It’s been a hit and miss few weeks here at the Smallest Smallholding – we’ve been scorched, drenched and I’ve muddled through with a dodgy back. Since for most of July I was unable to get a spade in the ground where we’re siting our polytunnel, our ground prep has been slow and at times, non-existant. So I asked Hayley from Chicory, Chickens and Children – also an owner of a First Tunnels polytunnel and the person who inspired me to start properly investigating polytunnels – if she would guest post for Smallest Smallholding, and share some nuggets of practical information on polytunnel planning and preparation. Thankfully, she was happy to help – Thanks, Hayley!
(all images are © Chicory Chickens and Children)
If I have learned one thing from constructing our polytunnel, it would be not to underestimate the amount of work you have undertaken. In ideal conditions you could construct a tunnel in a few days, in adverse conditions it may take months.
But don’t let that put you off. A polytunnel is a brilliant asset to any garden and just a couple of months since completion; we are steadily reaping the fruits of our labour, literally.
Siting Your Polytunnel
When choosing where to locate your polytunnel it is important to consider many factors such as from which direction the prevailing wind blows. If possible your tunnel should face side-on to the wind to allow the wind to blow over rather than gust through. Bearing this in mind we ventured into the garden and concluded it would go where the original veg plot was located as that’s where it would fit. Our garden is surprisingly sheltered considering it backs onto open fields and this position has proved a fine choice so far.
Level ground is a bonus, but not essential. Our garden slopes gradually and we allowed for this when digging in the anchor plates and hoops. If you are on a slope, run your tunnel down the slope rather than across it.
But let’s face it, unless you have a couple of acres you will put the tunnel wherever it will fit and not completely obstruct your view.
Digging the foundations can prove backbreaking if your garden is anything like ours. This is what really slowed us down. Whilst digging we came across many large flat clay stones, characteristic of our soil type. We also dug up large blocks of concrete, bricks, toy cars, old gardening tools to name but a few of the unexpected items. Each needed to be dug out or broken up before being removed.
We decided upon a layout before putting on our polythene. Choosing to create raised beds, it was agreed to construct them before completing the tunnel, to avoid having to manoeuvre large lengths of wood whilst carefully avoiding the cover. If you opt for a simple dugout bed then you may like to wait until you have covered the hoops, but take heed, once the cover is on the temperature rockets and digging or attempting anything other than the lightest of jobs becomes a sweaty, unpleasant chore if the sun is shining.
Erecting Your Polytunnel
We chose to have an aluminium base rail to attach our cover, as opposed to the trench method. You are advised to use a large flat head screwdriver to “gently push” the ‘U’ shaped plastic grip into the aluminium rail. And it was that mantra “gently push” followed by hysterical giggling that got me through. There is a knack to pushing the ‘U’ parts, it only comes once you have blistered the palms of your hands and are nearly in tears. But rest assured, it does come.
We followed the instructions provided, whilst they were helpful, there are a few mistakes and we concluded they are not essential. We spoke frequently to the ever patient construction team who reassured us that none of them had ever even looked at the instruction guide and although it may contain precise, millimetre measurements, as long as you can get the cover on tightly, it doesn’t really matter that the central ridge is not straight or that your tunnel is on a slope.
Now that we have constructed the tunnel we are confident we could do it again, should the need arise. Having 2 young children “helping” certainly extended the experience, and as the elements conspired against us there were times I felt we would never finish. All in all it was not complicated and when I venture out to the tunnel to pick another bowl of strawberries I know it was all very much worthwhile.