Beginner's Guide to Polytunnel Growing

If you would like to start growing your own, or are looking to expand your repertoire and lengthen the growing season then you should consider a polytunnel. A polytunnel can increase the number of plants that can be successfully grown in our climate and will allow you to grow vegetables all year round, even in northern reaches. A polytunnel can give some insurance against the vicissitudes of the British weather and can also help to reduce problems with pests if it is designed well and used correctly. A polytunnel is not a poor man's greenhouse, it is a tool that allows you to grow things more successfully than you ever thought possible. Think of a polytunnel simply as a large cloche and you will begin to see what it is possible to grow in one.

Guide to buying a polytunnel:

If you are considering buying a polytunnel then there are several things you have to consider. Firstly, is a polytunnel 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. A good site for a polytunnel is one with as much sun as possible. It is best to position your tunnel on a level site. The polytunnel should ideally be placed with its narrow sides, with the doors, to east and west and long sides to north and south. Do you have a suitable spot? If so, how big a polytunnel can you get? You should always go for the largest one possible as you will find you will always be able to fill the space you have and don't want to regret your purchase and have to upgrade later.

What can I grow in my polytunnel?

You can grow a huge variety of things in your polytunnel. In the winter you can fill your tunnel with winter salads, winter cabbages and other brassicas, winter onions and early peas and even the very earliest of first early potatoes, that will be ready by early June. As it warms up in spring and into summer things like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, summer salads and peppers of various sorts will gradually take over and fill up your tunnel, so year round you can grow food for your table.

What is the best layout for my polytunnel?

The layout of your polytunnel will depend on its size. With a polytunnel of 8ft in width, one path down the centre is really your only option but with anything 10ft wide or wider you may wish to start considering 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. These can be raised beds or you can plant directly into the soil. When planning what to plant where, think about maximising space through vertical growing, layered gardening and planting in succession through time. Also remember to draw out a plan of where everything is planted and try to stick to a rotation to avoid pests and maintain soil fertility.

Good luck with your polytunnel growing!