A polytunnel can be useful for growing a wide range of herbs. This beginner’s guide to growing herbs in a polytunnel will help you avoid some common pitfalls and gather a successful harvest of herbs for use when fresh and dried throughout the year. It will allow you to get started with growing a wide range of useful culinary herb varieties in your polytunnel.
Why Grow Herbs in A Polytunnel?
First of all, it can be helpful to consider why we grow herbs in a polytunnel. There are a number of reasons why growing herbs in a polytunnel can be a good idea. Not only will herbs provide you with full flavoured additions that you can add to a range of recipes year-round, they can also serve to help polytunnel gardeners in a range of other ways. Herbs planted in a polytunnel can:
- Attract bees and other pollinating insects.
- Enhance the performance of other nearby crops.
- Distract or repel a range of common polytunnel pests.
They can also be used in a range of herbal remedies, toiletries and other products.
Which Herbs Are Best For Polytunnel Growing?
One of the wonderful things about polytunnels is that they allow you to grow a wide range of different plants, including a huge variety of different herbs that would not necessarily do well outdoors where you live. For example, you may struggle to grow Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, thyme or oregano outside in wet, rainy or cool areas, while inside a polytunnel these dry-land herbs can flourish. Some of the best herbs for polytunnels include basil, coriander, dill, parsley and many more, each of which are examples of herbs that can benefit other polytunnel crops.
Identifying the Needs of Different Herbs
Almost any herb can be grown in a polytunnel. But in order to be successful in growing herbs in a polytunnel, it is important to be able to identify the needs of different herbs. For example, rosemary requires a free-draining growing medium and full sun, while basil needs sunshine but more moisture, and parsley likes things wetter still and will do well when given some shade in summer. These varying needs can all be met in a polytunnel, but it is important to remember that different herbs will have different needs as this can help you decide where in the polytunnel to place them.
Creating a Herb Garden: Where to Plant Herbs
Growing herbs in your polytunnel can be a very rewarding thing to do. Not only will the various herbs that you have in your herb garden provide flavour for meals throughout the year, they can also help to manage pests in an organic way.
Companion Plant Annual Vegetable Crops With Annual Herbs
While some gardeners will simply decide to create a herb garden as a distinct growing area, it can also be helpful to have herbs spread throughout your kitchen garden. Companion planting annual herbs with annual vegetable crops can help to keep pests at bay. Certain herbs will repel pest species, while others will attract beneficial wildlife such as predatory insects and pollinators to your polytunnel garden. Spreading annual herbs throughout your growing areas can help you to maximise their beneficial impact, and since they are annual, they will fit in nicely with a crop rotation system.
Create a Permanent Polytunnel Area For Perennial Herbs
Not all herbs, however, are annual. Many are perennials which can endure in your polytunnel year after year. You will not want to plant perennial herbs in beds that are part of a crop rotation plan, but should consider creating a dedicated herb garden for perennial herbs in your polytunnel. Perennial Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage and oregano can thrive in a polytunnel. It can make it far easier to grow these herbs, even in wetter, colder regions of the UK.
Growing in the Ground Vs Container Gardening
Since different herbs have such different needs, it can be helpful to consider carefully how and where to grow them. One important question to ask yourself is whether it would be best to grow them in the ground, or in containers. Both options can have their benefits, which can help you meet the specific needs of different herbs.
The key to success in growing herbs is creating a herb garden which can cater to all the different needs of the various herbs that you wish to grow. When creating a perennial or annual herb garden area in your polytunnel, you will have to consider how you are going to create this range of habitats. One great way to meet the needs of a range of different herbs in a relatively small area is to create a herb spiral. A herb spiral is one way to provide wetter and drier, sunnier and more shaded areas for a range of different herbs. You can include both annual and perennial herbs.
Harvesting Herbs from a Polytunnel
When it comes to harvesting your polytunnel herbs, one final thing beginners should remember is that many herbs can be used both fresh and dried. Think about how you can store your harvest of some herbs for use later in the year.
How To Use Herbs From Your Polytunnel
Herbs make valuable additions to your polytunnel garden. Not only can they be useful in a wide range of recipes and for other applications around your home, they also serve as beneficial companion plants for other polytunnel crops – helping to attract pollinators and keep pests at bay. If you are new to polytunnel gardening, you may be wondering how to use herbs from your polytunnel. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of the herbs that you grow in your polytunnel:
Of course, each of the different herbs that you might grow in your polytunnel can be used in a wide range of recipes. Over time, you will learn which herbs work best in which recipes. The ideas below, however, should give you a good place to start:
Make A Home-Made Pesto
One of the easiest ways to use up your fresh herbs when cooking for your family is to make a simple home-made pesto. Pesto is traditionally made with basil, though you can make pestos using a wide range of different herbs from your polytunnel. When making pesto, the idea is basically to combine finely chopped herbs with oil, salt, pepper, olive oil and often cheeses and nuts or seeds. Pestos are delicious when stirred into a range of different recipes, often added to pasta for delicious and simple meals.
Create Herby Omelettes for the Whole Family
Fresh herbs can be the crowning glory of many simple meal ideas. One of the easiest of all is the simple omelette. The whole family can enjoy simple omelettes with parsley, thyme or other herbs, and you can add plenty of other leafy greens and other vegetables for good measure. This is a great way to use up herbs for busy families, as your meal can be on the table in next to no time.
Use Herbs To Make Herbal Teas
Herbs are particularly useful things to grow because you can not only eat them, you can also use a range of herbs to create healthy herbal teas to boost your metabolism, help you relax or pep you up and give you energy for the day ahead. Why not experiment in making some herbal teas with the herbs you grow in your polytunnel. Never made a herbal tea before? Mint, chamomile and lemon balm can be good options for beginners.
Create Home-Made Soaps or Beauty Products
In addition to eating herbs, you can also use them in a wide range of other applications around your home. You can use herbs in home-made soaps, hair rinses, cleansers and other beauty products, as fragrances or in cleaning products for your kitchen or bathroom. Herbs can be useful for so many things, so remember to look beyond edible uses when thinking about how to use the herbs from your polytunnel.
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Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.