First Tunnels blog series – For the love of growing under cover
In the second of a special series of blogs for us, popular gardening journalist, Kim Stoddart outlines how to have less work and more fun in your polytunnel this year…
April Gardening Tips and Tricks
Since my article last month, we’ve experienced torrential rain, a heatwave and now there is snow forecast in some areas for later in the week. Thank goodness for polytunnels, the resilient face of ‘grow your own’ for the future and a reliable haven, whatever the weather.
Yet all too often gardening (even under cover) is made out to be an awful lot more complicated than it, in reality, need be. Like a lot of people, I don’t have a lot of time to spare so why muck about with procedures and processes if they aren’t really needed (at all)? A spot of fruit and vegetable production becomes even more rewarding (and fun) when you do things that make sense to you, rather than just following instructions on what you’re traditionally supposed to do.
Also, as well as providing you with valuable protection against the increasingly volatile elements and extending the growing season, your polytunnel affords you much greater room to experiment in all kinds of exciting and productive ways.
With all of this in mind here are just a few of my tried and tested tricks to help you decide how you’d like to ease your gardening workload (and expenditure) this year…
Bag some free materials
Your local tree surgeon can potentially provide you with as much wood chip as you could possibly ever use, which can be especially useful as a pathway in your tunnel.
Additionally, you can get can pallets for free from most builders merchants or garden centres, and they can easily be made into a potting bench for seedlings.
Cheat with herb pots
Many summer herbs like parsley, coriander and basil can be slow to germinate. So why not get a thrifty head start by buying a supermarket herb pot which offers many seedlings for often less than a pound?
These plant-packed pots often die after a few weeks on a kitchen windowsill. But when you remove the herb from its pot and examine the heavily compacted root ball you’ll soon see why. These seedlings are crying out to be separated and planted on, and you’ll be saving time and money in the process. Also, if you get through as many herbs as I do in the kitchen, it’s a great way of ensuring an abundant supply for much of the year.
Start collecting seed
It’s easy to home save seed from peas, tomatoes, French beans, lettuce, rocket and radish just for starters. These amazing home-produced capsules will have adapted perfectly to conditions in which they’ve been formed. You’ll in effect have created the best seed possible for your location. This is surely a most enticing prospect alongside saving a few quid.
No need to meticulously clean your planting pots
Although this is an often recommended ‘must’, the thorough scrubbing of your planting trays is actually mainly surplus to requirements. Unless you like creating extra work for yourself that is, in which case keeping scrubbing away. The truth of the matter however is that unless you had a problem with plant disease or bug infestation last season (such as aphid) then you really don’t need to clean them at all. Just give them a shake and look inside and underneath to make sure they are bug and egg free and then they are good to grow.
Creating new perennials
Making the most of the plants you already have in the ground makes a lot of sense and it may surprise you to learn that many brassica can be successfully grown on for a number of years. They will as biennials try and flower and set seed in their second year but if you cut them back this will encourage the plant to produce lots of lovely new foliage and they can be highly productive as a result.
Under cover they are protected from the harshest elements and will develop thick stems and deep roots which provide them with greater resilience and mean they are able to produce bumper harvests. Try doing this with purple sprouting broccoli, chard and kale in particular, although I also have a four-year-old giant sprout plant still going strong in one of the polytunnels which is hugely productive.
Don’t dig too much for victory
I know I mentioned this last month, but too much digging breaks up the beneficial microbes in the soil and leaves it exposed to the extremes. Rather than digging in compost or muck each year just apply it on top, kick back and let the worms do all the hard work for you.
Let some of your plants self-seed
Under cover the seed that has been naturally spread will then germinate in spring when it is good and ready, providing you with a fantastic array of seedlings with little to no effort at all. This is especially good to try with parsley and coriander herb wise. Rocket and salad leaves are also well worth experimenting with. You can also shake the seed onto the ground to give nature a little helping hand come the end of the season.
Kim Stoddart is a gardening columnist for Grow Your Own and Country Smallholding magazines. She also writes for the Guardian and runs polytunnel and growing courses from her training gardens in beautiful West Wales. Kim has partnered with First Tunnels and is offering our customers a special 10% discount off all May courses. You can contact Kim on 07796 677178 or via firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. Or just book before the 2nd of May to qualify. www.greenrocketcourses.com
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK