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The Polytunnel conundrum solved by The Polytunnel Handbook


Photo: The Polytunnel Handbook

Photo: The Polytunnel Handbook

Oh the power of words. Jackie who writes the inspirational blog Chestnuts Farm  mentioned in a comment on my blog.
“Perhaps Fiona should get a polytunnel for her birthday.”

With a whir and a click I thought YES! Lynn Keddie had also suggested that it would be a good move. Our garden gave us plentiful supplies of Kale last winter but wouldn’t it be good to grow baby carrots and winter peas. The greenhouse is always chock a block with delicate plants. This would give us freedom.

Last Christmas I bought Eliot Coleman’s book Four-season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. This is packed with planting schemes and plans for making cloches, mobile hoop houses and so much more. It is an American book, written by a man whose garden is on the same latitude as southern France but a lot of the information is relevant to the UK. Incidentally this book is mentioned on the further reading book list at the end of The Polytunnel Handbook.

I discovered that there is an enormous range of poly tunnels for sale in the UK. From budget to Rolls Royce ones. There were so many choices too – hinged or sliding doors or even blinds – type of plastic covers – size and shape. So I decided to splash out on a book – The Polytunnel Handbook by Andy Mckee and Mark Gatter. Andy writes the entertaining blog Hedgewizard’s diary. I sometimes pop in there to marvel at his harvesting list. He writes well too.

This book is a real cracker for a polytunnel virgin like me. It details the importance of location, explains what all these mysterious optional extras are (ground plates?) and recommends the relevant ones. In fact the pros and cons of all types of polytunnels, solar houses and keder houses are explained in detail. The style is light, witty and hugely readable – which gives it gold star rating.

The section of what to grow at different times of the year is compact but a useful
guide. The experience that the authors’ bring to the book is really worthwhile with their tips on how to get the best out of your polytunnel, which includes underplanting ideas, crop rotation plans, thoughtful design of beads, thermal heat traps and a massive section on dealing with pests organically. I loved the walk the plank into the bucket/peanut butter mousetrap.

There are detailed instructions for building your own polytunnel. And a wonderful chapter entitled “Thinking Around The Tunnel” with suggestions for extending the use of a polytunnel such as a dedicating a small area for sitting and sipping a cooling drink on a summer evening and even a hammock slung from the crossbars.

The Polytunnel Handbook is an excellent read and a great introduction to using this method to grow plants throughout the year. My enthusiasm is now mirror polished. I now know exactly what I want in terms of a polytunnel and am rearing to go. Do I go for a cheap and cheerful or save up for a state of the art one?

Any advice on the pros and cons of your particular polytunnel would be much appreciated.

NB I’ve just spotted that the authors have a new book coming out on September 9th – How to Grow Food in Your Polytunnel. On my wish list already!

  Leave a reply


  1. Domestic Executive

    Thanks for the references. I’m testing some mini cloche tunnels right now but think we’ll eventually go for a full polytunnel to keep us in winter leaves. Good luck with your poly growing adventures.

  2. Hi Fiona
    I’d say that as with greenhouses, get the biggest tunnel you can accommodate/afford. I bought the cheapest (18×48′ i think, )and it is absolutely fine after 8 years in a fairly sheltered spot in Sussex.The anti fog plastic is nicer to work under, the hotspot tape seems to help,the bigger the doors the better,roll up sides etc seem like a great way to add ventilation,and straight sides would be a great advantage an terms of workable area if you are growing taller things.I’m not a fan of overhead irrigation but ground based is such a help when you are as busy as you!I have flowers all year round in there, and get much better zinnias etc than i ever can outside.
    What else – oh, so much more i could add, the best advice being don’t try and put the plastic on in a high wind…….

  3. French Margaret

    We had a polytunnel when we lived in Wales. It was great. It really extended the seasons, and it was possible to grow things that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise in that climate. We decided not to have another here in France because of the need for masses of water with a polytunnel. Instead we have invested in some good quality rigid plastic cloches which work really well. We do have a better climate here than Wales of course, but we’re not in wine growing country alas. The Bernard Salt book is very good, but there are some significant omissions. I’m sure if he was alive today he would have revised and updated the book. Very worthwhile all the same.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Tamar

    How are the turkeys doing?!

    The same latitude equates to the same hours of light rather than the temperature. This means that Eliot Coleman has more hours of winter light than us and you have even more. I’m going to increase the value of our light by using cooking foil in the greenhouse/polytunnel – one of Kate UK’s tips from earlier this year.

    Oh to be able to grow good vines. We have three baby ones and one day hope to make wine from these.

    Hi Jenny

    That’s interesting that you mentioned Growing Under Plastic by Bernard Salt as I was talking to a solar tunnel manufacturer this morning and he considers this is his bible.

    I ordered a copy from the publisher immediately. £14.99 including postage – Amazon have 2 second hand copies for over £50 excluding postage 🙂

    I didn’t research The Polytunnel Handbook in depth – just spotted that it is great for pointing a novice in the right direction when choosing a PT (Amazon reviews). I also rate Andy Mckee as a blogger so was interested in a book that he had co-authored. As I said in the post – he writes well and suddenly the world of PT came alive for me.

  5. It sounds interesting but I was put off when you said it was on a latitude with South France but as Tamar pointed out that does not mean the same kind of weather. If the winters are very cold then it might be relevant for me too, so must have a look now.

  6. I was inspired by this posting to read through all the reviews of the Polytunnel book, as I’d love to be able to grow stuff in the winter – and have a polytunnel in which to do it!

    One of the reviewers mentioned googling “growing under plastic”, which I did, and it turns out that it’s also the name of a very good book. The reviewers all thought it was worth buying to help when deciding when and what to plant.

    Did you see this, Fiona, when you researched the project?

  7. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    If I had a nickel for every time your blog gave me a kick in the pants to try something new or different, I could buy my own polytunnel. As fall closes in, we’ve got to start thinking about a gizmo for winter gardening. I’m thinking of a makeshift greenhouse over our upper garden, which is rectangular and flat.

    But I feel obligated to point out that, despite Eliot Coleman’s being on the same latitude as southern France, the climate of Maine (and that of Cape Cod, where I am, which is a bit south) bears little resemblance to that of, say Bordeaux. It’s bitterly cold in the winter, and often damp year-round. Otherwise, we’d undoubtedly skip all this greenhouse nonesense and go right into making world-class wines.

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