For the first three years of my gardening 'career' I grew without polytunnel, although we did have a tiny greenhouse. We managed ok, we used low tunnels and cold-frames to great effect and by the third year we were self-sufficient in veg and seasonal fruit all year round. I've covered the general range of options for growing under cover in the basics section of this eBook.
However when we got a polytunnel, everything got so much better. Not only were we able to grow more food and a wider range of food, but more importantly we had a lot more fun doing it. The polytunnel is such a lovely space to spend time in! It's also a great space to retreat to in winter, to warm up, shelter from the rain, or chill out and have lunch.
This section of the book is a celebration of polytunnel growing!
My tunnel is 20 ft by 10 ft and we bought it from First Tunnels, this is the biggest tunnel that would fit on my plot. I really do recommend getting a big tunnel, the small extra cost is really worth it! We live in a windy area, so it has extra thick tubing and wind bracing and I added crop bars in the roof which have been brilliant. My favourite crop for the roof is strawberries in hanging baskets in spring, tomatoes in early summer and lettuce in winter!
My tunnel is oriented east/west and it has double sliding doors at both ends, it's not heated.
One of the downsides to a polytunnel and especially a big one is that you will need to water it a lot and if you are on an allotment you will almost certainly need to capture water off the tunnel and store it up for use in autumn, winter and early spring when the allotment water supply is off.
I've used two different techniques for capturing water, both work. This is the first attempt.
This is my second attempt, which I much prefer, as it's more stable and as a result puts less strain on the adhesive holding the plastic to the tunnel and gutter.
There are also a variety of gutter kits that you can use if you are prepared to puncture the plastic. I didn't want to use these as they make subsequent re-tensioning of the plastic more difficult. The comments on the videos provide some useful ideas too.
One of the challenges with storing water is that it's collected low down, so the tanks won't be high enough to fit a tap. However I prefer dip tanks. The ones I use are from B&Q.
To store enough water I also pump it from the dip tanks to two IBC tanks (which I grow carrots on top of) and I can also pump water out of the tanks too. This video gives details of the pump for this purpose. I also have a more general video on the pump too.
One of the huge advantages of a high tunnel is - not surprisingly - the height. This is great in summer because you can grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers etc. However it's also useful in spring for starting crops like early beans, which you can move outside once the weather warms up.
I also have a big path in my tunnel, which I use for starting plants early and then moving them outside, or inside later on in the season. The path gives me a great sense of space and a good place for a couple of deck chairs too!