Posts Tagged ‘The Polytunnel’


English Apples

I just checked my stats for the blog and realised its been over 2 months since I last posted … Lazy or what!  So I’ll put that right and I must apologise for such a large gap since my last post.

As I was sat in the garden thinking about what I might share I suddenly realised just how lucky we are. Our climate is almost perfect for growing our own food, our soil is capable of growing almost anthing we ask it providing we look after it and I constantly marvel at the range of wildlife we have living around us.

The butterfly walk

We like to attract as many insects to the garden as we can .. and no better way than with a butterfly bush walk.

insects

Last Sunday we had a peregrine falcon sitting on the front fence gazing longingly at the row of pigeons on my neighbours roof. Fantastic … Our own pigeons scarer. They still managed to pinch all my greens this year. I can’t be bothered to use nets … Far too fiddly, so next year I’m not going to bother. Not overly keen on greens anyway other than purple sprouting which happens to be the pidgeons absolute favourite. I suppose I could shoot the pigeons but then I think they haven’t done me any harm and forget the idea.

It’s the second time I’ve seen the Peregrine this year and what a fantastic site. Sleek and majestic looking. In fact it’s the fourth raptor we have seen in the garden this year. We occasionally have a Kestrel call by and the buzzards are always squeaking away high in the sky above the surrounding fields. I think they are eyeing up the chickens to be honest. The other hawk we see from time to time is a red kite. They seem to be everywhere since they were reintroduced to the UK in the 1980’s. Easy to spot as they have a forked tail and a distinctive flight as they dive bomb the local mouse population.

But my favourite visitor has to be the barn owl that gets into my neighbours corn barns. I usually see him skirting across the fields about 4 feet above the ground. Occasionally he comes to rest on a post and I simply stop and marvel at this most magnificent bird.

It’s been a good year for vegetables but I’m especially pleased with my celeriac. I can’t believe they start out as the tiniest of seeds. Only 3 months later and they are already starting to look like baby celeriac! They should be perfect by late November early December but they will need earthing up from time to time and an occasional general liquid feed. It’s the only way to get a decent sized crop.

The polytunnel continues to provide us with an endless supply of salads and tomatoes. I don’t worry about them running to seed as I simply repeat sow every 4 weeks up until the end of October. I find if I sow any later they tend not to germinate quite as well. Also I’ve just about had enough salad by November anyway.

This autumns major project is to move the polytunnel. Pain really as we moved it last year but its just in the wrong place.

My Polytunnel
Since we built the workshop last year we’ve reorganised the bottom of the plot to make space for a couple of parking spots so visitors can access our little plant nursery and the polytunnel needs to be closer for practical purposes.

Also it’s right in the eye line as you look from the house out to the garden. Don’t get me wrong I love my polytunnel but it’s not the most beautiful structure in the garden and it blocks the view down to the workshop which is an altogether better looking structure.

workshop

I have to say I think there is a great business opportunity for someone if they can design a cool looking polytunnel. I think you’d be on to a winner!

It’s been a great year for fruit … The orchard is heaving and raspberry’s have been plentiful. We moved them last autumn and although they have suffered slightly from the move they’ve given us a few tasty treats.

Anyway .. I think that’s enough for one day and I promise to post more very soon.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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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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Wahoooooo! … It’s finally finished!

I’m actually ready to share my first free gardening eBook with the world. I’m calling it my ‘Introduction To Frugal Gardening’.

Download Your Free Copy

It’s basically a collection of suggestions, strategies and money saving tips that I’ve pulled together from the last few years.

At 25 pages it’s crammed full of useful information for anyone looking to create their own garden paradise, without spending a small fortune along the way!

It did take a fair bit of work to prepare and may not be perfect first time round, but I would really value any feedback you’re prepared to offer as I want to write more stuff so others may benefit.

If you’d prefer not to then that also fine, in which case please enjoy the  content with our best wishes.

Oh, and we’ve also been recording a few videos over the weekend you might be interested in.

Part 1 explains in some detail how to take softwood cuttings, and how you improve your chances of success.
http://youtu.be/h_8IGFa_pzs

Part 2 introduces the idea of a sand box.
http://youtu.be/XKboJNgBZis

NOW TAKE ME TO WHERE I CAN DOWNLOAD MY FREE COPY OF  ‘AN INTRODUCTION TO FRUGAL GARDENING’

Hope you enjoy the read!

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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Well it’s been quite a month at Blackbirds!

We’ve seen rain, hail, fog, mist and now we are basking in the most wonderful summer sunshine. It’s played havoc with the garden with the roses in a pretty poor state and the herbaceous borders beaten into submission, but nature has still provided for us.

We have a steady supply of tasty fresh produce which is pretty much down to all the rain we’ve had for the last few weeks, which of course we’ve been collecting in readiness for dry days ahead.

