In this, the first extract from the First Tunnels sponsored, new Climate Change Garden book, Kim Stoddart explains how by learning from the natural world we can bring greater resilience to our polytunnels for the more volatile weather laden road ahead…
Polytunnels (aka vital undercover structures) are increasing in popularity, as they enable a viable extension of the growing season, as well as enticingly allowing the home grown enthusiast to greatly extend the range of edibles possible in new and very exciting ways. From reliable tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers and chillies to sweet potatoes, melons and grapes, such produce will thrive under cover in all corners of the UK.
These tunnels also provide an undercover outside space that can be used by the keen gardener on even the wettest of days, as well as providing an attractive, protective haven in which to sit and ponder your climate change gardening day ahead.
If you can fit one in, they really do take your produce growing onto a whole exciting new level and allow lots of room for experimentation, all-round. As well as enabling you to really widen the range of fruit and vegetables that can be feasibly be grown, they also allow you to overwinter many more plants successfully, and to seed save more than you would be able to do purely outside.
Despite an increasing interest in a more naturalist approach to planting in our gardens, it’s true than on allotments (and in tunnels) up and down the country, straight lines and blocks upon blocks of produce are still the uniform order of the day. Let’s face it we’re programmed to keep our veg growing very neat and tidy and to keep nature very much in its primped and polished place, under our control.
Yet, actually letting nature in to lend a helping hand, makes for a much hardier, low maintenance, productive, and arguably, more enjoyable place in which to grow. It taps into the natural biodiversity and wildlife in our area which means the difference between managing a plot or polytunnel where plants, the soil and the creatures all work in balance, compared to a rather sterile, high maintenance space, which has exacting chemical demands because it’s fulfilling a desired (and very controlled) aesthetic.
Honing a more resilient growing space means in part becoming a more resilient gardener, which in turns means learning to question preconceived advice and doing what feels right in your own back yard each season. It’s really not rocket science, just an ability to off-road from ingrained convention, and this concept of gardening as usual. Instead we need to get more connected and in touch with what is happening right here, right now, in order to literally and metaphorically weather out the storm.
Here are some considerations to help you on your merry way:
Putting it in context
What might help is the knowledge that, actually, much of what we consider traditional advice nowadays is based on Victorian, country house estate practises in comparatively recent times. Activities and a calendar that were designed for the team of gardeners working at the behest of the lord or lady of the mannor to keep the gardens primped and polished, and the kitchen full of produce, to their masterly pleasure.
Prior to this very controlled approach, the gardens of everyday, working folk (aka peasants), often had a more free-spirited, practically-minded ethos. This included sporting a more higgeldy piggeldy mixed planting of crops and flowers among weeds, many of which were prized for both their culinary and medicinal uses in the homestead.
Encourage wildlife in
Unfortunately there is a greater risk of new and more extreme pest problems looming on the horizon by natural fault. In an eat and be eaten world, where your plot is truly alive with a range of wildlife and beneficial predators within, it’s much harder for one type of creature to dominate and cause problems overall. From allowing a few weeds like stinging nettles to grow and wildflowers to move in, to adding a pond and leaving some dead wood or plant debris in situ overwinter, you are inviting in an array of beneficial creatures to the wholesome protection of your patch for the future.
Get seed saving
Seed saving used to be an important part of the gardening calendar up till relatively recent times, with plants harvested at the end of the season to provide the source of planting for future years. Many believe that seeds saved in your own personal growing space will become more adapted to your growing conditions bit by bit each season so learning to save even a small proportion of your own seed is an increasingly sensible option. Easiest to work with are peas, lettuce leaves, radish, leek and self seeders such as parsley and coriander.
Box Out – About the Climate Change Garden Book
Co-written with Soil Association magazine editor, Sally Morgan, the book aims to empower you with the knowledge, skills and confidence to become a climate change savvy gardener. It can be purchased via the First Tunnels website at www.firsttunnels.co.uk
Kim also runs polytunnel growing and get climate change smart courses and is offering First Tunnels customers 20% off all 2020 bookings made before the end of November 2019. Just mention First Tunnels when booking via https://www.paypal.me/Polytun to take advantage of the specially discounted price of £76. See www.greenrocketcourses.com for more details.
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK