Archive for the ‘Polytunnel’ Category


Here’s another one of those must do jobs in March!

polytunnel
Have to say they may not look that attractive but I wouldn’t be without my polytunnel. I bought it in 2007 and its done us proud over the last few years. It does get very hot in the summer which can be a challenge but at the same time is perfect for melons and tomatoes.

Last year we had to replace the plastic sheeting as it was just starting to look tired but apart from that it pretty much looks after itself. However there are a few maintenance jobs that need some attention and I find March is the best time to get them done before the growing season gets well and truly underway .
A polytunnel is its so versatile … You can use it for all sorts of things.

In the winter I use it to over winter my small collection of acers and as a store for my dahlia tubers as well as as odd bits of garden furniture, and the mower. While in spring and summer it’s home to my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and summer salads.

polytunnel3
First job is to remove all the general gardening stuff that I’ve stored over the winter (except for the plants that is). I’m always amazed how much space there is when everything’s been shifted.

polytunnel1
Then I inspect the cover for any holes which might have appeared from the odd stray bamboo. You can buy repair tape from any of the online stores specialising in Polytunnel. If you cant find any you can always use gaffa tape but it doesn’t look too brilliant.

Next I give the plastic a good wash inside and out to remove any green algae which if left will obscure the light.

polytunnel2

Its dead easy to remove and takes me about an hour to clean inside and out. Nothing fancy in the way of tools needed.

 

polytunnel4

A soft haired sweeping brush and several buckets of soapy water does the job just fine. For the difficult to reach areas on the top of the tunnel I wrap a towel around the middle of a length of rope and soak it in soapy water. All you do is work it back and forth across the top of the tunnel. You need a friend or a member of the family to help.

The wood work around the doors seems fine although when we moved the tunnel last year the doors didn’t fit quite as well when I came to rebuild it. So I’m going to build a couple of replacement double doors later in the year.

The soil inside the polytunnel tends to deteriorate over the winter as it simply dries out and is generally poor quality stuff by the Spring. So to fix that I spray water onto the soil first to keep the dust down, then I give it a good rake to remove the stones and flints that plague my Hampshire soil.

raised-bed

For the raised beds I mix some fresh top soil, a few bags of compost and a handful of bonemeal in the wheelbarrow. The ratio isn’t that important … I simply mix half top soil and half compost. The top soil comes from a stack of turfs I piled up a couple of years ago. After two years of the worms munching on it you have great top soil. Finally I give the poly a really good water to settle everything down.

A lot of work and the results may not be that obvious now … But by the end of April it will be full of produce, cuttings and all manor of goodies!

This years Chilli's in the polytunnel of the Rural Gardener
Now I need to turn my attention to the nursery as we have our first plant sale in May … so need to crack on!

Will let you know how it goes.

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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March in the Garden

March is here … which means April is just around the corner!

March is just the best month in the garden. It really feels like the darkness of winter is finally behind us! The sun starts to feel warm although don’t be fooled, the weather can bite back when you least expect it in March!

Today was a fairly typical March day. We had couple of hours of warm sunshine this morning and by this afternoon we had torrential rain.  I did however manage to move a few forsythia lynwood gold plants this morning. I find early March the best time to move and/or divide plants as they are still dormant and won’t be shocked by a move. Also planted a few herbs I raised in the nursery last year to outside the new workshop. Idea is to soften the hard edges of the concrete foundations and have a few herbs on hand when we bbq in the summer.

That’s the great thing about March … it really does feel like it’s time to start some serious gardening again. I don’t know why but there is some significance to the first day of March. It  gives me a sense of real sense of hope. Just today I see the frogs returned to the pond and seem to be making loads of frog spawn. Naughty froggies! Also the birds have started to sing again which is another sure sign Spring is on it’s way.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a series of 5 short posts detailing some of the jobs that I get up to in my gardening in the month of March. Here’s what I’m planning.

  1. Preparing for what’s e for the year ahead.
  2. Getting ready for the Spring Plant Sale.
  3. Kick start the vegetable garden.
  4. Spring treatment for the lawn.
  5. General tidy up for the wildlife pond.

In this the first of my posts my gardening years starts in earnest with lots of prep!

Preparing for what’s ahead.

Of course we all want to get out there and start digging and planting but it’s pretty likely (in the UK at least) that the ground is still too wet and too cold to grow anything … at least not from seed anyway. But how can you tell if it’s warm enough or dry enough?

