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Essential tools for your polytunnel

In order to grow vegetables in a polytunnel you need to make sure you have both the right environment and also the right equipment. Here are some tools that you’ll need over and over again.

Potting area

A solid table or counter is a great place to fill pots for sowing and growing, potting-on, and other related tasks. If it’s got shelves beneath, so much the better – otherwise it’s just wasted space. The shelving can be used to store seed trays, pots, plastic labels and hand tools so that they’re always available. And, if you can, allow some space for a couple of bags of compost as well, and a bucket or trug. Here’s a great 3-tier set:

 

Every covered gardening space needs staging – and three tiers are MUCH better than two!


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Polytunnel hand tools

Gardening tools are essential, and if you have a polytunnel you won’t want to have to wander off looking for them elsewhere. It’s very irritating to need a small hand fork and have no idea where you last left it – especially if weeds might have covered it up by now! So, make sure you have at least the bare minimum – a hand trowel and fork – to hand. Avoid any that are painted, as the paint will eventually flake off into your earth, after which the bare metal will usually rust. Here’s a great stainless steel set (which includes a fork, broad and narrow trowel and a weeding tool) at a really good price:


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A good set of hand tools is essential – and these are stainless steel.

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An ‘all purpose’ fork

You’ll also need a decent ‘large’ fork, great for either turning in compost or removing a large plant that’s past its best, such as a bolting chard. A ‘border fork’ is a good choice for multiple uses, especially in the intensive growing zone of a polytunnel or greenhouse. It has a narrower head, so it easier to get between plants, and a longer than normal handle. This one has an ash handle and a stainless steel head which is earth is less likely to stick to.

 

If you get a border fork it can be used for just about anything.


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A hoe – great for weeding

A hoe is essential for keeping down weeds, especially those for which you have to reach far across a planted bed – but beware using a hoe too close to the cover or you might add more ventilation than you really want! This popular ‘dutch’ hoe has a wider head than most for cutting a swathe right through developing weeds. It’s suitable for use on both raised or flat beds.


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This wide ‘dutch’ hoe will make short work of a whole swathe of weeds all at once.

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An ‘onion hoe’ is a useful hand tool for cultivating as well as weed trimming as its ‘swan neck’ allows you to dig down into the earth simply by pulling it towards you.

 

An onion hoe isn’t just useful for onions, but for cultivating the earth around all your crops.


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And a pocket knife…

I also find a pocket knife extremely useful. This is the only knife you’ll ever need in the garden – pruning, grafting, or just sharpening a pencil!


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Great for pruning, grafting, cutting ties and a host of other gardening jobs.

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Netting

Netting is useful, hung across tunnel doorways. It helps to keep butterflies out but allows pollinators such as bees and hoverflies access both ways. A mesh width of around 20mm is ideal. Anything much finer, and nothing will get past it. Much coarser, and the butterflies will go through it as if it isn’t there. This is a heavy-duty 19mm knotted mesh which will last for years.


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Here’s some 19mm netting, but there are many other mesh sizes available. The big question is whether or not you want to give easy access for bees, knowing that a few butterflies will also get in…or to do all the pollinating yourself, by hand!

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Trugs

A trug is useful for collecting weeds and much bigger than a bucket, but even when full of clippings will still be light enough to move easily. Keep a couple handy under the potting shelf, as they’re perfect for mixing potting soil and many other tasks.

 

Trugs are much bigger than buckets but still easy enough to move when filled with weeds and clippings.

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Mark Gatter and Andy McKee for Farm In My Pocket

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