This is an ongoing post of my so-called ‘glory year’, that is to say, my first year growing under plastic. I wanted to record the journey for myself, but also show how much can be achieved in one growing season. To find out how I put up my First Tunnels Polytunnel, click here.
180 Days In A Polytunnel
This month I’ve decided to clear out everything from the polytunnel and give it a good clean out. The white fly were just too much. They were choking the squashes and cucumbers and breeding like crazy. The plants were beginning to look really poorly, and I couldn’t control the spread using any of the organic methods- liquid soap or fly traps. The polytunnel was getting smelly. I harvested the rest of the squashes and cucumbers and cleared away the foliage.
I really didn’t want to use pesticides or import ladybirds. Next year if I have an issue, I’ll try using surgical spirit mixed in with the liquid soap- tip from the Almanac.
- 2 parts surgical spirit, 5 parts water, and 1 tablespoon liquid soap. Spray the mixture on the foliage of garden plants that are susceptible to these pests.
Before I plant anything else, I’m going to spend some time improving the soil with manure and compost and give the inside and outside of the tunnel a really good clean with Algon, an organic solution designed to clean the polythene by killing off any algae. Here is a video showing you how to clean the tunnel.
It’s been a brilliant growing year and it’s been a delight to be able to grow lots of yummy vegetables that I’ve not been able to grow before. I’m looking forward to working out how to best use it over winter to give plants a good start and keep some crops growing.
I’ll also use it to let the chickens run around in during winter, to keep them warm and dry and they can fertilise for me 🙂
Week 20-24th July 23rd- August 31st
It’s been a tough month, I’ve been so busy in my day job, there has been so much to do in the garden and the growing conditions have not been ideal. I haven’t had time for weekly posts, so I’m catching up now.
I’ve had a major problem with whitefly. I’ve tried spraying with various detergents, but nothing has worked. Fly papers didn’t work and I decided against using pesticides because I have a commitment to growing organically and don’t want to introduce artificial chemicals that could have an effect on the wildlife.
I did think about importing some beasties to eat the whitefly, but they are so expensive and I’m just not sure about introducing things into an ecosystem. I don’t think it adheres to permaculture principles very well.
So the leaves have been quite unhealthy looking, but squashes have been just fine. I’ve had an abundance of cucumber, spaghetti squash and now butternut squash.
I’ve had lots of tomatoes to make yummy things with. Some on salads of course, and some in tomato sauces, soups and pizza bases.
As they matured, I removed the bottom leaves to send the energy of the plant to ripen the fruit. I’ve now taken them out and put the remaining ones on bench to ripen off in the sun. The weather was so changeable this year that they didn’t get consistent sunshine and enough warmth really. Some varieties did better than others.
Next year, I will put more energy into preparing the soil and will put the tomatoes on the south side so they get more sun. I’ll choose my varieties more carefully next year too.
I’ve had some success with chile peppers and sweet peppers, but next year I’ll make sure and put them in an easier place to care for them, they were a bit taken over by the squashes this year.
I’ve put a load of spent rabbit bedding on the soil where the tomatoes were to add nitrogen and organic matter. I’m using that as a nursery bed full of pots of plants to go out in the spring. This means that the plants get a good start, but I’m not taxing the soil, I’m building it.
Week 19- July 23rd- July 30th
It’s been cold this week, almost autumnal. It has been too cold to ripen tomatoes very quickly and I’ve given up on the melons. However the squashes are still growing like mad. They are growing and sending down roots, so I’ve moved the melons out and given more space to the squashes. The squashes are fruiting prolifically, so it makes sense to give them lots of room to grow.
I’ve had a bit of a white fly infestation on the squashes. I’ve removed the worst leaves and I’ve sprayed the rest, top and bottom, with a mild solution of water and dishwashing liquid. Fingers crossed that I can contain it.
I’d let the tomatoes get a bit out of hand and left too many side shoots to grow. Although there are lots of tomatoes growing, the weather is too cold to ripen them and so I decided to have a good old cut back to try and direct the growing energy and moisture to the best fruits. I got a friend who has more tomato experience to come and help me do a bit of snipping.It allows more light and air to flow around the plants. I’ve also nipped out the tops of the plants to stop them getting any taller.
I’ve taken some of the green tomatoes from the side shoots into the house to see if they will ripen on the window sill.
Week 18- July 16th- July 23rd
It’s been an amazing week! I’ve eating from the garden at least 3 times a day: juices, soups, slaws, salads, fruit compotes, baking, creative main dishes. A joy to eat and so bursting with healthy nutrients. I really don’t like eating out at this time of year because, quite frankly, my food is just too fresh to miss a meal. It feels like being an artist, except using food as my medium instead of paint.
