Tuesday 23 April 2013

My first polytunnel

When we were given the news that I was to be allotted an allotment, I was super stoked. It meant I finally had space for a polytunnel. I knew I wanted to have a large tunnel so that I could grown plenty of chillies and tomotoes.

Who to Buy From?

There is a lot of places to buy polytunnels online and apparently January is the month for special offers. I spend almost all of it backwards and forwards between First Tunnels, Premier Polytunnels and Northern Polytunnels. It was super confusing but the deciding factor for me was this comparison of domestic polytunnels. The fact that Northern Tunnels offered a two piece hoop instead of 3 or 4 piece hoop and they provided thicker steel sealed the deal for me. I went with a 25ftx14ft tunnel and opted to build the doors myself. Doing this meant I could get a bigger tunnel without going over budget.

The order arrived damaged and was fixed VERY quickly.

My order arrived and two of the poles had been damaged and looked like they wouldn’t fit into the foundation tubes.

However, one email to customer services (thanks Michelle) and the next day I had replacement parts. This was awesome and made me super confident in my choice of supplier. I really wish more companies were this awesome at customer service.

Preparing the allotment.

Before I could install the tunnel, I had a little bit of clearing up to do. As you can see from the photo below, our allotment had suffered a lot of neglect before it found it’s way to us. I spent all of February cleaning the place up, taking down sheds, pigeon crees, removing asbestos, repairing fences, cleaning sheds and turning over the ground ready for the tunnel. Here’s some quick pics of that progress

Here you can see it is a little bit overgrown –

And here it’s (mostly) clear.

I’d read that putting polytunnels up isn’t hard, but you are advised to wait for a wind free day. This meant I missed most of March and it wasn’t until the end of April that I caught a break in the weather and decided to put it up; or rather I had to put it up since the 100 or so plants that I had sowed in January had already bust out of the propagator and were beginning to take over the house. Here’s half of the lucky ones that managed to stay in the five star hotel that is my chilli box.

Putting it up

The plan was to put the foundation tubes and door frames up on Friday, dig the trench for the cover, fit the cover and doors on Saturday and then dig the soil and plant on Sunday. It was an adventurous plan but it had to be done. The plants were already kicking out front and were near suffocating in their 7cm pots.


With help from my most awesome father in law, I was able to get the foundation tubes in straight –

The tubes were easily installed –

As were the ridge bar and the door frames –

That was Friday and it was sunny, and I got burned. In weird places. But as it turns out I wasn’t the only thing to get burned in this project.


I started Saturday with a lot of digging, thankfully the soil at the allotment is really nice and apart from the odd bit of crockery was a joy to dig.

At that point I was ready to put the cover on. There had been zero wind up until that point, but as soon as I unwrapped it the gusts started. It didn’t matter, I was committed. With the exception of putting the cover on the wrong way, it all went pretty smooth, except when a gust caught the cover and it literally looked a giant cape floating in the air. However, we got it on and managed to get the cover nice and taught over the top by attaching it to the door frames.

After five mins with the cover on and in the sun out the tunnel temprature quickly got to “perfect” levels –

We spend the rest of the (really very sunny) day filling the trenches and making sure the cover was nice and taught.

At this point I thought I was home free, but it was tea time and we were hungry so we left the rest for Sunday.


This was always an ambitious day. I’d planned to make and fit the doors, dig the soil and plant the chillies. However there was a fatal floor in my plan - I’d forgot to order the landscaping fabric that I was going to sow my plants through so that I didn’t have to spend my summer weeding ALL THE SPACES!

As it turns out, it took me all of the day to make the doors, finish the frames and add the finishing touches. By the end of Sunday I managed to finish the tunnel, but I didn’t manage to get the ground dug or put the chillies in.

Here’s the view from outside –

And here’s a view from inside –

I was super stoked at this point. I may not have got the chillies in but I was close. It was my plan to order the landscaping fabric and bed the plants in on the following weekend.

And then some locals decided to burn down our allotment.


In the middle of a meeting I got a phonecall from my allotment neighbour telling me there’d been a series of huge fires lit at out allotment. Unfortunately our allotment was one of the ones that was decimated. And by decimated, I mean decimated. Our shed, tools, supplies, fence were all gone. No one was hurt.

Thankfully the polytunnel wasn’t totally destroyed, but the cover does need replacing. It had been up one fucking day.

Obviously, I’m gutted but I wasn’t the only who lost a load of stuff. Jeff had been building his new shed since the end of January and it was wiped out.

Moving forward.

The people at the allotment are really great, it’s an awesome community they’ve all offered bits of plastic to patch up the tunnel - which is super kind. Everyone is pitching in to fix it all up and despite a lot of people losing a lot of hard work - in some cases 50 years worth, it’s not enough to make me or anyone else want to give up.

You reap what you sow, literally. This weekend, I’ll be bedding the chillies into their new (but mangled) home and I hope the cover manages lasts the summer!