I’ve expanded my collection of water butts by using some redundant chemical barrels which my brother in law very kindly gave me, that otherwise be dumped in landfill, so I’m pretty pleased about that.

Cut flower garden update

With all the recent sunshine and warm weather it really has done me proud. I’m so pleased with the results and most definitely will be having another go next year.  To think this all came pretty much from a few packets of seed in the Spring.

The dahlias are definitely the success story, proud and majestic as they stand guard over the flower garden.

Dahlias like plenty of water so as well as regular watering try add a layer of mulch when the plants have established and they will repay your efforts a hundred times with the most beautiful looking flowers. Once established they require little maintenance other than some decent supports and regular dead heading.

To get the bigger blooms I nip out the two buds on each side of the main central bud leaving the larger one to develop.

This does two things. All the energy goes into to the one bud producing a larger flower, and the stems grow longer making for a really impressive cut flower.

My sweet peas were a bit slow to get started but now they appear to be making up for lost time.

I did experiment this year as I wanted to find out if there was any difference between sowing the seeds in October or the Spring. Have to say the results aren’t that conclusive. The October sowing have produced flowers much sooner than the Spring sowing, however the Spring plants appear stronger and I suspect will produce better flowers in the long run. I’ll know more next month which is typically the best month for sweet peas at Blackbirds.

Don’t think I’ll need those fruit boxes his year.

Not everything in the garden is a success this year. Unfortunately the fruit trees are looking a bit sorry. Last year we had a bumper crop of apples, pears and plums along with just about everyone else in the country, but we’ll be lucky to harvest a few apples, maybe a handful of plums and perhaps the odd pear.

I think it’s down to a wet and windy Spring as many of my fellow gardeners have told me similar stories.

Willow it ever grow?

Hmmm a bit disappointing to be honest with my willow.  I thought willow was a fast grower?

I’ve kept them watered and top dressed with a good layer of mulch, but the stems I planted back in the Spring seem to be taking for ever to grow away.

Also the leaves are looking a little yellow which suggest a shortage of magnesium which is probably down to my chalky soil. I’m not going to panic though as I’ll give them a light sprinkling of Epsom salts. (Magnesium in a box)

In a few weeks they should green up again and start to move, finger crossed

By the way if you plan to use epsom salts in your garden remember to keep it off the leaves if at all possible or the granules will likely scorch the plant, and always water thoroughly afterwards.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Even the grey ones that have plagued the British Isles for the last few months! Most of my vegetables have done really well, that is apart from my potato crop which has just been struck with blight. I didn’t panic as my dad always told me if your potatoes have blight simply cut off the tops and burn them. Then on a dry day dig up the potatoes and leave them on the surface for a day to dry off. Then store them in a large paper sack (I use the chicken feed bags) and leave in a dry cold place. Seems to work.

Blight is a fungal disease which is carried in the air, which makes it really difficult to control.  I’m thinking it’s probably down to the warm damp weather we had throughout May and June. Hasn’t put me off growing potatoes as I still managed a fairly decent crop of Charlotte.

It’s worth noting though Blight can also affect tomatoes as they are basically from the same family as the potatoe, so my advice is never grow your tomatoes in the proximity of your potatoes. I only know this as I planted a few spare tomato plants 3 yards from my potato crop as I couldn’t bear to throw them away, but as soon as the potatoes were hit, the tomatoes soon followed. 😦

How to avoid vegetable glut

Every year I grow too many veggies and end up throwing a fair few onto the compost heap, but this year I’m attacking it from two angles. I’m planning to have an honesty table at the end of the lane, and I’m having a go at successional sowing .

I sow every 4-6 weeks as a rule and it’s worked really well for me. I have carrots, Beetroot and turnips at various stages of development and I plan to harvest the first of my beetroot next week. The second sowing should be ready in about 4-6 weeks, so we should have lovely beets throughout August and September and possibly into October.

I also plan to sow a couple of rows in the polytunnel towards the end of August, by which time I’ll probably starting looking like a Beetroot.

August just around the corner … it’s party time in the polytunnel!

My cucumbers (all female) are cropping well and the tomatoes are looking like they will produce a fair crop this year. Cucumbers will always wilt a little in the heat because the huge leaves expire moisture really easily, so I try to keep cucumbers well watered while it’s so hot and keep the doors of the polytunnel open day and night.

I’m growing my most favourite tomato,  Gardeners Delight, along with a few new varieties.  I’ll post more info about my tomatoes when I’ve had a chance to taste them. Each year me and the family conduct our own tomato taste test to see if we like a particular tomato and decide if we’ll grow it again, but more on that later.