I feel like I’ve really started to understand the polytunnel and how the rhythms of nature work in this other climate in the garden. I always try to work ‘with’ the garden instead of ‘in’ it and to start with, I felt like I was creating an artificial climate. Now I feel like I have a bit of a partnership going on with Ma Nature.
The squashes are going CrAZy! I have to keep an eye on them and keep snipping off the male flowers.
The peppers are just starting to ripen.
We are getting 2 cucumbers a week and a few tomatoes a day now.
Week 17- July 9th- July 16th
I’m exactly 2/3 of the way to 180 days. Amazing to record the growth from 0 to triffids!
The weather has been quite warm this week, so all the plants are very happy in the tunnel and it is such a pleasure to be outside. There are lots of delicious vegetables available now. I’ve eaten the first spaghetti squash, I’d forgotten how good they taste. Seasonal food is just the best.
I’m going to have to remove all the male flowers on the squashes and melons today, they are growing so fast. They all need tying up every day now.
There are lots of chilies and peppers ripening now and small aubergines coming along nicely. The tomatoes are full height and laden with fruit that is now swelling and ripening. Delicious!
Week 16- July 2nd- July 9th
The weather is still quite a mixed bag, with some warm and hot days mixed with cool rainy ones. The tomatoes, peppers and aubergines are not very happy about that, they prefer the weather to be consistently hot. However, you can control the temperature a little bit with the polytunnel by opening and closing the doors.
The tomatoes have all set 4 or 5 trusses and so I’ve pinched out the tops to stop them getting any taller and to send the energy to the fruit. There are a lot of tomatoes ripening!
I’ve had 2 cucumbers this week and a few tomatoes every day. The peppers won’t be long.
The first spaghetti squash is nearly big enough, I’ll be eating that this week. It’s my favourite squash, yummy with a bit of garlic, butter, cracked black pepper and parmesan cheese!
I’ve been spraying with the Gardenzest, I think it is making a difference. Here is the poorly aubergine this week, I do think it looks a bit better.
The polytunnel has been really useful for drying out my garlic that I harvested on Sunday too. When it’s dry, I shall hang some of it up in the tunnel, it helps to keep the pests at bay, as do onions.
Meanwhile there is a feast of food in the garden, way more than we can eat. Peas, beans, lettuce, rocket, kale, cabbage, potatoes. I juice with garden stuff in the morning, eat garden soup at lunch and am spoiled for choice in the evenings. Oh and herbs make great teas throughout the day!
Week 15- June 25th- July 2nd
We’ve had a heatwave this week followed by a huge thunderstorm, so the plants in the garden are looking really healthy, happy and productive. So do the weeds!
Meanwhile in the polytunnel, I’ve been watering twice a day and making sure that both doors are open during the hot weather. The tomatoes are ripening every day and today I will be picking my first cucumber!
There are loads of squashes growing now, I can’t wait!
Some of the aubergines that I planted in the ground are not looking so clever. The ones in pots in compost are very healthy, so it must be something to do with the soil. I’ve been asked to trial this plant booster called Gardenzest and we’ll see if that can help them.
It’s made from plant extracts and you spray it on the plants to help improve their resilience and health. Well, we’ll see what it does. Aubergines like to be misted anyway.
Week 14- June 18th- June 25th
We’re just on the other side of midsummer now and we’ve hit what I call the ‘tipping point’, that is to say the point in the growing season when we eat more from the garden than not. There is plenty to juice, more salads than we can eat, peas, kale, cabbage, baby courgettes, rocket, tiny cucumbers, potatoes, spinach, onions and lettuce galore. The brassicas are amazing, they really benefited from their good start in the tunnel early on.
I was ridiculously excited to eat the first juicy, sweet tomato! The second one is on the way 🙂
The rest of the tomato plants are coming along nicely too. I haven’t done any pollinating by hand, there have been plenty of bees buzzing about doing it for me. The companion plants look amazing and seem to be doing the trick, everything is pest free. The chickens like to munch the lettuce, but that’s fine, there is plenty.
I’m so excited about the spaghetti squash, there are lots of them ripening, it’s doing really well.
Two tiny gardens are emerging just outside of the tunnel, it’s all kind of spilling out with joy!
Week 13- June 11th- June 18th
What a difference a week makes, especially when the sun shines and the weather is warm. The whole garden is zinging with prolific growth. There are vibrant, health-giving plants all around me. Every summer I am overwhelmed by the abundance that nature provides. I’m surrounded by colour, textures and tastes that make me want to turn my beautiful plants into art on a plate.
