A polytunnel really can be an amazing tool for the home grower. Whether you already grow your own food at home, or are a novice looking to grow food at home for the first time, a polytunnel can make your job a whole lot easier. One of the best things about a polytunnel is that with a polytunnel you are not as restricted by the winter weather and can harvest crops from the protected space throughout the whole year.
If you are new to polytunnel gardening, you may wonder how it is possible to grow food in your polytunnel all year round. You may have a whole host of questions, many of which we aim to answer with our beginner’s guides. There is a lot of information to learn and skills to discover. But when it comes down to it, anyone can grow food in a polytunnel all year round. Below, you will find some general pointers, which should help you understand what is possible, and how it can be achieved.
Planning Ahead to Grow Food in Your Polytunnel All Year Round
One of the key points to remember when it comes to learning how to grow food in your polytunnel all year round is that it is important to plan ahead and to be prepared. A little planning at the early stages can save you a lot of trouble and effort further down the line. You should plan:
- A layout which works for you and for the plants you want to grow.
- A plan of which plants to grow, based on conditions and personal preferences and requirements.
- A planting schedule taking into account conditions where you live as well as plant needs.
- An outline of tasks to undertake and when to undertake them.
- A plan for crop rotation for annual crops in future years.
Don’t worry if you don’t know everything right away! Gardening is often a process of trial and error. When one thing fails, another will work out. Diversify when it comes to what you grow and how and where you grow it and you will discover that you always end up with something worthwhile to harvest at the end of the season. It can be helpful to take notes of what has worked and what has not as this can facilitate planning in future years.
Getting Your Timings Right
When you are planting for year round growing and eating, it is important to get your timings right. Gardening is not always an exact science, so it is important not to rigorously adhere to the instructions on a seed packet without reference to your own senses, or experiences. As a polytunnel gardener, it is best to try to develop a sense of instinct about when to sow seeds and plant out. What is right in London will not be right in the Highlands of Scotland, for example. Also, what works one year may not work in another.
In early April in some years, winter can still be almost in full force, while on other years, we can have a full-blown heat wave. Common sense is often involved in making sure you do not sow or plant too early (or too late). A polytunnel will help to mitigate the strange weather effects caused by climate change, but it is still important to pay attention to what is happening outside when deciding when and what to sow and plant in your polytunnel.
It is also important to think about timing sowings for harvests at particular times of year, such as the Hungry Gap. Learning how to do so is easier than you might imagine, but it is something that will come with time.
Sustainability in Your Polytunnel
In order to grow food in your polytunnel all year round, you need to be able to sustain your gardening efforts over time. Sustainability means taking measures as a gardener to ensure that you can continue to obtain a yield for years to come. This means, amongst other things:
- Always gardening organically, without using harmful chemicals.
- Taking care of polytunnel soil through ‘no dig’ systems, cover crops, composting and mulching.
- Returning nutrients to the soil and completing natural cycles. (Though composting, mulching & liquid organic plant feeds.)
- Harvesting rainwater and conserving water wherever possible.
- Making full use of the renewable energy source of the sun.
- Making full use of biomass and organic ‘waste’.
- Saving seeds and propagating at least some of your own plants.
Do you grow food in your polytunnel all year round? Let us know how you are getting on!
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK