One of the most important things to bear in mind as you design and tend your polytunnel garden, is longevity. So how do you keep a polytunnel garden going long term? It is important to think about what you need to do – not just right now, but for the months and years to come. By taking a number of simple steps, you can help ensure the long term health of the ecosystem.
If you are one of many gardeners growing your own for the first time, you may be wondering – what next? It is common for new gardeners to get carried away. You might have had an initial flush of enthusiasm for sowing and planting, but feel a little lost now your gardening is getting underway and beginning to bear fruit.
There is, of course, a lot to learn about gardening. And most of that is stuff that you will simply learn by doing. It can be helpful to read articles and books, and to seek out information from other gardeners. But when it comes down to it, actually gardening will teach you more than anything else.
But to make sure you are on the right track, I would highly recommend going back to basics, to make sure you have everything you need in place. Taking care of the basics should mean that your polytunnel garden can stand the test of time. So let’s take a look at some of the basic things you should think about to keep a polytunnel garden going long term – not just for the first summer:
Design For the Site
First of all, it is always very important to make sure you are gardening in a way suited to where you live. When placing your polytunnel in the first place, you should have considered patterns – the way sunlight, wind and water move across the site, for example. Good design means thinking about temperatures, light levels, soil characteristics… It means choosing the right plants for the right places.
Remember, a garden is not a static place. Things can change considerably from month to month and from year to year. So even if you are not placing a new polytunnel, it can be a good idea to revisit your internal layout and design ideas each year to analyse where things have gone wrong, and where things might be improved when it comes to your designs.
The site will not only dictate where a polytunnel should be placed. It will also help you come up with a plan for the internal layout of your space. When planning an internal layout, you will, of course, have to think about shade and light. You’ll also have to decide whether you are growing in the ground, in raised beds, in containers, or in a mixture of different ways.
Making the choices that are right for your site will help to ensure that your garden is as productive as possible long term.
Design for You Long Term
Remember, however, good design means designing for yourself and your family, not just for the site and conditions. The better suited the polytunnel garden is to your own particular needs, the more likely you are to invest your time in it over the years to come.
Ease is very important. The easier it is to maintain and manage, the more likely you will be to keep your polytunnel garden going long term. Don’t underestimate the human effort involved in the smooth running of the system. Organic gardening means finding ways to work with nature rather than fighting it at every turn. But there is still always a human hand involved – and that takes time and effort to make a garden all it can be.
Plan Ahead – Make a Year-Round Growing Plan
Many gardeners forget that it is important to plan. If you want to eat from your polytunnel all year round and over the years to come, you need to think about what you will plant, and when, very carefully. It is a good idea to make a plan for sowing and planting, thinking not only about which crops you would like to grow.
You also need to think about crop rotation, successional and companion planting when coming up with your plans. Taking all of these things into account will help you achieve the best possible results.
Remember, in a polytunnel garden, you need to make the most of time as well as space. This means thinking about how you will fill gaps made by harvesting as soon as they open up. Your goal should be to avoid bare areas whenever possible.
Think About Water
Plants are not the only important thing in a polytunnel garden. Before you even begin to think about sowing and growing, it is a good idea to get the basics in place. Water is one crucial factor. It is vital to think about water when designing and planning your polytunnel garden.
Whether you choose to water by hand, or install an automated irrigation system, you need to think about where the water will come from, and how it will get to where it needs to be. Setting up a rainwater harvesting system is a good place to begin.
Once you have a rainwater harvesting system in place, you can begin to think about all the different techniques you can employ to use that water wisely and well. For example, you might install a drip irrigation system. You might also use watering globes or similar. You might even consider using hydroponics or aquaponics systems. These involve growing plants in water rather than soil. They can reduce the amount of water you use in your polytunnel overall.
Think About the Soil Long Term
One of the most important things to think about in most polytunnel growing systems is the soil. If you don’t take care of the soil in your polytunnel. It will be incredibly difficult to keep it going long term. You need to know your soil in order to protect it, so make sure you understand its characteristics – including its strengths and weaknesses, before you get started.
Not only should you think about protecting the soil through ‘no dig’ gardening techniques, and avoiding compaction and leaving bare areas. You should also think about how soil can be improved over time.
Think About Fertility Long Term
One important way to improve the soil in your polytunnel over time is to add plenty of organic matter. Adding organic matter, be it green (plant matter), brown (compost/ manure) or black (biochar) material, is crucial to maintaining and improving fertility over time.
Keeping a polytunnel garden going long-term definitely involves using mulches to add organic material. Mulches not only add fertility, they also help to retain moisture and can help to a degree in keeping weeds down.
You can also add fertility to your polytunnel garden in other ways. For example, you can use homemade liquid feeds to ensure long term fertility.
Think About Organic Pest & Disease Control
It is important to remember that in an organic garden, we are not alone. We rely on a wide range of other creatures to ‘garden’ alongside us. To keep a polytunnel garden going long term, it is absolutely crucial that we protect these garden helpers. And that means gardening organically at all times.
In an organic garden, we manage pests and disease holistically. We maintain and promote high levels of biodiversity in plant and animal life. We welcome in wildlife and work with nature to achieve our own specific goals. This means planting with wildlife in mind. And maintaining as much diversity as possible when it comes to what we grow.
Keep Your Polytunnel Clean and Clear
Finally, maintaining a polytunnel garden long term means thinking about how we can protect and preserve the structure itself for as long as possible. Long term thinking means taking care of the structure and the polytunnel cover carefully. Keep your polytunnel clear around the edges, so the plastic is less likely to become damaged by wayward branches etc. And make sure you keep the cover clean. The more neat, orderly and cleanly you are in your polytunnel, the longer it is likely to last.
These are just some simple tips to help you keep your polytunnel garden going long term. If you have more tips or suggestions to share, please do so 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.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.