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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 07:30 UK time, Sunday, 17 April 2011


There are many ways to measure a friendship. An upright polytunnel may not be an obvious choice, but when Jeremy was still there three days later, still using a spirit level, still enthusiastic, well that’s measure enough.
The self-watering polytunnel turned quite quickly into a nightmare, the sort that keeps you awake at 3am. It failed to be delivered three times. I had nowhere to store it once it was. I knew very little about how to put it up and when I unpacked it to find a paper back entitled ‘The Polytunnel Handbook: planning, siting, erecting, using and maintaining’. I felt a little like fainting, a whole book, really? How on earth was I going to put this thing up?
But Jeremy stepped in, gave up a significant part of his holiday to build the thing and wasn’t beaten by my tepid tea or my slap dash approach ‘those screws are probably just extras’.

It’s a fine looking polytunnel, one that I am already in love with. It’ s not big. It measures 8 feet by 10 feet, but I am impressed by how much space there is inside and it doesn't overwhelm the site. The self-watering bit definitely slowed down the build considerably. It remains to be seen if it works as we have yet to have  significant rain. If it doesn’t fill up then it will at least act a little like a bog, keeping the soil damp. A frog has already moved in, which I take to be a good sign.


Day one: you can still see the sink at this point

I think its fair to say that a self-build polytunnel is an arduous task. It comes as a kit, but there’s an awful lot of sawing, drilling and general shouting to be done at the instructions. I can safely say that left alone to do it and my polytunnel would now look like a caterpillar. You do need good DIY skills and the ability to measure, once, twice, three times and then once more for good luck. Still I am glad we’ve done it. It feels like a significant moment. I’ve finally got a space to grow all year round in. I’ve waited a long time for this and I am so very grateful for everybody who’s helped out to get me here.

The point of the tunnel is to grow tomatoes. These I think I am going to grow in large industrial mayonnaise tubs with the bottoms cut off. This will give the toms a little bit more depth of soil and they can eventually send their feet down into the rubble to find water. It should also give me more space around the tomatoes to fit in chilies who won’t mind the drier surface soil towards the back. I am also going to grow a few aubergines, which will be planted on top of the buried sink (just rubble and soil, the rest of the sink is under the path) where the more humid atmosphere should suit them and hopefully keep down the inevitable red spider mite.

I’ve lost almost a week to this polytunnel and there are now hundreds of small seedlings that need pricking on and plugs that need planting out. But that’s a good sign, for let’s face we’ve waited all winter to be rushed off our feet. And for the first time in a while I hope it rains and rains and rains.



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