My First Polytunnel
Moving into the big time
Let's make no bones about it, if you are serious about growing veg in the Inishowen area then purchasing a polytunnel is a must. With our unpredictable weather it's a pleasant experience to dash into the tunnel to avoid another soaking and gaze upon the wonders of what a tunnel can produce. At least in a tunnel you control the environment
What type and from what stockist
This all depends on what your needs are. As I am just starting out I decided to get the bog basic 10ft wide * 30ft long tunnel with 2 standard doors on either end.
What company to use
I went with an english company called First tunnels but I priced Mc Kennas , Polydome, Highbank & Fruithill farm which were all irish companies. Most of the irish companies came in roughly from about €800-€1000 but for the same spec with First tunnels it came to €660 incl shipping in the January sale. Whatever company you use I recommend you visit the First tunnel site as it has an advanced website and can explain all the requirements and you can choose varying options. I'll explain later in recommendations but a crop bar would have been a handy addition and would also add to the most important factor of wind protection.
Building a polytunnel is not a simple process but is not overly complicated either. The instructions that came with it on the whole were frankly pathetic but it did have a picture guide. If you have never seen a polytunnel before it can be a nightmare going through the stock checklist to see if you got all your pieces. I have spoken to other polytunnel enthusiasts who have used different companies and they say the instructions are just as bad.
The first step is to try and ensure your ground is level. Tunnels can be built on a slope but with Inishowen wind it is a precarious business.
The next step is to mark out your plot and line out specific to your case(mine is 10ftW * 30ftL). then you insert your ground pins. In my case there were 7 on either side. You can buy a plate to go on the bottom of the pin or you can concrete these in. I would highly recommend this again because of our wind problems. I used dry mix and as it was a particular wet spell it would bed in nicely before I attached the hoops. Alas this was my biggest mistake. This is the most important part of the build and the dry mix was to let me down. The most important part is to be square and level with the ground pins.
Assemble and attach the hoops
The instructions were quite good for this part and there are also stabilising bars that go on each corner. These are then attached to the ground pins and this is where my build went pear shaped. As the hoops went in my perfectly level ground pins started to pop out and i had to start all over again. But as I had now concrete to deal with it made it very difficult to deal with. But by hook or by crook we managed to get back on track and got it reasonably level. And the hoops were attached to the ground pins and then a tech screw was screwwd in at the joints to keep them together in high winds.
I am not a joiner and had never built a door/door frame before but that said if the instructions were clearer it would have made this part of the build a lot easier. The door frame must be in the centre of the end hoops and it must be level to the hoop. My access is 3ft wide but some may prefer double door and can adjust to suit. The frame is attached to the end hoop with p clips and ensure that this all plumb before concreting in the frame.
The it is time to assemble the doors. Again the doors came as standard and were cut to correct size so it was a matter of screwing it all together.
Then comes a bit of spade work. A trench of at least 30in depth(the deeper the better must be dug around the entire tunnel
Squeaky Bum Time-putting on the plastic cover
The most nerve wracking time of all is when it is time to put on the cover. As even on the calmest of days a breeze is sure to rise up the minute you unfold the plastic. Depending on the size of your tunnel will depen on how many you need. I had 8 people line up to help me and only one showed up(the ever reliable Mr. Reilly) and then we had head down to village to see if we could gather up a few(best laid plans and all that). The cover was unfolded partially and then brought over the entire length of the tunnel and then unfolded into the trench. This is definitely not tea time and it is all hands to pumps. You then set up your team, a trench filler and a cover tensioner. Starting in the middle add soil, gently tensioning as you go. Repeat on either side as necessary. Rushing here is a definite no-no.
Tensioning the gable ends
To tension the ends where the door frames are a stanley knife was used to cut the plastic at approximately a 45 degree angle, a lathe cut to the length of the frame was wrapped in the plastic and the pulled downwards. Then it was nailed to the inside of the top of the door frame. Then its a matter of going back over the trench and tramping and filling and tensioning. I was very happy with this and it is as tight as a drum and overall the tunnel looks well.
If I had my time over
If I was to do it all again I would
-order crop bars for hanging baskets & additional strengthening
-never ever get dry mix as everything was going beautifully until that.
-start in the springtime not the wintertime. I was like a kid at Christmas and was so excited about erecting this tunnel. As I work weekdays I only had the Saturday to work on it and was soaked or frozen.
-remember that I had to sow plants to put in it. No point having the tunnel without the plants to put in. I had to beg some off people while my own were in seed trays
This polytunnel was brought to you by the eternal patience and willing assistance of John & Mary Reilly my father James and my wife Rona for looking after
Neil while I bodgered away out the back. We are now enjoying our cucumbers and courgettes and are looking forward to the tomatoes with bated breath. I'll post another picture or two about how the garden is looking now.