In the polytunnel, I have lots of tomatoes swelling up and the first ones are starting to turn red.
The cucumber is laden with flowers and fruit and so is the spaghetti squash.
The aubergines are doing a lot better now that I have moved them into pots and changed the soil that they are growing in.
I’m using a comfrey liquid feed twice a week and watering every day. What a joy!
Week 12- June 4th- June 11th
YAY! We’ve finally got some proper summer weather! What a difference. Everything is fruiting now. I will be harvesting two or three courgettes tomorrow when my daughter comes home from University for the weekend.
Looking forward to making a stir fry with homegrown courgettes, onions, pak choi, peas and pea shoots, kale, cabbage and orach. Yum. Inside the tunnel, the tomatoes are coming along well and we have the beginnings of butternut squash, spaghetti squash, cucumber, peppers and aubergines. Hot weather means regular watering, plenty of ventilation and of course eating outside a lot.
Week 11- May 28th- June 4th
We’ve hit that point in the season where everything is just starting to fruit. I have the first pea, a couple of courgettes forming, flowers on the potatoes and about 8 baby tomatoes. We had an actual balmy evening last night, the first one, so perhaps the weather is going to be better now. I’ve given some lettuce away, I can’t eat it all and I can use the space for something else. It was cut and come again lettuce, but it was growing too fast for me to keep up! Mornings are beautiful when the light comes through and the dew, yes there is dew in the tunnel, sparkles in drops on the leaves. The cucumbers are growing really quickly now. I hope I haven’t over crowded them. Time will tell. I’m not sure about the aubergines, their leaves seem a bit curled up. I wonder if I’m getting the watering right. I’m doing a bit of research into the whole watering thing. All the little marigolds are in bloom now and make the tunnel really pretty and will hopefully keep the pests away. The chickens just love it for dust baths and they de-bug and fertilise as they go. Win Win.
Week 10- May 21st- May 28th
The weather is still so cold that people are still making fires and are wearing winter coats, hats and gloves. I’ve had to keep the doors closed because it is so cold and icy windy. The chickens make a bee line for the tunnel as soon as I go out there! However, I decided to take a chance and put the courgettes outside in their beds. I’ve put some of them in big pots with the bottoms cut out to give them extra soil and keep them away from slugs. I have my first female flower, so next week I’ll be eating my first courgette! The peas that I grew in the tunnel and planted out last week have now got flowers too. They won’t be long either. Tomatoes are doing well, there are a number of little tiny ones coming along now. I’m feeding them with nettle and comfrey tea once a week. I’ve got way more lettuce than I can eat. Not sure what this flower is, I took a cutting last autumn, but it was a nice surprise to see it flowering amongst the chilli plants this morning. I’ll have to figure out what it is and give it a home.
Week 9- May 14th- May 21st
It’s still cold! Cold winds and grey skies are not conducive to bumper crops and happy plants. I’ve been so grateful to have a warm place to pot up seedlings and small plants. I planted broad beans in the tunnel to fix the nitrogen for the tomatoes because the soil has not been enriched for lots of years like the rest of my beds. However, the beans got blackfly. I tried spraying them with soap, but it didn’t work, so I’ve cut them down but left the roots underground to fix the nitrogen. I have more broad beans in the garden outside. The exciting news this week in the polytunnel is the appearance of my first tiny tomato! Courgettes in pots are thriving and ready to go out, but the weather isn’t warm enough. This time last year, they were all out. I’m also bringing on sweet corn ready to go out when it is warmer. I’ve put sones on the soil to help to retain heat. Tomatoes, aubergines, cucumber and lettuce are all doing well.
Week 8- May 7th- May 14th
I wish it would warm up! It’s been so cold. We’ve only had one warm day this week, but the rest of the time it’s been unseasonably cold, mostly because of a north wind. Thankfully, I’ve been able to work in the polytunnel because I could shut the wind out. This week I have planted watermelon in the polytunnel and have been bringing on spaghetti squash, butternut squash and courgettes, ready to go out when the weather is warmer. I’ve also got some chillies and peppers growing in pots, as well as a few other tender plants. The lettuce and broad beans are doing really well too, although I have had a bit of an issue with ants and blackfly on the broad beans. I’m spraying them with soap and I hope that sorts things out. If it doesn’t, I’ll chop them down and put them in the hot compost, I don’t want a polytunnel full of blackfly. The tomatoes in the ground are doing well, but the ones in the hanging baskets are struggling. I don’t think I am getting the watering of them quite right. I’ve planted some chrysanthemums and blackfly to help with pest control.
