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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.
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.
Maintaining your polytunnel
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.
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!