We are in a cool temperate region here, and we don’t have a greenhouse (yet 😊) so to get a jump on the season in early winter, and again early spring, I bodge together a couple of temporary poly tunnels from materials I already have and use regularly, and remove as soon as the plants have developed enough to cope alone, and frost is over – for brassicas frost isn’t a worry, but if using tunnels to protect early tomatoes and other plants that frost kills, don’t remove those covers til after Melbourne Cup day [my dad’s advice about the chance of frost being over]
The make-do-tunnels idea is not mine – my dad used to do this when I was little, and I recall he got the idea from a market gardener friend when he was young – everything old is new again. He used to have them secured down with metal hoops at the ends that poke into the ground. I don’t have those yet, but we are going to make some soon.
Easy temporary tunnels
A couple of spare sheets of corrugated ‘laserlite’ work beautifully as temporary poly tunnels. Before I can get some of the end hoops , short stakes keep them in shape, and a brick on inside and outside ‘grabs’ the poly so it hasn’t moved even in our storms. If I was concerned though, I would lash a short stake across the stake pairs to form bracing arches instead of the bricks. They do self-water to a degree, with condensation falling at night from the poly, but perhaps once a week or so, lift the poly and give them an extra drink. I used to cover the ends in, but it became way too humid, so open ends are good for ventilation.
STAKES (above): We have about three dozen of these short hardwood stakes and they last years and years, used for staking, bracing, netting, stringing… and when too old or rotted to use, they end up as Hugelkultur (more on that another time) – nothing is ever wasted. Oh, and yes these sheets still have their faded stickers on… meh – they’ve lasted years like that already.. why mess with art 😆
Big enough to cope
These brassicas are a perfect example of the growth we get in 6 weeks from seed (on the left) and 10 weeks from seed (on the right). Tunnels are removed when the plants are well developed and ready for thinning out (6-8 weeks). These Brassicas would have likely survived without the tunnels, but have put on extra growth because of them. You can plant half under tunnel and half not, to spread the harvest season later. It is also an alternative to netting for cabbage moth when moths lay eggs.
Simple to maintain
We use the essential Oscillating Hoe to remove the weeds between tunnels and then generally keep rows tidy. If you have never used one of these tools before, we suggest you check out our 30-Second-demo. It is so simple and effective – no bending or kneeling. Can’t lie – makes weeding the beds actually enjoyable!
Thinning, garden to plate
After tidying, we begin thinning plants by harvesting as greens to eat. I just cut them off at the base, or pull out of it’s easy. Some small plants of course can’t be eaten (eg. tomato plants) but in this case, all these Brassicas make great greens when young. I took the photo a bit late to see how many baby broccoli plants we have munched through over the two weeks since tunnels came off them (on the left in photo above). The swede plants on the right will make excellent eating in lunch omelettes. Fresh is great, but if there are too many in one go, freeze to use later.
Tomato plants love tunnels.
Remember that tomato seedlings can go in under tunnels now if you are keen, but not without til AFTER MELBOURNE CUP DAY in November.✨🍅👍
Look wide; grow well, folks 🌿