The nights become chilly and the mornings frosty, the polytunnel has had another hot summer and is finally cooling down. Space is filling up with tender plants in containers and our fruit and veg growing in the raised beds are coming to an end and soon to be replaced with winter crops that are grown from seed in late summer.
Winter proofing the Polytunnel
We have experienced all the seasons in our new Polytunnel environment now and have learnt a lot about what growing conditions we have to work with. Our coldest recorded temperature is -8C in winter and the hottest was around 48C in summer!
As we are located on a hill in a valley, the winds here can be very strong and bitterly cold, with the rain as well this makes intolerable conditions for some of the plants that we really love to grow. Having the tunnel means that we have a safe place for them to overwinter. Although it doesn’t seem that impressive that it still experiences similar temperature drops in winter, it is protected from those brutal conditions outside.
In October, we prepared the doors for winter as the temperature dropped and we await the first frost, to keep tender plants protected we try to make it air tight, but still have the option to ventilate.
Each window panel can easily be opened to create ventilation as needed. On the coldest days we keep all the windows sealed to keep all warmth inside. We have a layer of bird netting on the outside of the windows or it would be full of visitors!
We built more raised beds!
If you’ve read our post ‘First Spring in the Polytunnel’ you’ll see we started building our raised beds in 2019 and have continued building since!
We now have 6 raised beds with overhead trellis which are filled with decomposing logs (Hugelkulture method), homemade biochar, organic Manure, compost and worm castings from our own wormery! Check out our page ‘Building the ultimate compost with Recycling and Vermiculture’
We were able to use the beds much more efficiently this year and have been crop rotating as we go along. We tried growing potatoes and sweetcorn in the polytunnel for the first time which performed really well and we will be doing this again next year for sure.
Growing Tomatoes and Peppers is so rewarding and we love getting creative in the kitchen with our abundant fruits by making all kinds of hot sauces, marinades and preserves for the kitchen, so that the taste of summer lives on!
Autumn Clearing and Replanting
The middle trellis was home to Cantaloupe Melon and Watermelon which gave us plentiful harvest all summer long but as it is affected by powdery mildew and other airborne diseases in early Autumn, it’s best to harvest the remaining fruits and cut them down before it spreads to other plants. The bed on the left (alongside the ripening leeks) has been sown with carrot and spring onion seeds in summer and on the right we will plant red onions and lettuces.
Alongside Potatoes, we will plant climbing beans by the trellis in late winter to give an early harvest and hopefully add some nitrogen to the soil before we plant our Melons and Cucumbers again in Early Summer. We also plan to dedicate the far back trellis to Sweet Potato Vine next summer!
Overwintering Established Plants
It is a constant learning curve finding out which plants can survive and thrive here through what seem like some extreme temperature changes, and which plants just give up (of which there have been many!)
Our citrus collection growing in containers are absolutely thriving in full sun in the middle of the tunnel. We have been harvesting fresh fruits all summer and this year we noticed a huge amount of growth since last year on all of the trees. We use a coco coir based compost that drains very well and provide them with added feed during the summer months.
Our passionfruit vine is thriving!
Grown from seed and now finishing its second summer in the raised bed where it has been thriving and providing lots of fruits in Spring and in Autumn! This is a fast growing climber and had to be cut back several times or it would easily have taken over the whole trellis! The tendrils are very strong and will use ANYTHING they can to grip on to, including any neighbouring plants!
We managed to take successful cuttings from some of the trimmings in mid summer and the glossy, dark green foliage makes a rather nice addition to homegrown bouquets!
Growing young seedlings and cuttings on the new heated seedbed
One of our latest additions is a large heated seed bed that has a heat cable going through sand, dispersing heat and increasing the temperature. This will warm up the soil nicely and keep our plants and seedlings frost free all winter!
We are able to take cuttings of our favourite plants in late summer when it’s still warm and humid, which can take weeks to root properly and some do just rot away but we will keep them safe and dry as possible on the new heated seed bed during the winter frosts.
In the summer months we tried propagating cuttings some directly in the bed which rooted fairly quickly and were potted on in Autumn to make space for tender seedlings. Now we’ve seen how well they did we plan to use the whole bed to grow cuttings directly next summer!
In Early Autumn, we start biennial and perennial seedlings that will hopefully survive the cold winter months . This takes some of the pressure off starting these seeds in Spring in preparation for our May Day Plant Sale when we will need the space for fruit and veggie seeds!
Click here to see how we created our heated propagation bed in our post ‘Polytunnel Progress: Building a Heated Seed Bed’
We will be busy this winter planning what new plants to grow for 2021 and preparing our growing spaces as best as possible!