My life really wouldn’t be the same without a polytunnel. As sad as it my sound it really has become an essential part of our new lifestyle.
We bought it when we first moved in, in fact we couldn’t wait so the poly was built before the house. 🙂
It’s just so versatile and if you want to be eating French beans well into October now is the time to be sowing. I sowed mine about 4 weeks ago and planted out into the beds at the beginning of September. They’re just completing flowering after which we can look forward too a few tasty beans with Sunday lunch.
No prep required really, just bung em in the ground and wait for them to grow, but remember at this time of the year you’ll need select from the faster growing varieties. I’m growing Sonesta which i’ve grown before and providing you pick them small are beautifully tender. Just make sure you keep them well watered as all the bean family like to grow in damp ground.
If you’ve bought, or are thinking of buying a polytunnel here are a few pointers that may help you along the way.
Keep the borders in top condition.
One of the most important things to remember with a polytunnel is to look after the soil.
The soil in a polytunnel can become very dry and rapidly looses nutrients, especially with lots of watering on hot days, so make sure you add plenty of compost.
When you first plant anything in the poly, or in the garden for that matter, the roots are close to the surface, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the watering, at least until the plants are established, which is usually 3-4 weeks after they have been planted.
The goodness (a term my father used a lot) is washed away over time so I always add plenty of soil conditioner, usually in January or February, along with a sprinkling of a slow release organic fertiliser like fish blood and bone. The surface of the soil will still dry out but underneath there will be moisture. In addition to preparing the ground I add a mulch in the middle of the growing season.
Don’t forget to use your tunnel
Sounds a bit of an odd thing to say, but what I mean is make use of a polytunnel all year round. It’s there and you’ve paid good money for it so you might as well keep it stocked and benefit from all that lovely fresh produce.
It’s a challenge to grow anything in the winter months, but if you think about it, anything that you grow outside in the winter will grow just as well inside the poly like winter greens and even winter salads. Just provide a little extra protection at the first sign of frost and try and generate a little heat if you can. One idea that I find works quite well is to fill a few buckets with water. The heat of the day will warm the water just enough to protect against a one or two degrees of frost.
Is it hard work maintaining a polytunnel ?
Well, I spend a fair amount of time in mine but I really wouldn’t be able to garden to the extent I do without it. Its great for shutting out the bad weather and it really feels like I’m achieving something when I relocate to the tunnel with the wind and rain doing its worst outside. I turn on the old wind up radio and tune into Radio 5 live and I’m away.
Other than the odd repair to the plastic and occasionally washing off the build up of algae on the surface of the plastic, there isn’t a whole lot of maintenance to do.
My list of must-haves for any polytunnel
A Sturdy Potting Bench
Can’t underestimate a good potting bench. I use mine all the time for pricking out seedlings, preparing cuttings, potting up plants and for use as a general working surface. It comes out in the summer and lives next to the compost. No reason their than it makes it easier when I need a bucket full of compost, I simply lean over and grab some!
My cutting bench is basically a wooden box approximately 4 feet by 3 feet with a few drainage holes drilled through the bottom to ensure any excess water can drain away. It’s filled with sharp and great for raising softwood and hardwood cuttings. It’s really cheap to make and enables me to grow literally hundreds of cuttings at any one time.
Without some sort of sprinkler system watering would be right chore. I bought a timer with my tunnel which has been a godsend, and means I can pretty much forget about watering, other than to check the batteries on the timer now and then. This year I also installed a cheap misting system that takes care of the cuttings.
The aroma of gently ripening tomatoes
Just the taste of warm ripe cherry tomatoes after the sun has beaten down on the tunnel, and the aromatic leaves as I brush past is a wonderful tonic, just the perfect end to the day. Definitely a must have in any polytunnel.
A few Basil plants
Just the best smell in the world and so reminds of holidays on a shoestring in France with the children when they were small. I do raise a few from seed but they just don’t seem to last long. Instead I buy a decent size plant from the herb shelf at the supermarket in early summer, then I divide into 3 or 4 plants and plant them into the borders.
A path wide enough for a decent sized wheel barrow
One of the best pieces of advice I had when we built the tunnel was to make sure any paths your planning are at least wide enough for a wheelbarrow. How right they were to! Shifting compost, plants and just about anything in and out of the tunnel is absolute breeze.
Yep, sounds a but strange but a compost pile in one corner, especially in the winter helps to keep the temperature up a few degrees. Those few extra degrees will keep the worst of the frost off your plants. Just make sure you use plenty of straw in the heap as it holds the heat really well. One other thing you can do us surround the heap with a few old bricks as they hold the heat in the same way as a traditional storage heater, but this only works of the day time temperature is sufficiently high enough to heat the bricks.
If your thinking about investing in a tunnel then I’d urge you to go ahead, it really has, and continues to make a huge contribution to our lifestyle.