Whether you are excited to start growing food in your new polytunnel or are thinking about how to improve your old one, March is a great time to think about how to make the most of the space you have in your polytunnel as you plan for the growing season that lies ahead. There are a number of things to consider when thinking about whether you are making the most of whatever space you have:
Layout is key to the usability of your polytunnel and you may already have expended a lot of thought on the best polytunnel layout for you. For example, you may have decided to lay out your polytunnel with one path down the centre, or gone for a two-path layout. Others may have gone for keyhole beds, or for a different layout entirely. You will likely already know whether raised beds or ground growing are right for you. Maximising growing space without making gardening more difficult is a delicate balancing act. Though you will always want to cram as many crops into your polytunnel as possible, remember that you will need to leave room so you can get around.
When it comes to making the most of the space in your polytunnel, many gardeners forget that there is a vertical element to the space as well as a horizontal one. Now the time has come for your polytunnel to take over from your windowsills as the best place to start seeds, it is a good idea to sit down and think about whether you are really making optimal use of your polytunnel. The crop bars provide plenty of opportunities for vertical gardening tricks, as well as for hanging staging that can be removed when most of the seedlings have made their way into the ground. If you use your imagination, you can think beyond simply cordoning tomato plants on wires hung from the crop bars. Why not lean a mesh frame against a crop bar for vining plants to grow up, for example. You can string plastic containers from a garden cane or strong wire to make a hanging garden – or simply use hanging baskets in the highest middle section of the tunnel.
Layering in Space:
Though DIY staging and imaginative vertical gardening solutions in your polytunnel will go a long way towards making the most of the space, it is a good idea also to turn your attention to the plants themselves. Think about how you can plant companion crops together to make the most of the space – though make sure you do not introduce too much competition. Sweetcorn and climbing beans are a summer duo that play well together. Carrots and onions or spring onions are also great for intercropping – this can maximize yield for the space and reduce pest problems.
Layering in Time:
Layering plants in time is also a good way to make the most of the space in your polytunnel. When you plant parsnips or carrots or another root crop that takes a while to grow, you can also plant radishes to mark the rows. You can pull and eat the radishes long before the other crop will need the space. Cabbages can also be intercropped with lettuce which will be pulled and eaten before the cabbages need the nutrition and grow to close up the gaps.
Spring is in the air. Make sure you have a plan ready and will really make the most of your growing space this year. This is the perfect time to prepare for your year-round schedule of growing and eating.
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK