellow striped fruits, hence the name.

Although I grow a few plants outside I tend to grow most of our crop in the Polytunnel.

Cherrola Tomatoes

Cherrola Tomatoes on the vine

Soil Preparation

First job is to prepare the soil as it really suffers through the winter. It always amazes me just how dry the soil becomes in the Polytunnel, and we’re not talking a few inches of topsoil. As I plunge the spade into the soil I find at least 12 inches deep from the surface the soil is still bone dry. The only answer is to deal with it before you plant anything or you’ll struggle to get a really good crop.

The secret to a good crop is good preparation of the borders before you start planting. I’ve used various methods but I’ve found the best method in an excellent book I recently read called The Polytunnel Book written by Joyce Russel .  It’s a great read that takes you  through a year of growing in the Polytunnel. (isbn 978-0-7112-3170-2)

Basically I dig out a hole for each plant approximately a spades depth wide and the same deep making sure each hole is a minimum 2-3 feet apart to maintain good airflow around the plants.

The borders are so dry after months of inactivity

Then I fill the hole up with water and leave it to drain away. This ensures the border is damp when the roots eventually make down to the subsoil.

Prepare your planting hole with well rotted compost

Then I make up a mix of compost, some decent top soil and well rotted cow manure, mixed with a handful of fish blood and bone. Then I backfill the holes and the surrounding area with the mix. Finally I water the entire area again to give the plants a good start. At the end of the day these little plants are going to be providing us with lovely fresh tomatoes,  so we owe to them to give them the best possible chance of success.

I always remove the lowest couple of leaves on my plants to prevent the side shoots from growing at the base. You can remove them later but I prefer the plants to concentrate on growing upwards, rather than outwards.  I always water the plants well in their pots before knocking them out, and planting them level with the top of the soil.

Whitefly can be a problem in the Polytunnel, so to keep them at bay I plant a few marigolds in between the tomato plants.  Must work as I rarely have whitefly problems.

Grow my little darlings!

In approximately 2 – 3 months time I hope to picking lovely fresh tomatoes!

I have used Grow Bags in the Polytunnel in the past, but I find they’re difficult to maintain without endless watering, which is not ideal as we’re on a water meter at Blackbirds now.

Next week I’ll head out to the local woods and collect a few hazel poles to support the plants, and plant up the rest of this years tender plants i.e. the Cucumbers, Melons, and Aubergines.

Best wishes,

Tania

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