Tomatoes like warmth as well as sunlight, but at this time of the year the polytunnel can reach some pretty high temperatures which can scorch the plants. To get around this I douse the paths and beds with plenty of water. It brings the humidity up and the plants seem to thrive it.

I have a little gardening round!

A few weeks ago I started advertising gardening services in the local neighbourhood and to my delight I’ve had a favourable response from the locals. Nothing too ambitious I might add, just a few half days a week which is more than enough for little old me.

I got started by writing a few basic details on a plain post card and asked a few of the local shop keepers to put it up in their window which they very kindly agreed to do for a small donation. To my absolute delight the very next day I had an inquiry!  Admittedly it’s fairly basic stuff, cutting lawns, laying a few turfs, weeding a few borders, but I love it and my customers must appreciate it as they invited me back the following week.

That was back in May and since then I’ve been to several houses, so for a little bit of effort I’m now working on other peoples gardens which is a source of great pleasure, and I get to make a few extra pennies at the same time.

Looking outside the sun is starting to set so I will sign off for now and look forward to sharing more of my gardening experiences with you very soon. 🙂

With my very best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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How to build your own mini solar power station

We have a small shed next to the polytunnel at the bottom of our plot, and at the moment we don’t have any electricity available, at least not within a reasonable distance. But I need some light, especially now it’s dark by 5.30pm.

If we’re going to make the most of the polytunnel through the winter I’m also going to need some light in here as well,  and a little heat would be welcome, not least to protect against the frost.

I can always protect the polytunnel with an additional layer of bubble wrap on the inside, seal one of the entrances, or maybe add a horse manure heap, which will work to an extent, but a couple of light bulbs would be welcome on a winters evening.

So, I’ve been looking for a neat way to get electricity to the polytunnel that won’t involve digging a massive trench all the way to the bottom of the plot (approximately 70m ) and burying loads of rubber coated cable in my lovely garden.

One option I’ve looked into is to build a Mini Solar Power Station alongside the shed,  and use the electricity it generates to power a few lights and maybe a low energy heat element for the polytunnel. 🙂

Having researched the various technologies it’s remarkably simple to do. But remember, solar panels start producing electricity from the moment they are facing the light  so if you plan to follow us and have a go at installing your own system it might be worth asking a qualified electrician for some advice first.

Requirement?
As with any project the first task is to sort out exactly what you want to achieve when this is all done.

Well for me it’s fairly simple:

1. I need a light source so I can work comfortably in the polytunnel in the dark evenings.
2. I want to generate a little heat to protect a few winter salads from the frost.
3. Provide a second light source for the shed and the immediate surrounding area.

Solar power is an option

There are several mobile solar power systems on the market and each will produce a certain amount of electricity. For example, a 60 Watt system will power a couple of lights for around 2-3 hours a day, which should be ok for what I need. If I need more I’m going to have to spend more on a larger panel, or buy a second 60 Watt panel and connect it to the first one. I think I’ll start with one and see how it goes.

Of course the benefit of a modular system is it can be moved to anywhere in the garden that needs power, and we can take it with us if we move, which kind of justifies the investment. The only other thing we need is sunlight, and that’s free, well at least for now anyway.

As with any solar powered solution it’s largely dependent on the amount of daylight or sunlight it receives to work effectively, but if we can store the power produced on the sunniest days we stand a much better chance of making this work for us longer term.

Unfortunately batteries are the only option at the moment for storing electricity remotely, which is a shame as they are not easy to recycle, but until we have an alternative they will have to do. If you buy a decent quality deep cycle battery they will last longer and so will not need recycling quite so often.

The basic components I’m going to need for my Polytunnel power station are:

1. The Solar panel – A 60 Watt panel will provide enough power to run 3-4 light bulbs comfortably.
2. An 80-100 amp hour (AH)  Deep Cycle Battery, to store any surplus electricity. (You can always add extra batteries later if you’re producing more power than you can use)
3. A Charge Controller, to manage the flow of electricity from the panel so we don’t burn out the battery.
4. An Inverter to convert the DC power generated by the panel, to AC power. (Most domestic appliances run on AC power, so if we need to plug in a low energy kettle for example, the inverter will take care of it)
5. 2 x 10 Watt low energy bulbs for the polytunnel.
6. A 10 Watt LED floodlight for the shed and surrounding area.
7. Light Switches and Cable to connect the lights to the power station.

I discovered LED floodlights use a fraction of the power of conventional floodlights (88% more efficient) but still produce a really bright light.

How to make your own Solar Power Station in your garden

So, I think I have a solution that will work. For a small investment I’ll be producing enough power to spend a few winter evenings in the polytunnel, and who knows, maybe grow a few winter veg in the borders.

This is the first part of my winter Polytunnel Power Station posts.  I’ll be putting up more information as we go along and a few pictures as it comes together.

Should be fun!

Back soon.

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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