A Year Of Growing In A Polytunnel – My Review

Last week after one of my posts showed a photograph inside my polytunnel, Anna from ‘Dig The Outside’ asked if I had any more photographs.

I thought it would be a nice idea to write about my first complete year with a polytunnel and what I have learnt, showing you some of the photographs I have taken.

(I apologise that the quality of the older photos are not quite as good as the newer ones, as some of these were taken on my mobile phone, before I started my blog).

January 2012 - My New 4th Plot

January 2012 – My New 4th Plot

The main reason I took on the fourth allotment plot in January 2012, was that it had some wonderful fruit trees and bushes, but more importantly it had a fairly new polytunnel on it.  You can see it in the photo above.

You may have read before, that the plot belonged to ‘Eric’ before I rented it.  I learnt so much from him and he was, and still is my greatest allotment inspiration.  Eric’s family put the polytunnel on his plot for him just two years earlier, after removing the old and dangerous greenhouse that he had.  They did a fantastic job, leaving me with a sturdy, well thought out tunnel.

Eric grew his tomatoes in the polytunnel and even though he knew he was giving the plot up because it was getting too much for him, he still cleared most of his old tomato plants away and left the polytunnel tidy for me…thank you for this Eric:

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I decided right from the start that I wouldn’t grow tomatoes in my polytunnel, as I had my greenhouse at home for this.  I knew I wanted to grow a large range of plants in there, but my main priority was to lengthen the whole growing season, both at the beginning and the end.

This whole year was going to be a trial year for my polytunnel.

I started by digging up any perrenial weeds and digging in loads of compost, which Eric had also kindly left for me:

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Then I sat and planned what I wanted to plant.

I sowed my first lettuces and radishes at the end of March last year, covered with a small cold frame to begin with and I planted some early peas that I had started off in guttering in my warm greenhouse at home.

I also planted six early potatoes and covered them with straw instead of earthing them up:

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  I grew many things in my polytunnel the first year.  Each time I harvested a crop, I replaced it with a sprinkling of fertiliser and a spade full of new compost and then replanted it with something else.

Here are some photo’s I took throughout the year:

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And how it looks today:

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During the last year,  the polytunnel has been a godsend, producing crops that struggled outside in such a cool, wet summer.

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The following crops that did really well were:

Lettuces – (all through the year)
Radish – (no signs of flea beatle, though outside radish suffered badly in spring)

Perpetual spinach

Khol rabi

Cape gooseberry

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Peas

Sweet Peppers

Basil

Coriander

Broad beans

Celeriac (grew bigger than those outside)

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Gerkins (produced far more than those grown outdoors)

Carrots (no problem with carrot fly and germinated without a problem)

Mizuna

Corn salad

Turnips (they seemed to grow in front of my eyes)

Beetroot

Onions

Spring onions (both summer and winter varieties)

Sweetcorn

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The following crops that didn’t do so well were:

Courgettes (succumbed to mildew early on and produce fewer than those grown outside)

Patty pans (succumbed to mildew early on and produce fewer than those grown outside)

Chick peas (I think this was down to lack of pollination)

Potatoes (I harvested an earlier, but far smaller crop due to a smaller amount of water)

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The ‘Not so good things’ about owning a polytunnel:

Opening and closing the doors – In April and May I had to visit my allotment every morning to open the polytunnel doors and again every evening to shut them.   I did this to keep some warmth in during the night, until the threat of frost had passed by at the end of May.

Watering needed to be carried out every day during late spring and summer.  Luckily for me, I have a good allotment friend who helped out when we went on holiday.

Everytime I left the polytunnel I had to put a caged door on so the local fox didn’t go in.

When it snowed in the winter I would have to knock the snow off before the weight of it did any damage.  In fact, the last snow we did have, managed to pull some of the plastic away from the wooden door frame.

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Observations:

It must be noted that some of the crops that did so well in the polytunnel in 2012, would usually grow well outside, but as it was such a cold and wet summer, it was a godsend.

Some things I tried in the polytunnel were because I had one or two plants left over, after planting the majority outside.  These plants always grew quicker than the ones I planted outside on the same day.

I planted Tagetes in the polytunnel to attact beneficial insects into it and it worked brilliantly and looked great.

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Conclusion:

It was great to have earlier crops and later crops, in fact we were still eating my summer lettuces (not winter hardy ones) at the beginning of December, which I think is amazing.

I loved my first year with my polytunnel, but watering was such hard work.  I am now looking into the possiblility of somehow attaching a soaker hose to a large water tank I have, but I’m not sure if this will work?

It was lovely to work in the polytunnel when it was impossible to get onto my plot, due to last year’s wet weather.  In fact, I can honestly say it was a pleasure weeding and planting in there, listening to the wind and rain outside.

And finally:

The benefits are so great to me, that I am planning on adding another polytunnel to my plot eventually, when I can afford it, in the hope to have more winter/spring crops ready earlier.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday.

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32 thoughts on “A Year Of Growing In A Polytunnel – My Review

  1. Your polytunnel year looked very productive and it was interesting to read both sides of the story – the good versus the bad – it is obvious that the good outweighed the bad. I don’t have room for one but am always envious when I read how much earlier you can bring the crops on.

