This is the first in a series of articles covering the installation of a new polytunnel and its first year in production. This example uses an 18 x 42ft tunnel from First Tunnels which features anchor plate foundations, crop bars, storm braces, an aluminium base rail and sliding doors. This tunnel will be big enough to provide an enormous quantity and variety of vegetables right through the year, as you will see.
The best time to put up a tunnel is on a warm, dry day in spring, but bear in mind that a larger tunnel (such as this) may take considerably more than a single day. You can sow seedlings in modules and trays a week or two in advance so that they are ready to plant as soon as the new tunnel beds are prepared – but this means there must be no delay in getting the beds prepared. When the seedlings are ready, they have to be planted – or you’ll end up with stunted, held-back plants for the rest of the season. Polytunnels are incredibly productive, but only when planted with crops!
For a gardener, there are few things as exciting – or as rare – as being able to bring the garden’s productivity forward in a single giant leap. If you have the space, a polytunnel does just that. Interest in home-scale polytunnels is at an all-time high, and if you look around you’ll probably find several quite close to where you live. Given the economy, the environment and the awareness of the benefits of organic food, there has never been a better time to decide to ‘grow your own’.
If you have a vegetable garden but have never considered getting a polytunnel, check up for a moment about where your fresh veggies come from…not in summer, but during in the winter. In the summer, it’s easy: anyone with a veg garden and a few hours a week can grow just about all the food they eat. Runner beans are probably the UK standard crop, with tomatoes a close second, but of course you can go (or grow!) a lot further. A polytunnel gives you far more space for the same cost as a small greenhouse, and because of its larger footprint it’s able to benefit from the passive warming effect of the ground on which it stands. This makes it possible to grow food right through the winter months when the outside garden is just sitting idle, waiting for spring – something you can’t do in a greenhouse without heating it.