Polytunnel plans – a longer growing season


It’s become abundantly clear that I am in desperate need of maximum growing space, in particular a polytunnel, if I am to realise all my growing goals for 2019. This year, I’ve managed to achieve more than I’ve done collectively in about five years, with preparing new plots, clearing, sowing, planting and restricting. Of course, it’s all great work and I love being proactive yada yada yada… but I fear I’ve outdone myself already. I’m really stuck for growing space.

About three weeks ago I sat one evening, pen in hand, and scribbled out some rough drawings of my veg patches, filling in the rectangular plots with all the fruit, vegetables and herbs I plan to grow this year. I’d already bought and sown umpteen packets of seeds, and I was keen to figure out what was going where, so I had my crop rotation, companion plants and It soon became apparent that the seedlings currently occupying every corner of my greenhouse, conservatory and windowsills – safe undercover as we wait out the risk of a few last frosts in the coming month – don’t all have a home to go to as yet.

I’ve already grown more than I have space for, even with my brand new no-dig bed. The only solution is that I’m going to have to pull my finger out and get a polytunnel up before early summer.

Polytunnels and Peppers

I have an allocated space for the polytunnel; it’s an overgrown patch that needs levelling before I can put something in situ, just enough to take a tunnel about 10×8. That’s enough space to grow some tender, heat and humidity-loving plants like tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and salad leaves. But crucially, it may also give me a shot at growing and harvesting the romano peppers that are currently germinating in the warmth of my conservatory.


This will be my 12th season of growing my own fruit and vegetables, and in those dozen years, I could count on one hand the number of peppers and chillies (capsicums) I’ve managed to harvest. Peppers are notoriously slow germinators, and need sustained warmth and a long growing season to thrive and fruit. I’ve read that they need anywhere between 21-29˚C at a constant.

So my lack of success with peppers is likely down to conditions – capsicums need a long growing season and our climate here in the UK doesn’t offer the longevity. It then goes that the only real solution is to start by sowing as early as possible under protection, to prolong the growing season as much as possible, and then only “planting out” – effectively by “planting under” the protection of a glass/greenhouse or polytunnel.

Cayenne Peppers

Growing Sweet Potatoes in a Polytunnel

I’ve also always fancied growing sweet potatoes. They’re pretty much a mainstay in vegan cooking, full of fibre and nutrients, and also delicious. Which is the main point, really. Sweet potato slips are readily available to buy in the UK, but conversely, the UK climate is not exactly what we would term “optimum growing conditions” for this heat and humidity-loving plant. They need near enough constant temperatures between 21-26˚C to thrive, so are best suited to growing in a polytunnel, training the sprawling stems upwards to save on space. 

sweet potato vines

You can also cover the soil in permeable black liner or weed suppressant matting to help warm the soil even quicker, and retain moisture levels. Sweet potatoes pretty much grow and harvest like a good old ‘spud’ potato, needing lots of fertile, well-draining soil to thrive underground, where the tubers swell and multiply. It’s only the potato vines that need extra space, and training them in a circular fashion or up a trellis helps to minimise their growing space, especially in a polytunnel. 

But before I even think about getting carried away and ordering more slips, seeds or plants, I’ve got a huge polytunnel patch to prepare. I’m planning a ‘polytunnel prep party’, where I basically invite people round to help me clear, level and prep the site in exchange for food, drink and good company. Even with help, I think that’s enough to keep me more than busy this month!

This post was written in collaboration with Premier Polytunnels.

Finding Space & a Polyculture Approach

Calabrese Floret

It’s been nothing short of a tumultuous three or so weeks, and now I’m hoping for blue skies ahead. Work was hectic covering for line managers on leave, preparing handovers and tying up lose ends before maternity leave, and the last week has been spent in a state of half-panic whilst looking after my mum’s geriatric cat who decided to have an imploding serious eye disease just as my mum had finally got herself off on a holiday to Cornwall that she’d been looking forward to for months.

The cat – who is also considered a family cat as we rescued her as the runt of the litter when my sister and I still lived at home (she really is that old, pushing on for two decades now) – is otherwise in perfect health, albeit now with only one eye. And my workload has suddenly diminished as I am on annual leave ahead of my maternity, and now is the time to focus on getting things done and ready for the impending arrival of the squiggly little one in my belly.

