Here’s another set of stuff you’ll find really useful in a polytunnel or greenhouse. Some it’s obvious, some less so. Either way, they’re pretty much essential! Don’t spend hours wandering around the garden, looking for them – keep them in the tunnel so they’re where you want them to be, when you want them. And that, folks, was the Voice of Experience…
Seed pots: round or square, it doesn’t really matter – they’re still essential kit. You’ll need them in the spring, and again in the middle of summer when winter seems far away but is in fact just around the corner. Miss this important sowing time, and you won’t have crops for late autumn, winter and the hungry gap.
If the pots you buy for your seedlings will then fit snugly into a larger tray it will make it much easier to move many of them around at a time. It can be difficult dealing with seedlings grown in a ‘pre-moulded’ pot tray when it’s time to plant them out. As everything’s is in a single unit, it’s much easier to damage one plant when you’re trying to deal with another – aside from the chance that some seeds won’t come up, leaving gaps. Indivdual pots make a lot of sense for seed sowing, and a growing-on ‘set’ such as this one from Sutton’s – combining pots and a holding tray – is perfect.
Bamboo canes, potentially the bane of polytunnels everywhere, can be stored up on the crop bars until needed – but doing so will tend to block light trying to get to the beds beneath. Additionally, a tall cane is a dangerous thing in a polytunnel as both Andy and I can attest – it’s hard to remember exactly where the top of the cane is in relation to the cover when you’re busy positioning the bottom end, and even more so when pulling it back up later. If you get this wrong, you’ll hear a distinctive ‘pop’ as the cane punches through the tunnel above you – so for this and other disasters be sure you keep some cover repair tape handy, too, or you’ll regret it when the first big storm of winter arrives. Fortunately, bamboo is rarely needed at full ‘runner bean’ length in a tunnel, but shorter lengths have a multitude of uses: supporting broad beans, tomatoes and aubergines, creating lettuce shelters and so on.
These packed bundles make buying canes easy. While 1.2-metre (4ft) canes will be perfect for most uses, 0.9m (3ft) canes are almost as good – and you can buy 1.8m (6ft) lengths and cut them in half for a slight saving on price. When you cut bamboo, make sure you’ve cut through the outer ‘skin’ all the way around the pole, at which point it can be snapped. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a splintery mess!
|Bamboo canes are handy for all kinds of plant support, frames for netting and fleece, and popping unwanted holes in your tunnel cover – so be careful, especially when you’re pulling them out of the earth!||
This is great stuff for lettuce shelters in the summer, and general crop protection over winter.
In hot weather lettuces are prone to bolt, and erecting a shade over them will help to delay this. Push a few short lengths of bamboo into the earth around the bed – after all, lettuces aren’t very tall – and drape some horticultural fleece over the tops, holding it in place with rubber bands.
As winter draws in you can use fleece to protect frost-prone crops and extend the season just that bit further. Try to keep the fleece from actually touching the plants or you’ll get points of contact which can suffer frost damage.
|Horticultural fleece keeps the sun off delicate seedlings, prevents unwanted cross-pollination between similar species and is probably the single most important ‘tool’ for enabling your winter crops to survive as it helps to protect them from frost.|
A couple of watering cans and a decent-size water butt are really handy right the way through the year. It’s not always convenient to hook up a watering hose if all you want to do is dampen a few seedling pots or spot water here and there, but if you have some stored water it’s easy. A full water butt will help the whole tunnel stay warmer when the weather cools, as the water stores up heat during the day and then slowly releases it overnight.
|Stored water means you don’t have to go and turn the hose on at the mains every time you want to water anything – and it will help keep things warmer in the winter, too.||
If you have a water butt you can use it to fill watering cans any time you want – and you’ll definitely want. Different plants use water at different rates, and some will need a bit extra from time to time while others are still nice and damp. These strong, light high density polythene cans by Haws are well balanced and have an all-brass rose with perforations that give a gentle spray.
|Of course, stored water is much more useful it you have a good way of distributing it…|
These handy little sprinkler heads fit most plastic drinks bottles and will last for years. They can even be cleaned if they clog up!
|Sprinklers fit onto most plastic drinks bottles and can be used to water delicate seedlings that would be swamped by a watering can or hose.||
A mist sprayer keeps humidity levels high and helps to prevent powdery mildew – with the added benefit of keeping spider mites away. They hate damp conditions and will only cause serious problems when everything is nice and dry.
|Spider mites and powdery mildew don’t like damp conditions. Deter them both by spraying susceptible plants with a mister.|
While the items above usually have to be bought, you can usually find other useful polytunnel ‘tools’ languishing in a shed, or lying in a nearby skip: For example, a short wooden plank enables you to stand on a bed so you can plant, pick or dig without impacting the earth into a solid impervious block.
Always carry some tough string in your pocket when you’re heading out to the polytunnel. Make sure that it’s strong enough to support your valuable crops, and isn’t something that will break under the strain just as you’re ready to harvest…and yes, that was the Voice of Experience talking again!
Mark Gatter and Andy McKee for Farm In My Pocket