Z needs advice

Darlings, I have done some research but nothing beats friends’ experiences. I am thinking of buying a polytunnel.

The problem is the chickens. While I only had bantams, they were quite gentle on the land. When there were thirty of them, they had rather a go at the lawn, but the veg garden didn’t suffer very much. However, the bigger hens are a lot more destructive. For example, my Swiss chard and spinach had always overwintered unscathed, until these girls ate it all. This spring, I’ve had to net everything and it’s been quite a nuisance.

As I said, we went to the open garden day at the next village, and a couple of people had polytunnels as well as greenhouses, and they’d got some impressive produce in there. Runner beans already with set fruit, early potatoes nearly all dug up, lots of stuff. Tim said that I could do with one of those, and I need little encouragement. But what I do need is advice.

It’s absurd, of course, It’ll cost hundreds of pounds to grow vegetables that I could buy from the greengrocer. The chickens are a very expensive way of getting eggs in a glut followed by a scarcity. But let’s leave that out of it. I’m prepared to do it because it’s the way I do things. I like keeping chickens, I like growing vegetables, I am a fair-weather gardener nowadays, I don’t mind throwing a bit of money at it.

First, has anyone any advice on brands to recommend or (probably not specified in a public place) avoid? It’ll probably be around 25-30 feet long and 10 feet wide. Is it worth buying automatic irrigation? I’m sure I will need a door at each end, but any more advice? Will it simply get too hot in the summer? It will run north to south, therefore the long sides will face east and west. There will be a concrete path in the middle and two four foot wide beds. Would it be feasible for two people to put up, or else how many? Am I an idiot … well, yes, obvs, but never mind about that. Anyhoo, any advice would be welcomed and taken on board.

Thank you, as ever.

5 comments on “Z needs advice

  1. compostwoman

    Get a straight sided one, Premier Tunnels are good, think about mesh at the bottom for ventilation. Consider your prevailing wind and think about during it so the wind ventilated the pt, they can get very very hot. Doors essesntial, vAriable half doors and double open windows are ideal for extra ventilation. Automatic watering is great if you can afford it. Pick my brains if you wAnt to know more

  2. Blue Witch

    You’ve got loads of space, so get a much wider one than 10 foot. As wide as you can, then you can have two paths which is much better for accessibility and growability.

    Definitely doors each end (we find sliding best), and mesh doors for the summer (we’ve made a mesh screen which slots over the entrance). Personally I disagree with CW about mesh sides – unelss they can be totally closed in for winter (let in too much cold air for some crops).

    And don’t put a concrete path in – rats will love living under it. Weed membrane for paths (covered with sand – which the slugs dislike crawling over) is a much better idea.

    First Tunnels are pretty good for standard/ old-fashioned polytunnels – and their website informative. But, there are much better brands/ materials available now. I can’t recall the one we have earmarked for when we eventually replace ours, but will let you know if/when it comes to me (they exhibit at the RHS out-of-London shows).

    Two people (if they are you and Tim) will struggle hugely to put it up (and, always put the polythene on on a totally calm day). Some of the companies do an erection service and, in your position, I’d pay for it. There is a definite knack, and you definitely need at least one person with excellent DIY skills/spatial abilities/problem solving abilities.

    Polytunnels are best sited east/west (ours is north/south due to positional constraints) but it is far from ideal.

    On standard polytunnels there are 2 ways of securing the plastic – dig a trench, and attach to the bottom frame. We did the latter, I think CW does the former. I think the trench digging is easier (but harder work) but the attach to a frame makes replacing the plastic easier (although many people get 10+ years out of it), and also makes it less likely to tear in a wind (as the plastic moves with the frame, if the frame moves, which it might).

    You’ll need solar fans for summer – probably one each end. Ours regularly gets to 50 degrees C in hot weather, but the fans move the air and keep it cool enough.

    Auto-irrigation is a must (when you live in East Anglia) – even if it is only a couple of seep hoses on a timer.

    But, why on earth do you want one? You have amazing huge commercial sized greenhouses! Re-locate the hens and make better/proper use of what you have (which may also need fans, shade netting, and seep-hose watering).

