Time to get a polytunnel!
If you want to optimize your gardening and grow all year round, it's time to get a polytunnel!
I'm generally quite laid back when it comes to gardening. I think that there are a hundred ways to do everything, and I don't want to lecture people on right and wrong. After all, the most important thing is to try and to have fun. And hopefully, get at least a few vegetables in the end! Every now and then though, I need to preach a little.
This post was originally supposed to be about all of the delicious vegetables in my polytunnel right now, in the middle of winter. But then when I got out here, I decided what this post actually needed to be about. If you don't have one already, IT'S TIME TO GET A POLYTUNNEL!
If you already have a tunnel at home, then you know what I'm talking about. I guess I could stop here, but I think that I should probably follow up on my statement. Especially since I decided to use Caps lock.
When I first laid eyes on a polytunnel, I thought it was absolutely hideous. I couldn't believe that people actually kept these plastic monstrosities in their gardens. And I know I'm not the only one. I meet plenty of gardeners who aren't allowed to put one up in their backyard, simply because their partners find them too ugly. I'm happy to say that my views have changed though. The main reason being all the beautiful vegetables that can grow in them, all year round.
The great thing about polytunnels is that you can prolong and alter the season a bit to your liking. I can harvest my vegetables early since the air and soil in here warms up long before my beds outside do. And I can wait until late fall too, since it takes a while before the soil freezes in here.
The polytunnel is a great barrier against the worst cold in winter too. It does however not stop the frost, which crawls in here too. But I do get to keep my plants away from hard winds and snow, which is a huge plus.
I didn't always have a polytunnel in my kitchen garden though. I managed without one during the first three years out here. And it was fine, I found ways to prolong the season without a polytunnel too. But there's just no comparison to what I can do now. It's been dark and relatively cold where I live for a few weeks now. I can harvest some leafy greens and root vegetables on warm days when the ground thaws. But what about the polytunnels then? Well thanks to them, I can put fresh greens on the table every day.
Right now, I have two polytunnels in my garden and I use both of them now in winter. The small polytunnel (193 sq ft, or 18 m) currently houses carrots, salsify, potatoes, leek, and spinach. The large polytunnel (485 sq ft, or 45 m) shields plenty of leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, bok choy, lamb's lettuce, and kale) as well as leek from the cold outside. All of it meant for winter harvesting, plus a 20 sq ft (2 m) large bed where I'm overwintering lettuce.
You don't specifically need a plastic polytunnel to grow food in winter, you could use a regular glass greenhouse too of course. They do say that there are some advantages to using plastic tunnels when it's really cold, simply because the temperature seems to be a bit more stable in the plastic tunnels. How much it actually matters to us who grow mainly as a hobby though, I'm not sure. I don't own a glass greenhouse myself, but I know others who have had great results growing in them throughout winter too.
It's worth it!
I wanted to say something about the lovely bok choy in the picture above. It's called White celery mustard and it has done really well in the cold so far. It looks like a little worse for wear when it gets really cold, but it bounces back so nicely. Another great thing about this bok choy is that it branches out right when it gets ready to bolt, which means more food for me of course. I harvest the bok choy leaf by leaf, by taking the new little stalks and leaving the main plant alone. It's a great way to harvest in winter!
There are plenty of upsides to getting a polytunnel, compared to a regular glass greenhouse. The polytunnel is generally cheaper (which means that you can get a larger one), and it's movable. The latter has actually proven really important to me since our yard is a bit limited size-wise and I had to put the tunnels right by the edges of our lot. They are actually not allowed this close, but I told the land owner next to us that it was a movable structure and this seems to have done the trick.
So, if you or your partner feels that polytunnels just don't belong in your garden, I urge you to reconsider. If you get a polytunnel, you can grow so much in a limited space even in the middle of winter. It's worth it!