Poly­tun­nels and green­houses

KIM STODDART ex­plains the many ben­e­fits

Country Smallholding - - Contents -

This is such an ex­cit­ing time of year for most peo­ple with spring now so tan­ta­lis­ingly close. For us small­hold­ers and gar­den­ers it is es­pe­cially so as March brings with it the promise of warmer months and boun­ti­ful vegetable and fruit har­vests to come.

Of course, if you have a poly­tun­nel or green­house, then the so-called hun­gry gap about now (when con­ven­tion­ally there are less crops avail­able) isn’t so much of a bind. This is be­cause grow­ing un­der some form of cover en­ables you to ex­tend the grow­ing sea­son rather con­sid­er­ably in a myr­iad of ex­cit­ing and in­deed very use­ful ways.

Liv­ing in the wild, wild west of Wales which is a very beau­ti­ful but also rather wet part of the coun­try, I wouldn’t be able to grow half the pro­duce I do with­out a poly­tun­nel. I’ve ex­per­i­mented over the years and, even in the best sum­mers, the likes of tomato, aubergine, grapes, cu­cum­ber, straw­ber­ries and pep­pers just don’t flour­ish well at all on the out­side. If you live in the south of Eng­land and have a shel­tered south-fac­ing plot, then the chances of suc­cess are of course higher, but

even then, with our in­creas­ingly chang­ing cli­mate, hav­ing some form of pro­tec­tion against the weather is a very wise choice.

It re­ally is no sur­prise to hear that poly­tun­nel grow­ing is on the rise. Th­ese struc­tures are rel­a­tively cheap to buy and easy to con­struct and, if taken care of, can last a con­sid­er­ably long time. I have two poly­tun­nels; one that is about seven years old and still go­ing strong, while the older one (about nine years old) is still struc­turally sound and just needs a new plas­tic cov­er­ing to en­hance its ef­fec­tive­ness for the grow­ing sea­son ahead. They re­ally do take your fruit and veg grow­ing onto a whole new level, widen­ing the range of what you can grow suc­cess­fully in the first place and pro­vid­ing you with a haven on the worst days weather wise out­side.

If you’re feel­ing tempted, spring is ar­guably the best time to con­struct one. You’ll need to think care­fully about where to po­si­tion it; a sunny spot on a level area with some pro­tec­tion from wind is prefer­able. As long as it isn’t more than 3m tall and doesn’t take up more than 50% of your gar­den, or cause an is­sue for your neigh­bours, plan­ning per­mis­sion is not nor­mally re­quired. If in doubt, though, do check with your lo­cal plan­ning depart­ment first.

WHY A POLY­TUN­NEL? Year-round sal­ads

A poly­tun­nel opens up a world of year­round salad op­por­tu­ni­ties that you’d be hard-pushed to ex­pe­ri­ence oth­er­wise. More del­i­cate let­tuces and leaves will be bet­ter qual­ity and keep go­ing that bit longer, while hardier kales, chard, mus­tards, cresses, chicories, spinach, pars­ley and mizuna will keep you in ex­cit­ing leaves even in the dark­est and in­deed drea­ri­est months of the year. TIP

To give seedlings an ex­tra help­ing hand at this time of year, I put a makeshift prop­a­ga­tor (old glass and win­dows bal­anced on wooden frames) on a poly­tun­nel bench. It’s es­sen­tially a poly­tun­nel within a poly­tun­nel and pro­vides fuss free ex­tra warmth and pro­tec­tion when seedlings need it most.

Ear­lier crops

With a poly­tun­nel, the so-called hun­gry gap in spring isn’t as no­tice­able, as many crops will still be go­ing strong, and the likes of new pota­toes, spring cab­bage, as­para­gus, peas, salad and beans can be ready that valu­able bit sooner. TIP

Place a fleece cover over poly­tun­nel beds a few weeks be­fore plant­ing to raise the tem­per­a­ture and give plants a head start in the race till spring.

Sanc­tu­ary from the weather

No mat­ter how dire the weather, you can gar­den or just sit and re­lax in your poly­tun­nel. Af­ter the ap­palling weather last win­ter I’ve added a deckchair and lit­tle seat­ing area in mine now – it re­ally is a lit­tle sanc­tu­ary.

TIP The eas­i­est way to cre­ate path­ways or a seat­ing area is to lay a weed sup­pres­sant layer cov­ered with gravel over your cho­sen spot. You can also use wood­chip, although it will biode­grade over time.

Best for straw­ber­ries

I’ve never had a great deal of luck with straw­ber­ries grown out­side. As soon as they near ripeness, birds, slugs and in­sects de­scend to munch on the ma­jor­ity of the crop be­fore I can get stuck in. In­side is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent mat­ter, with a bumper har­vest each time. In good years we some­times get a bonus sec­ond batch of straw­ber­ries from our plants later in the sea­son, too.

TIP Now is a good time to get run­ners es­tab­lished; do so by care­fully plac­ing the new plants in pots with fresh mul­ti­pur­pose com­post still at­tached to the par­ent plant.

Grow­ing flex­i­bil­ity

As well as plant­ing ear­lier, you can also sow a bit later than you would do nor­mally, as the grow­ing sea­son is ex­tended on

Re­lax­ing in the poly­tun­nel on a wet and windy day

Baby car­rots in Jan­uary

Pick­ing grapes in the poly­tun­nel

Pre­mier Poly­tun­nels’ 21ft model

Keder Poly­tun­nels also have pro­tected grow­ing space in­side an outrig­ger

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