    Get electric perimeter netting and a moveable outdoor ark for your hens, with an automatic light-sensitive pop-door. That will solve your rat problem too. Plus – and I’ve never dared say this to you before! – but I think it’s not a good idea keeping hens permanently in a glasshouse. Fine when there is avian flu, but not permanently as you (one!) get(s) all sorts of problems.

    Polytunnels are for people without large greenhouses. if I had your greenhosues (rather than just my small two) there is no way in the world that I would have a polytunnel, and I love my polytunnel.

    Shout if you need any more info as I could spend an hour talking non-stop on this subject!

  3. Z Post author

    The direction can’t be altered because of the layout of the kitchen garden. The beds are 38 feet long and four feet wide, with two foot concrete paths in between and I can’t change that. Thanks for your pointers.

    And, Blue Witch, my next question was going to be whether it was a good idea at all. The thing is with the existing wooden greenhouse, it’s never been very satisfactory. I use it for the chickens now because I always have struggled with it and they needed a better home than they had. It’s actually too big and the paths were, rather stupidly, built on brick pillars (I didn’t know this) so there was a space underneath and all the water ran down and was wasted, it was always too hot and dry for the plants and I couldn’t keep it weeded. The chickens are free range unless the weather is bad, they have their shed to sleep in and, as it’s a cheap one, it’s not really moveable. The greenhouse itself is ancient and beyond full repair, except at a lot of expense and effort and I don’t have anyone to help me. I agree that the chickens should not be kept in a glasshouse, but they’re not. A lot of it is now mesh rather than glass and, as I said, they go out every day unless the weather is dreadful or unless they’re laying away and I need to steer them back to the nest boxes. The thing is, the kitchen garden isn’t working any more. The chickens destroy it. I love growing vegetables, but I’m ready to give up because it’s just too depressing. I’m really very unsure what to do. Would you like to come to lunch and talk it over? I think I need inspiration and I respond to enthusiasm!

  4. Blue Witch

    Ah, paths on pillars with a space underneath… I now understand your rat problem! Rats and mice also love polytunnels, as do slugs (which is why fixed concrete paths in them are such a bad idea). Encouraging frogs and using nematodes (early season, while it is damp and not too hot) recommended.

    Polytunnels get hotter than greenhouses with shading. Watering is harder in a polytunnel. You wouldn’t want overhead watering/misting (increases tomato blight risk etc etc). You wouldn’t want to put a polytunnel anywhere near a brick wall (even more heat), and one does need several feet around each side when putting one up, and for future maintenance.

    I still think the answer to your problems is to relocate the hens outside of your walled garden, with an electric netting surround to keep them in a defined area (which can be as big as you like and can have scope for regular/easy rotation of grass. You could then use the kitchen garden area without hen damage risk. But, of course I don’t know all your reasoning for why things are as they currently are.

    MrBW is the expert on polytunnels, as he does most of the day-to-day veg growing now (and he put it up, with help from a construction-savvy teenage friend: I only supervised/advised/criticised ;)/helped at the covering with polythene stage). But, there may still be better options for your situation.

    We could certainly throw all the issues and options about with you for a coupe of hours (it’s hard – for both of us – trying to share thoughts/make a plan without knowing all the info), to make it easier for you to work out the best way forward for your situation, and it would be good to catch up.

    1. Z Post author

      Well, the pillars (just a couple of bricks at most) are at one end because the ground falls away, and it had never caused a rat problem. The rats tunnelled in under the foundations at the side. I did have a huge grass snake living in the gap, but never had anything nasty when I used it as a greenhouse.

      I didn’t want it as a substitute greenhouse, but as a protected area of the kitchen garden, for bringing things on earlier that need protection from the weather and from chickens and pigeons. But it seems that it won’t be suitable. What I could do with is a frame that has roll-up sides, like a marquee… or something. I’m sure I can find a cheaper and better solution, but bouncing ideas around would be great, if we can find a good date.

      Rose’s chickens also come into the kitchen garden and, having had the chooks enclosed in a grassed area in the past, I know what an awful mess they make of it – bare earth apart from nettles and docks. I do like having them around the place and they keep slugs etc down too. As I said, bantams were never any problem, even when we had 30 or more. These big hens are more destructive, but I don’t actually mind. I just have to protect anything that matters.


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