Living with the Polytunnel

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Living with the Polytunnel

With the tunnel now built, beds in, and our first long awaited crop of garlics finally planted, we began to customise the tunnel to suit our requirements. We knew we wanted grapevines as we still found the ability to grow grapes in this country a bit of a novelty, so the sister company of the company that sold us the polytunnel supplied us with 2 strong grapevines in ‘voucher form’ as compensation for having seriously messed up our initial polytunnel order (half the tubes had gone missing and we couldn’t contact the company for weeks).

With grapes and garlics planted, and boxes and boxes of seeds ordered and enthusiasm growing, Deb and I embarked on our annual early winter pilgrimage to Lille in France where we like to visit the Christmas markets. Before we’d gone though, we’d fixed a CCTV camera to our greenhouse pointing at the polytunnel. This meant we could see the tunnel and the orchard from anywhere in the world on our mobile phones.

In late November 2021, and with ourselves ensconced in one of our favourite French bars, our CCTV alarm on our phones had gone off. The previously discussed ‘Storm Arwen’ had just landed in the country and we could see from the CCTV that the doors of the tunnel were wide open, despite having been firmly shut when we left. We also saw that other parts of the garden had seen damage with shed roof felt ripped off, doors blown open and pots rolling around.

A text message to a very good friend (with us in a bit of a panic being so incapable so far away) saw our friend and her eldest daughter, venture into the winds to try and secure our tunnel before it blew away. We’d literally only had it up for 5 or 6 weeks at this stage. We watched the pair on CCTV physically battle the winds and they somehow managed to barricade both ends (it turned out the far end had blown open too).

Another neighbour also messaged us during this storm to tell us that our IBC redeployed ‘water tank’ at the far outer edge of the tunnel, had blown against the tunnel. This neighbour, a very fit gentleman in his late 60’s, managed to pull the IBC away (it weighs over 100Kg even empty) with just a small piercing in the plastic.

Upon our return a few days later we assessed the damage and remarkably, we’d got away quite lightly. We had to make some repairs to the doors and fit better latches and hinges, but the only other noticeable damage seemed to be a deep scoring of the plastic about halfway along the tunnel which looked like debris, or an animal, had bounced along the top. Neighbours told us it had been one of the worst storms of recent years with several suggesting gusts may have reached 100mph. Typical.

A few days after arriving home, a 2nd named storm of the year was announced, this time named ‘Barra’. This was our first experience actually being physically next to the tunnel during a storm and we observed several improvements that we could make once the weather passed.

The first was to raise the soil levels inside the tunnel in the beds, and also add bark and woodchip along the outside edge. This helped secure the plastic a little better by giving the total depth buried, a few more inches. We also added pipe lagging to some of the upright bars to make the plastic more taught on the northern edge of the tunnel and we also created diagonal cross bars in each of the door sections meaning wind didn’t have such large areas of undivided plastic in the doors to attack. We also added rachet straps on the inside from storm bars at each end to our waist heigh ‘herb trug’ and our old wooden potting bench at the other end. For these to be lifted would take some significant wind strength and it at least meant we had greater confidence in the frame itself staying put.

We carried on making continual improvements in the coming months and coming years. Storm Eunice came in early 2022 and on that occasion, we were again both away visiting family and clients in London but the weather warning was so severe for that storm, that we turned around and drove the 260 miles straight home in readiness. Luckily, and despite 83mph winds, the tunnel again held up incredibly well.

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