Time to find some space in my life and take a few breaths.

There is just so much to do. We’ve got some renovations to finish (builder in hospital), rooms to turn out, wallpaper to remove and walls to plaster and paint, a shopping list of essentials still to buy (working on it), and many tidy tip trips to make.

Kitchen Garden

I haven’t had time to dedicate myself as much as I would have liked to The Smallest Smallholding, but it’s chuntering along none the less. I have broccoli up to my eyeballs and have lost a few florets that have gone to flower… but that will be one harvest over and done with. I’m thinking of replacing the broccoli with flowers to keep the pollinators happy through the summer, and once the onions and shallots have been harvested there’ll be more room for edibles. I’m looking to move forward a bit more with a polyculture of edibles, plants for pollinators and herbs, as I just loved some of the permaculture approaches from RHS Chelsea earlier this year.

Bee on perennial wallflower

I was also given some french and dwarf beans, so I set about trying to find a space for them to grow. I selected a space that’s under the fruit trees but hopefully gets a big enough dose of sunlight at certain points in the day to make it productive. With all the wet weather the last couple of weeks have been a bit of a battle between me and the slugs, but my general non-intervention (occasionally I’ll pick them off at night and fling them in the compost heap) will keep them at bay. I’ve been on the hunt as well for nasturtiums as some companion planting to the beans, as the blackfly have started to make an appearance, but everywhere seems to have stopped selling them.

French beans & dwarf beans

And of course with the rain, sun, rain, sun everything is exploding around me… I’ve just been so tied up and busy that things have got away from me a bit. But now with some time to myself, no work schedules to take into account (save three days later in July) and a relatively clear timetable, I can now throw myself into whatever tasks I have on my list.

I’ve got a little Moleskine bullet journal now that I’ve faithfully been filling up with task lists, to dos, notes and trackers to make sure that these last days before the birth of our daughter are productive and full. Whether we manage to fit in getting my polytunnel up by the end of August… well, that’s another question altogether.

Overgrown Smallest Smallholding


Growing in April

sloe blossom

I’ve finally starting my growing season… in more ways than one! Bump is steadily increasing week on week, and I’m now feeling the baby kick more and more. It’s a strange, fluttering, bubbly feeling that I absolutely adore. We’re officially half way through now!

Primroses and daffodils

The days are getting longer again and I’ve finally found the motivation to get on with growing. The daffodils are out in force and the tulips that I planted in the borders are starting to show through. I’m sure in no time it’ll feel like the accelerator is on and everything will just explode, but we’re not quite there yet.


So I am trying my best to catch up on my extended winter hiatus and get ready for a summer of the Good Life. Rich has started to put in the polytunnel base plates so hopefully by the end of spring we’ll have a functioning polytunnel to grow in too. Meanwhile, I’ve been pottering around trying not to do too much too often (frustrating), but I’ve managed to sow some carrots under cover, got some peas and calabrese waiting to go into the ground, and some onion and shallot sets just taking root in modules in the greenhouse.

onion & shallot sets

I’ve already sowed some cosmos and mina lobata, and I’m hoping by the end of the week to have some sweet peas potted up. I see the social feeds of other grow your own aficiandos and I feel so behind… but gone are the days of beating myself up about it and really, now, it’s just motivation to do more!

I’ve also ordered some chick peas (garbanzo beans) to try and grow myself. It will probably work out cheaper just to buy them dried and pre-packaged in bulk, but I fancied doing something a little different this year… plus, the pretty delicate flowers the pea plants produce will look good in the plots too 😀

Lastly, I’ve also got a couple of gooseberry bushes to find some space for. I opted for hinnonmaki red as I fancied the idea of tucking into the sweeter, blushed pink fruits later in the season. Of course I’m not expecting a heavy yield, but it’s just a good feeling to be expanding my growing repertoire. And any extra blossom and flowers ahead of fruit in the garden is good by me – something else for the pollinators to feast on! The sloe blossom (blackthorn bush – see top pic) is already out despite the chilly temperatures, and the bees are loving it. Can’t ask for more.