Week 7- April 30th- May 7th
Salads everyday now! It’s been a really mixed bag weather wise this week, some really cold, wet and windy days and a couple of lovely sunny ones. Lots of plants in the area have blossomed and then gone brown really quickly. I’ve had to have the doors of the polytunnel closed quite a lot of the time because of the wind and low temperatures. But it has been a very productive week and the polytunnel has come on in leaps and bounds. I’ve dug in some spent rabbit bedding into the soil. This helps to create better soil texture and adds nutrients and a bit of moisture retention. I’ve put all the brassicas and legumes outside now to make space for squashes, cucumbers, courgettes and chillies. The young plants are looking really healthy and forward from their time in the tunnel. I’ve used bamboo hoops to rig up a string system for the tomatoes. They are loving being in the ground. I’ve nipped out the tops of the broad beans to deter black fly, meanwhile they will be fixing nitrogen for the tomatoes. A few chrysanthemums and marigolds will help with pest control. I’m also using the hoops to create climbing frames for the cucumbers. The chickens are loving their nightly round of slugging and fertilising! They make a bit of a mess, but leave the plants alone and are so vigilant at munching the pests.
Week 6- April 23rd- April 30th
Well, let’s just say that this week has been a learning curve. The weather has been shocking, absolutely freezing at night. Two nights of really heavy frost have killed some of my tomatoes and courgettes. Beans, lettuce and all my little seedlings still look great, so that’s good. My neighbours’ tomatoes were a greenhouse and have survived (although his grape has been damaged). I think this is because his tomatoes were in the ground and the greenhouse is a bit warmer. He also has a good layer of dung down. I do have a heater, but I was hoping not to use it because I don’t want to waste either money or energy.So today I shall be following some of First Tunnel’s advice about how to protect vulnerable and tender plants from extreme cold. I’ll be adding- Heat retaining stones Black buckets filled with water in each corner to create heat sinks Horticultural fleece layers around vulnerable plants I will also order a thermometer that measures the coldest point in the day as well as the current temperature.
Week 5- April 16th- April 23rd
We’ve had a beautiful sunny week and everything is coming on in leaps and bounds. It’s getting really hot inside and the soil has been quite dry and crumbly so I’ve had to keep the doors open and water regularly. I’ve put up some hanging baskets with tumbling tomatoes in, they are doing well with little flowers and trusses, it won’t be long! I put courgettes in big pots to bring them on a bit before I put them out in the garden and while I’m waiting to put the tomatoes in the soil. The broad beans have flowers now and are miles ahead of the ones outside. There are plant pots everywhere ready to go out when it is just a little bit warmer. I’m tempted to put the peas and beans out, but I know that we have been forecasted another cold snap, so I will be patient.
Week 4- April 9th- April 16th
4 weeks have flown by and I’ve had my first baby leaf salad today! Wow, what a difference to shop salad, this year I’ll be able to enjoy it all year round. This week I’ve had a bit of bother with slugs and the weeds have just started to appear. So I’m being vigilant about picking the slugs off and giving them to my chickens who provide me with the eggs for my salad! I’ve also learned to water in the mornings rather than the evenings, this means less overnight munchers. I had a similar but worse problem in the cold frame, and here is how I remedied that. Speaking of watering, I’m saving plastic bottles to use in various ways in the polytunnel. The tops of them can be used upright to create a polytunnel within a polytunnel, or inverted to create a watering system during the hot months. Simply drill a couple of tiny holes in the caps, plunge into the soil near the roots of thirsty and hungry plants and fill with water and feed. This will help to keep them nourished, keep the water from burning the leaves and is better for the slugs. I’ve used the tops of bottles to give my basil extra protection as they like very warm temperatures and it is still quite nippy. It’s a bit like putting on an extra jumper! I’m plucking the little weeds before they have a chance to take root and seed. It doesn’t take long if you keep on top of it. This weekend I’ll have a shuffle around and start moving some of the hardier seedlings out into the garden beds and the strongest tomato into the soil of the polytunnel. I’m remember to pinch out the little side shoots. I’ll use the sides of the bottles as slug barriers and the bottoms also to protect from slugs and retain water. I’m preparing a giant dustbin compost brew using seaweed, comfrey, nettle and chicken poo for the fruiting season.
