A polytunnel can be useful for a wide range of different purposes. Often, polytunnels can be the most cost-effective way to store tools, equipment, goods or machinery. They might also be the perfect place to store foodstuffs over winter. But there are a number of things to consider when thinking about winter storage solutions in a polytunnel.
First of all, it is important to think about how your polytunnel is generally used. How suitable a polytunnel is for different types of winter storage will depend on the size of the space and also, of course, on which kind of polytunnel cover is used. You will need to think differently, depending on what type of cover has been chosen, and the polytunnel’s general use.
A Polytunnel for Dedicated Storage?
If you have chosen a polytunnel for dedicated storage, you will likely choose a polytunnel cover that does not let through the light. A shading cover can help to keep temperatures more static throughout the year. It will help to reduce overheating in summer and unlike in clear polytunnels, there will not be a problem with condensation forming and increasing humidity levels.
If your polytunnel is exclusively or primarily for storage then it is important to:
Choose the right polytunnel cover.
Consider ventilation carefully, depending on the needs of what you want/need to store.
Think about humidity levels and temperatures (obviously, linked to ventilation).
Decide whether or not you need space heating for the storage area over winter. (See suggestions for frost-free winter storage a little later in this article.
Decide on a lighting solution (if required). Bear in mind that if access is required in winter, a good lighting rig will likely be essential.
Growing and Storing?
Not all polytunnels, however, are designed exclusively with storage in mind. Most polytunnels are primarily used as growing spaces. But that does not mean that they cannot also be used for storage in addition to growing – especially during the winter months.
Even a polytunnel that is used for food production year-round could also be used for storage. One of the great things about a polytunnel is that it can be a truly multifunctional space. Using the polytunnel for storage as well as for growing could be one way to really make the most of all the space in the undercover growing area all year round.
Where exactly you are able to store items within your polytunnel will, of course, depend on the general layout that you have chosen. Areas that might be free for storage include:
The upper portion of the polytunnel. (For example, you could install storage platforms or hanging shelving from the crop bars to make use of the space above your beds.)
In an area used for seating/ dining/ recreation in the summer months. (In winter, such an area could become a storage space, as it may not be required while the weather is chillier.)
Paths in the polytunnel. (Access may not be needed as often in winter. Even when it is, clever storage solutions could allow you to make use of the ground area covered by pathways without blocking access completely.)
What Might You Store in a Food-Producing Polytunnel?
There are, of course, a number of things that you might decide to store in a polytunnel. In a food-producing polytunnel, however, one that is not dedicated to storage, some of the most common things to store are:
Pots, trays and containers ready for next year’s planting.
Garden tools not much in use over the winter months.
Seed potatoes chitting over winter ready for planting in spring.
Drying beans, seasoning pumpkins or squash, or other produce.
Firewood & fuel.
Issues For Winter Storage Solutions in a Polytunnel
Whether the polytunnel is always used exclusively for storage, or serves multiple functions, there are a number of issues that can arise. Issues that can become problems for winter storage in a polytunnel include:
Wet, and moisture.
Frost and cold temperatures.
Rodents and other pests.
There are other problems that may rear their heads. But the above tend to be the most common problems encountered. So let’s take a look at how we may combat each of them, below.
Waterproof Winter Storage Solutions
While it can be a challenge to keep humidity inside a polytunnel low in winter, there are ways to make sure that your storage provides a space that can remain dry. There are a number of different ways to keep a waterproof area in your polytunnel.
The easiest way, perhaps, is to simply purchase a waterproof container. For example, you could consider receptacles sold for use in boating, on kayaks or canoes. Waterproof storage can be a good idea for anything that may rust or become damaged if exposed to water.
However, you could consider creating your own waterproof storage with upcycled and reclaimed materials. For example, buckets and large containers used for food can sometimes be repurposed as storage containers to keep tools and other items dry.
You may not need entirely waterproof storage solutions. It may be enough to control ventilation carefully to reduce moisture. The requirements will, of course, depend on exactly what you wish to store, and how you will be storing it.
Frost Free Winter Storage Solutions
There are a wide range of different ways to heat a polytunnel in winter. For example, you could consider:
Electric heaters run off renewable electricity from solar panels etc..
A hot water heating system with pipes run from an outside eco-boiler.
An eco-friendly biomass stove, such as a rocket mass stove setup.
A low-tech space heater made from a candle and ceramic plant pot.
However, keeping a polytunnel storage area frost free does not necessarily have to involve heating the area at all. The first thing to think about is how the sun’s energy can be harnessed more effectively through implementing passive solar design and increasing thermal mass.
Keeping storage areas frost free may also simply be a case of insulating any containers or store cupboards as well as possible. Insulation could be purchased, but you could also make your own from:
Shredded paper/ cardboard
Reclaimed packaging (ie bubble wrap or polystyrene)
Low tech, simple winter storage solutions are sometimes the most effective.
For example, if you want an area of frost free winter storage, you could consider upcycling an old chest of drawers of cupboard. Simply line the drawers or cupboard space with insulating materials before filling it with the things you wish to store.
Rodent-Proof Winter Storage Solutions
If you are storing things in a food growing polytunnel, the concern is that cluttered areas could become a home for rodents and other winter pests. Mice and other rodents can often pose a problem in a polytunnel when growing food over the winter months. If they are a problem where you live, the first thing to do is to clear up the clutter and keep your winter storage solutions well contained. This will help to prevent mice and other pests from moving in.
Keeping things orderly and tidy can help to reduce the incidence of theft. You will lose fewer plants to mice and other rodents if they are not enticed to live close by. Rather than storing pot plants, tools etc. on the ground, creating cover and places for mice to hide, consider thinking upwards.
Store such items on hanging shelves, strung from the crop bars/ support structure of your polytunnel. A hanging shelf can also be a more secure place to store food items, where mice will not be as easily able to reach them.
Hanging Storage Shelf
To make a storage shelf, simply make a rectangular wooden frame. Attach hooks to the corners, and string these with wire, then cover the frame with mesh, or with leftover polytunnel plastic to create your new surface. Using mesh or clear plastic will allow sunlight to pass through and reach plants grown below, so you can use it for storage while still being able to grow plants beneath it.
These tips for winter storage solutions in a polytunnel are by no means comprehensive. But they should help you to make sure that you make the most of the space in your polytunnel and can continue to use it fully all year round.
Do you have any winter storage solution tips to share? If you do, please feel free to let us know what they are in the comments below.
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.