Oh all right, I know. As ambitions go, wanting to own a polytunnel might seem pretty odd. Also it’s not as if I don’t have enough housework in the house without having additional premises to tend elsewhere. But then sometimes in life you get precisely what you wish for, and most unexpectedly at that.
Ever since I took over my plot from Much Wenlock Allotment Society some seven years ago I have increasingly thought that a polytunnel was the very thing I needed. Gardening on the edge of Wenlock Edge can be challenging. The site is exposed, sloping, and often very windy. Much Wenlock is also in a frost pocket, and thus is a degree or so cooler than anywhere else in Shropshire.
Worse still, the soil comprises a decaying fossil volcanic ash that is like wet cement when it rains, and hard baked cement when it doesn’t rain. It has thus taken seven years of digging, mulching, composting, green manuring, horse manuring, hacking and weeding to get the soil looking like something that vegetable plants might want to grow in. The dandelions, however, grow most verdantly, along with the creeping buttercups, sow thistles, docks, bindweed and couch grass. And so despite improvements, small vegetable seeds still find the soil heavy going. If they germinate at all, they struggle, the soil creating a bonsai effect on the roots, and then the slugs quickly finish them off. Most seeds thus need to be germinated under cover, and grown on before they can stand a chance after being planted out.
And then, of course, there are the pigeons. They sit on the telegraph wires and watch what I’m doing. They especially like to eat cabbages and newly sprouted pea plants down to the roots. The rotters. In consequence I spend a lot of time making defensive systems out of environmesh and bits of wire fencing. This kind of protection also has to be applied to beds of leeks, garlic and onions due to the arrival in our part of the world of the allium beetle that likes to lay its eggs in the fleshy roots. The effect of these assaults on the leeks is especially dramatic: they unfurl in spiral fashion and develop rust-coloured stripes.
So you can see that to be an allotment gardener in Wenlock requires the same kind of pig-headed (idiot) tenacity it takes to be a writer. I have visions of deep, humus-laden beds bursting with lush, green spinach and broccoli, in much the same way I have visions of producing beautiful books that everyone wants to devour, and feel nourished by.
And that’s where the polytunnel comes in. I’m hoping I can crack both objectives in one fell swoop, this on the basis that if I can raise and eat more broccoli and spinach, my brain might produce writing with the requisite added enrichment. We can but hope. I might also say, as I probably have before, the contents of my writer’s brain have much in common with the contents of my compost bin, although at least they don’t smell. (Please note pallet structure installed by the Team Leader aka Graham who endlessly tries to bring order to my chaos).
Anyway, back in the early spring when I was clearing my plot I noted, with a severe pang of envy, that my neighbours, Bob and Sally, were making preparations to erect a fourteen foot long polytunnel. I could see it was hard work, with foundation trenches to dig (in the aforementioned concrete soil) and the frame to erect. I watched them toil, hanging doors, and making beds. Next, I watched as my other neighbours, Pete and Kate, followed suit. Their installation was even more hard work, being on a slope. It took them weeks to complete. In the meantime I kept the Team Leader posted as to these events, from time to time mooting the possibility of us having a tunnel; perhaps something smaller, I hazarded.
I have to say the response wasn’t altogether encouraging, even though we were by then falling out at home over whether the small conservatory on the back of the house was my potting shed and greenhouse, or his workshop. Increasingly my bean and sweet corn seedlings were having to compete with saws and wrenches and other man-things whose function I cannot identify. Nor was there the possibility of building either a man-shed to contain his stuff or a woman-greenhouse to contain my stuff since the garden at home is too narrow.
Back at the allotment I watched the new polytunnels fill with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers…I thought longingly of gazpacho that simply cannot be made from flavourless supermarket produce. Ho hum.
Then out of the blue in mid-summer, a little bird, otherwise known as ace fellow allotmenteer, Phoebe, told me that Bob and Sally were moving and were looking to sell their tunnel. She thought I should discuss terms with them. Not long after this I received a small inheritance from my once passionately gardening Aunt Evelyn of whom I have written elsewhere.
And so to cut a long story short, a week last Sunday I became the proud owner of the Auntie Evelyn Memorial Polytunnel, complete with potting bench, garden chairs and an automatic watering system. My aunt would have loved it. Bob and Sally even left me the last of their tomatoes and cucumbers. Not only that, the plot comes with a new shed that does not lean, nor provide roosting space for snails as my old one does. Already the Team Leader has added a shelf and guttering. In short, my water butt runneth over…Or will do very shortly.
I have started clearing the tunnel’s beds and planted out lettuce and oriental vegetables to extend the salad season. But from now on, it is all new territory on the gardening front. There’s a lot to learn about tunnel cultivation and management. Planning and forethought are required. Better get cracking with that spinach and broccoli then.
Related stories about my aunt:
copyright 2014 Tish Farrell
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