Week 3- April 3- April 9th
Well the weather is much better now, it’s been T-shirt warm and all the buds are coming out on the trees and everything is starting to grow quickly. I’ve been spending lots of time sitting in the sun potting on my seedlings from the window sills in the house and then putting them into the polytunnel. I’ve potted on 3 varieties of kale and 2 varieties of peas. It’s getting really warm inside the tunnel, so I’m keeping the doors open through the day to let some air through and remembering to water at night. It is now littered with little seedlings! The staging is almost full and everything is growing really well. The tomatoes are getting stronger in their pots and according to First Tunnels, I should wait until they have their first flowers before put them in the soil. Time to pinch out the tops of the sweet peas to encourage them to grow side shoots. I’ve potted up some basil seedlings, but I’m not sure how they will do, I have read that they are quite hard to grow. If they do get established, I’ll be happy as they are supposed to be good companions for tomatoes. I’ve got a few brassicas in there at the moment and I’m trying to decide whether or not to move them outside. I think I would prefer to use the space for other sun-loving plants that I can’t grow outside. The other consideration is the soil. Brassicas are hungry feeders and although I will be doing a lot of soil building, I don’t want to deplete it. The broad beans are growing in there, but they will fix the nitrogen in the soil if I leave the roots in and they will be finished by the time the sun lovers are getting going. Tomato ‘Shirley’ is a good variety for unheated polytunnels. It’s an early and heavy cropper and is said to be quite disease resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Cladosporium ABC and Fusarium. The chickens think they have died and gone to heaven! They are loving the warmth.
Week 2- March 27- April 2nd
The weather has been absolutely freezing cold with lots of rain and we’ve had gale force winds. I was so relieved to see that when the winds danced and whipped around the garden, the polytunnel was completely steady. So I did enjoy getting some potting on done in the tunnel while it was raining outside, but for most of the week my hands were freezing and I didn’t feel like I really wanted to hang around any longer than I needed to. In some of the handbooks and the goody bag from First Tunnels, it suggests moving plants from window sills out into the tunnel at this time of year, but it still feels really cold to me. It’s still around freezing at night and there are bitterly cold north westerly winds going on. I have also been a bit nervous about putting things in the soil before having a plan in my head about what to put where in the soil. I’ve been trying to decide whether I will use a rotation system, or a polyculture style of planting. However, today we had a lovely sunny day and I had time to just relax in the tunnel in the warmth and get a feel for how I will use the space. I’ve planted lots! Broad beans that will fix nitrogen in the soil and can come out and make room for the tomatoes. Some cabbage planted in between and some rows of 3 types of lettuce and chard. I’ve also put some potatoes in sacks and brought them in the polytunnel to get them going. I can move the sacks out when the weather is warmer and use the space for squashes and melons. I’ve potted on 5 different types of tomatoes and planted a few herbs in front of the tunnel. Indoors, I’ve got some seeds planted: Walking Stick kale, Hungry Gap kale, 2 kinds of courgettes, french beans, 2 kinds of peas, basil, lettuce and parsnips.
Week 1 March 19th to 26th
This week I have been sorting out the inside of the tunnel and getting it ready for planting. Since I didn’t get any staging with the tunnel, I’ve put some shelves in there that I can move around. This will allow me to rotate my crops and also grow underneath the unit. I’ve dug the path down and used the soil to heap up the beds. I used some slabs that I found lying around to make the path, this will stop me trailing mud everywhere and help to retain some order in the tunnel. Digging the path quite low also gives me more height in the centre which is great because I will use the cross bar for hanging baskets. I’ve potted on some chard and some broad beans and shuffled them out of the cold frame to make room for some spring cabbage and artichokes. It was quite warm on one of the days, so remembered to water them. I’ve got some sweet peas coming along nicely too. I’ve used the potting bench to plant other seeds that I’ll keep in propagators on window sills until the weather warms up a bit. I’m keeping the doors closed to keep the heat in. The chickens love it! They keep scooting up and down the path, fluffing themselves up on the warm stones. The weather is still very erratic, it’s been getting quite warm sometime, but mostly very cold winds and freezing at night. Because it is such a new tunnel, the ground will not have had a chance to warm up that much yet, so I haven’t done any planting into the ground yet. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to plant where and whether I should use a crop rotation system or a polyculture scheme. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll use a bit of both. Because space is limited, I’ll reserve the ground space for things that I can’t grow outside like tomatoes, melons, aubergines and cucumber in the height of summer. In spring and autumn, I’ll use it to extend the growing season of things that will start earlier and last longer. Things that will bolt quickly in the tunnel like chard, lettuce and spinach in hot weather can go outside. I’ll also intercrop the main things with some root vegetables. I’ve definitely got into a routine with the tunnel now. When I go out in the morning to feed the chickens, I decide whether or not to open the doors, depending on the weather. They definitely get closed at night since we are still getting heavy frosts. I check to see whether anything needs watering. It’s starting to feel like home now!