Monday 11 July 2011

The Polytunnel

Someone left a comment on a post the other week, asking me what a polytunnel was, I completely forgot to answer it.  The memory came rushing back to me as I picked our tea out in the tunnel this morning.  So I thought a post about my polytunnel would be a good idea. 

It is a long polythene covered area for growing plants, similar to a greenhouse but with heavy duty polythene between you and the elements instead of glass. Mine is 25ft long and 12 ft wide, they can be either smaller or much bigger.  I got mine from here.

An outside shot taken last year.

I have double doors at the front and a single door at the back, this makes for a good through draft if you need to cool it down slightly, and it also means I can get the wheelbarrow in and out without too much of a struggle. I have taken the step of covering my doors with a layer of heavy duty netting and the polythene top cover only goes on them as the days start to get cooler. The netting is preferable to opening the doors as then all the cabbage white butterflies and other pests fly in and lay their eggs.

Peppers, chillies and gooseberry plants

The temperature inside is always hotter than than on the outside.  On a Winters day when it is below freezing you will always find it just a couple of degrees higher inside so you can grow all around the seasons, if you plan properly (my downfall I'm ashamed to admit).  You should double insulate some of your more frost hating plants by putting cloches or mini tunnels over them when it's below freezing.

This is the first year the vine has had grapes.

But in Summer it can reach temperatures of over 40 degrees and this is the ideal place to grow your tomatoes, peppers, chillies and I have my vine growing in there and my Kiwi plants too.

Vine, tomato plants and Romaine lettuces

You must remember to water, usually everyday, you can skip a day only if the tunnel has been in the shade all day due to cloud cover, but the soil can dry out so easily, so it's best to have a good water supply or a good irrigation system in place.  I am lucky I have a hose running from the tap outside the house and for smaller watering sessions I have a self filling cattle trough just outside the front doors.  I also have a water but at the back which catches rainwater in the bottom of this I have comfrey or nettles and the two combined make a brilliant feed for watering the plants that are fruiting.

Sugarsnap peas doing really well this year.

Something else I think you need to have on your mind is the things you use on the plants, pesticides and things like slug pellets will not get washed away by the rain so whatever you put on and into your soil stays there, building up residues and getting into your food.  This is why I garden naturally, companion planting and using only natural plant foods, the nettle, comfrey or worm tea is all that I will pour over my crops.  Every year I add a new layer of Lovely Hubbys compost and I have my own compost bin outside the tunnel that is emptied every year onto the soil. 

Sorry she wanted a close-up, not the prettiest of my chickens, but the friendliest!!
She's one of the last batch of rescue chickens that came to the farm.

I see it as my little haven, on a wet day when it is impossible to get any jobs done outside it can be lovely pottering away getting things planted and generally tidying the tunnel, with the rain bouncing noisily off the roof and the radio on in the background, just me, and occasionally Marauding Matilda (who I let in as a pest eater) spend many happy hours.

And an added advantage...... is that there is always something to nibble at if I get hungry!

Sue xx

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