Polytunnels for pennies

Polytunnels are a wonderful invention, especially for windy, exposed places like ours. They will stand the test of time long after a greenhouse has given up the ghost as long as the foundations are sound. The downside is that the plastic has to be replaced after a few years, but I can live with that.

We already have one polytunnel, which we got for a bargain, but you can never have too many when you're gardening 'at altitude' (well, almost!) so I thought we'd put the old greenhouse foundations to good use and make our own.

Thanks to Alan, this polytunnel cost just a few pence - the price of a few nails and some duct tape. The piping, metal poles, paving and plastic were all scavenged from his allotment and I found some foam piping and bubblewrap to stop the poles rubbing against the sheeting. The wire ventilation panel is reclaimed from an old chicken pen which I took out of the shed when we moved in.

I've been putting manure and leaf mould into this spot for about a year, so the soil is perfect for greedy squashes, and I added half a dozen more bags of well-rotted finest from a friend's smallholding to give them a bit extra when I planted them out. All they need now is some recycled plastic milk cartons with their bottoms cut off, to make sure the water gets right down to the roots.

The calendulas are looking gorgeous, and will hopefully keep the black fly away from the vegetables. I've always been too busy sowing seeds of plants to eat to think about flowers, but this year I took the plunge and started some flowers too (and you can even eat these, which is an added bonus!).

This is inside the large polytunnel, where the tomatoes are doing well, and the strawberry barrel (top right) has already given us a few tasty treats, with plenty more to come.


Let's talk about tomatoes

The polytunnel is coming into its own now the weather has warmed up a bit, and although we're not currently seeing the 20+ degrees of the end of last month, it's not bad at all. I always forget how long it takes to water everything at this time of year, and the fact that we've had to water the allotment about five times already shows we've already had better weather than last year, when I think the hosepipe came out once or twice in total for the whole summer.

The tomatoes have their own rather 'heath robinson' construction for support (below), but I think it will do the job. The last two years I've taken on a Geoff Hamilton tip to wrap string around the root ball of the plant before planting, as then it supports itself as it grows (I just need to wind it into the string every once in a while). It saves having lots of canes and for me, it works, so I'll be sticking with it.

We recently took the plunge and went to the recycle/local crafts fair at Gibside, the National Trust property nearby. We took living salads, brassicas and tomatoes (I was giving them away as we have far too many (note to self: don't sow or pot on so many next year. The trouble with raising too many seeds is I get far too sentimental about them and think as they're germinated every one of them deserves a shot at life, which causes me a lot of extra work, so I need to toughen up a bit.)

We made a few pounds, which helps to buy some extra compost (I don't think you can ever produce as much as you need) and chicken feed, so it was worth the trip. It was also great for chatting to other stallholders and spreading the word about the garden to visitors; we even found ourselves offering gardening advice, so I hope that was more helpful than not!

The weather wasn't very good and we were re-located from the car park, which is the ideal central point, but I think it would be worth going back to another one later in the year. David also demonstrated some green woodworking and made whistles from elder cut that morning - at least one parent of an enthusiastic whistling child will be sorry he did!

The hops are looking healthy, and I hope to be able to avoid the black fly they suffered from last year by keeping a closer eye on them and letting a bit more air in near the roots and taking out the excess shoots. It would be good to get some decent hops this year as I made some great ginger and nettle beer (more about that in another post) with the previous season's hops, and it would be good to get some more going in the autumn.

We still have the chicks on loan (I think I'm looking after them too well) and they are providing hours of entertainment, especially with their 'worm rugby' and 'pass the porridge' games, which never cease to make me smile.

I've just put the maypole up and the French/runner beans in, so we'll see how long they survive before the slugs and snails move in. Back to the polytunnel, and the phacelia (below) has self-seeded from last year and is looking lovely up the back of the staging; it attracts loads of bees, fixes nutrients into the soil and fills the air with a gorgeous perfume - what more could you ask for from a plant?

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