That’s and easy one… just pick up a handful of soil and feel it. Does it feel cold? Try scrunching it up tight in your hand and you’ll soon know because it will feel wet and compacted. Ideally it will feel like soil should feel, friable and warm to the touch. If it isn’t then leave it well alone or you’ll just get soil everywhere … and I do mean everywhere!

Certainly don’t think about sowing seeds or you’ll be wasting your time.  I’ve tried early sowing in the past and I found it doesn’t really get me ahead. I’d rather wait until early April when the conditions will be better.  A good barometer is to look out for the weeds. When they start growing it’s a sure sign the soil conditions are about right for sowing. I’m going to wait until April when the soil will be in much better condition to be worked.

I’m fortunate to have a polytunnel so can kick start a few of the more hardy veg but even then I’ll usually wait until the third week of March at least before starting. Onion sets are about the only thing and a few brassica that I have growing at the moment.

Apart from onion sets and a few brassica I tend to wait until at least the third week of March before I start sowing under plastic.

Apart from onion sets and a few brassica I tend to wait until at least the third week of March before I start sowing under plastic.

One job I always do this time of the year is to turn the compost heap. The good stuffs often at the bottom of the pile so I like to get it to the top ready to scatter onto the vegetable garden when the weather allows. You can of course go for all the double digging stuff but I rarely double dig. As we garden on chalky soil any double digging would simply turn the chalk to the top.

If you’ve never made your own garden compost then I urge you to have a try. It’s easier than you think.

fence

Treat the fences to a paint job.

Early March is the time of year I service the various fences around the garden. Most of the fencing around our plot is post and rail which need some form of preservative treatment if they are to last. All to often we spend money on expensive wooden fences or perhaps an art studio at the bottom of the garden, but we forget that wood will rot over time if it’s not treated. It’s not the most exciting job in the world but I get a great sense of satisfaction when the job is done.

You don’t have to stick to the usual green or black, there are loads of colours out there to choose from. Just make sure you use a bucket and a decent size brush to do the job or you’ll be there forever.

Time for a good tidy up.

I find early March is when I feel the need to have a general tidy up in the garden. The winter can take it’s toll and I usually end up retrieving plant pots and all sorts of stuff from my neighbours plot.  Time spent sorting through your pots and tidying up the canes and hazel sticks pays dividends later in the year when if you’re like me you’d rather be working with the plants.

So if you do nothing else in the garden this week try to have a general sort round and look forward to a few stress free months in the summer.

In my next post we’ll look at giving the polytunnel a service and set about the next phase of my plant nursery in readiness for my Spring plant sales.

As always any questions or comments please feel free to leave below.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

 

 

 

 

 PS: If you’re interested in running your own plant sale to make a little extra money perhaps for your family or a favourite charity then you might find this post helpful. Also if you’d like to join our mailing list then you’ll receive a copy of my guide to frugal gardening which has loads of tips on how to start your own plant nursery in your back garden.

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We have a new video for you!

How to start a back garden nursery

Just finished uploading the last in our current series of videos on how to start your own back garden nursery.
Find out how the softwood cuttings cuttings we planted back in July are doing in the sharp sand bed.

I can’t believe just how much growth they’ve grown in just 10 weeks!

If you’re wondering if you could do the same then you should watch this series of videos. We started started with a few softwood cuttings just over 2 years ago  … and now have an opportunity to develop this further into a fully fledged plant nursery, and all right in our back garden.
I still wonder how it came together, but like many things in life it’s about diving in and having a go!
You can watch the third video in the series by clicking on the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1luOZRHPQg

Please take a look and see just how simple it is to grow a few plants with very little investment other than a bag of compost and a box of sharp sand.

We do hope you find our videos useful.

Best wishes

signatures

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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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I Love My Polytunnel


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.

French beans sown 3 weeks ago in pots.

French beans are growing away nicely. I planted the seeds in the middle of August in the polytunnel and they’ve come on a treat. You can just start to see the beans forming if you look closely.

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.

Look after your borders and they will look after you. I took this pic this morning and as you can see we have a good supply of Spinach, Carrots and Lettuce.

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!

Cutting Bench

Looking a little empty at the moment, all the Spring cuttings are potted up and sitting behind the tunnel.

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.

Automatic watering

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.

Warm aroma of ripening tomatoes

I can smell the intoxicating aroma of ripening tomatoes from here.

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.

Starting to flower now but still providing lots of gorgeous leaves for the tomato salads.

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.

Compost heap
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.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

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If you’d like to keep this post for future reference I have created a PDF. It’s absolutely free, so please feel free to download as many times as you like, with my best wishes.

<FREE PDF DOWNLOAD>

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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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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