More and more people have discovered the delights of growing their own veg over the past couple of years – and for some, it’s proved such a fulfilling experience that they’re looking now to take things to the next level.
One of the best ways to expand your veggie repertoire and lengthen the growing season is to invest in a polytunnel. One of these will not only allow you to increase the range of plants you can grow successfully in our notoriously variable UK climate – but also means you can produce your own vegetables all year round.
A polytunnel can also help to reduce problems with pests, if it is designed well and used correctly. What might seem like just a poor man’s greenhouse, can actually prove a highly practical addition to the garden that allows you to grow things more successfully than you ever thought possible. Think of a polytunnel simply as a large protective cloche, and you will begin to see what it’s possible to grow in one.
When considering investing in a polytunnel, there are several factors to consider, and the first is whether it’s right for your garden.
If your garden is largely in shade for most of the day, for example, you will struggle to grow many vegetables successfully there, with or without a tunnel. The best site for a polytunnel is one with as much sun as possible. It’s also advisable to position your tunnel on a level site. The polytunnel should ideally be placed with its narrow sides (the ones with the doors) to east and west and the long sides to north and south.
Having located a suitable spot, how big a polytunnel can you get? The answer is to always go for the largest one possible as you will quickly discover that you’ll always be able to fill whatever space you have.
Basically, you don’t want to buy too small and then regret your purchase and have to upgrade later.
What to grow?
The beauty of the polytunnel is that it lends itself to a huge variety of crops. In the winter you can fill it with winter salads, winter cabbages and other brassicas, winter onions and early peas and even the very earliest of the first early potatoes, which will be ready by early June. As it warms up in spring and into summer, softer plants such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, summer salads and peppers of various sorts will gradually take over and fill up your tunnel. That means that you can essentially grow food for your table all the year round.
Of course the layout of your polytunnel will depend on its size. With a smaller tunnel of about eight feet wide, a single path down the centre is really your only option, but with anything 10ft wide or wider you might consider a two-path layout, with a central bed and one bed down each side, which will maximise useful growing space without making it difficult for you to reach to the back of beds.
You can either build some raised beds or plant directly into the soil. When planning what to plant and where, think about maximising your available space through vertical growing, layered gardening and phased planting. It’s also a good idea to draw out a plan of where everything is planted and try to stick to a rotation in order to avoid pests and maintain the fertility of the soil.