    • I used to be exactly the same, which is why I jumped at the chance of taking my fourth plot on, with the wonderful polytunnel on. I’m not sure if we would actually manage to erect a polytunnel from scratch, but I’ll cross that bridge if I ever manage to save up for another one lol

  2. Great read! Thank you Lisa 🙂 What size is your polytunnel? I saved up for one but cannot decide on the size…

  3. A very productive space – we have restrictions on the size of polytunnel/greenhouses on the plot and only one allowed per plot. Are you restricted.

    We took on one of our plots as we knew amongst all the weeds were fruit trees and bushes – we juts have to find them as the plot was seriously overgrown.

    • It’s worth it in the end isn’t it, especially when you find things that you didn’t even know were there. I absolutely love the challenge of an overgrown plot as you never quite know what it is hiding there

  4. I absolutely love your polytunnel! What a wonderful story and great photos. I love the way you’ve planted in blocks, it just looks gorgeous in there!!! Really interesting to hear about the pros and cons too. I think gardening is actually a really big responsibility isn’t it. I usually manage to (badly) time a trip abroad with some peak time in the gardening calendar and then worry like mad and have to ask neighbours to water things and open and close the greenhouse! I would still absolutely love a polytunnel though -one day, one day! Until then I will ‘coo’ over yours. Thanks so much for sharing : )

  5. My friend Rosemary has commercial greenhouses and they use a huge water tank and uses a hose pipe from it, i will ask her how she does this. We had thought of a poly tunnel up on our land but we would have to organise a much better water collecting system than we have.
    Sue

  6. Hi, I love your tunnel, there are no only veges but the flowers as well. I think you need to water a lot this big enough tunnel, its a lot of job! The salat looks so fresh in there. I wishyou had good harvest.

  7. the pollytunnel, no, the whole plot looks amazing! Just looking at the pictures makes me itch to come over and poke around! Your done a brilliant job!

  8. Hi, good read, you seem to have done really well. My problem is getting someone to really recommend a particular make of tunnel. Your look just about what I want, any info on the make and cost? Alf down Lands End way!!

    • Hi and thank you for reading my blog. I am so sorry, the wonderful gentleman who gave his plot up left it for me, so I have no clue what so ever of where it came from or how much it cost. It is a great sturdy tunnel as well.

    • I’ve been doing a lot of research on polytunnels as I’d love to get one when I retire in a few years. Many people have recommended firsttunnels.co.uk – their website is very easy to navigate. Other companies I’ve seen recommended are Northern polytunnels and Citadel Polytunnels. First Tunnels do a 12′ x 15′ polytunnel for about £400. By the way, a fantastic book I can recommend is by Joyce Russell, ‘The Polytunnel Book: Fruit and Vegetables The Whole Year Round’ .

  9. Hi! Really enjoyed reading your blog. Brilliantly put together. I got a polytunnel in March so am experiencing my first year. The biggest problem I had was all my little seedlings being eaten and couldn’t work out how until the emergence of hundreds of daddy long legs! Apparently their pre flight form, known as leather jackets, feed off seedlings. They have been in there breeding all summer so feel a bit dubious about how next years planting s are going to go and thinking about getting some nematodes? Any other suggestions welcomed? Chrissy

    • What a shame Chrissy. You are right, it is the larvae that kills the seedlings and small plants when the stems are damaged at soil level. I have never had to deal with them in my polytunnel, but I understand it is a nematode called ‘steinernema feltiae’ which will kill the larvea. All you need to do is water them onto the soil provided the temperature is above 12°C (54°F), which is when the nematode will be most effective. It helps if your soil is well drained and moist.

      The best time to apply the nematodes is approx. two weeks after you start to see the adult daddy-long-legs (usually the end of August). The adults will then be starting to lay their eggs. Two weeks later the young leatherjackets will be active in the soil through to the end of October. So it is the perfect time to use these nematodes.

      Please let me know how you get on as I am really interested Chrissy.

      • Thank you, that’s really helpful. Will order some and let you know. Have not bothered to plant any more seeds yet until I feel more confident they will survive, so once nematodes used will crack on and let you know. Really enjoying your blog, so interesting.

  10. Thank you for a most enlightening and informative ‘blog’. I would love to know how far north you are and the make of your Poly tunnel. I am intending to move to the western highlands and wonder if a Poly tunnel would stay on the ground or simply blow away. You have focused on extending your growing season which is as much an issue as the improved physical condition of working during inclement weather. Your respect for the previous owner was touching. Thank you for a most impressive read. your photography was equally helpful. Kind regards, John and Michelle.

    • Hi both and thank you for reading my blog and leaving such a kind comment.

      Unfortunately I really have no clue if a polytunnel would be ok where you, are as I am here in the Midlands and also my lovely old allotment neighbour put the polytunnel up so I haven’t a clue what make it is either.

      I’m really sorry that I can’t be any more helpful for you, but let me know what you findout and report back, as others reading this may need help with this too.

      Thank you

  11. Your polytunnel looks amazing. We are currently building one and I am so excited to start growing in it. Thanks for the summary of what did well and what didn’t do so well – very useful

  12. You’ve worked hard in that tunnel! I have a had a few disastrous years but am approaching this one with some positivity! Leather jackets destroyed everything I attempted to grow a few years ago then I had these green aphids last year which were so difficult to eradicate. This years issue so far was whitefly which the expensive bottle of treatment failed to work so I got a tin of fly spray which has worked perfectly! Onwards and upwards.

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