If you saw the recent BBC1 programme Glorious Gardens from Above, you probably saw our four fabulous polytunnels. Our tunnels are some of our best growing spaces. We can control the moisture and weeds, and to a surprising degree, the temperature and pests. They also mean we can grow year-round: salads, mustards and young brassicas in the winter and early spring; carrots, peas and greens in spring and early summer; and the most amazing Mediterranean crops the rest of the year! They also provide us with a place to have a cup of tea, when the weather is miserable outside.
We did a fair amount of looking around before getting our first two polytunnels. We visited other farms where they’d re-used/re-loved/upcycled old tunnels, and we really considered it. But the cost was still high – you have to dig out the old frame, transport it, reassemble, and usually still buy a new skin. In addition, you don’t always have options for things like shapes and sizes, and we had a pretty clear idea about what we needed. None of this is to say that we wouldn’t rescue polytunnels from neglect if we had unlimited space and planning permission, and if you’re looking into polytunnel rescue, there’s lots of good reasons to go for it!
Where to get them? What to get?
In the end, we decided to get our first two tunnels, Poly and Polyanna (working titles: Poly 1 & 2), and the subsequent two (Polys 3 & 4), from First Tunnels. We wanted large tunnels, with straight walls (not sloping to the ground). This was something we’d learned early on – the sloping walls often mean you lose growing space, because you can’t get into the corners easily, and you can’t use them for tall plants because there’s nowhere for them to go.
First Tunnels was great – they really know their stuff, obviously enjoy their work, and they’re super enthusiastic. Their website and social media is chock full of images of them using their own tunnels on their organisation’s allotment, which is a nice way to showcase what a tunnel can produce. They’ve been supportive and encouraging, and it’s very easy to recommend them if you’re looking into getting your own – either for your large plot of land (large to massive tunnels), or for your allotment (tiny and perfect for the plot). They’re a great way to grow through all seasons.
We’re not allowed to have any more on the patch of land that we’re on. But even just the four that we do have have a massive impact on what and how much we can grow. If you’re interested in learning more about polytunnels, you can read about seasonal growing, and you can always come done to Cultivate to find out more face-to-face (or soil-to-hand). Just let us know that you’re interested.