Welcome the First Tunnels Growing Guide. We know how to make great polytunnels, how to construct polytunnels and tailor a polytunnel to an individuals preference but we’re not gardening experts. Thankfully we work with several of the countries leading polytunnel gardeners, people who have been using our polytunnels for years. Each month this year we will produce a growing guide working closely with Mark Gatter, author of 'How to grow food in your polytunnel'. Mark has years of experience and has kindly offered to share some of the hints and tips he’s picked up over the years
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This is probably the peak of the polytunnel year in terms of plant growth, and it’s a month when I seem to spend lots of time just wandering around, wondering what to pick next. There’s just so much choice! Aside from a few peas and the last broad beans, none of the overwintering crops are left, unless a chard, beetroot or pak choi is being saved for seed. Everything else in the polytunnel is there for the summer season, and June is when some of the most eagerly anticipated crops of the entire year are finally ready for the harvest to begin.
The first aubergine. The first courgette. The first cucumber, the first climbing French beans, and possibly even the first tomatoes. What a mouth-watering list! For anyone who wonders why people get enthusiastic about gardening, the answer is simply ‘June’.
Elephant garlic should have finished bulbing up and be ready to harvest this month. Gently clean the bulbs and leave somewhere warm and dry for a few days so the outer skin can cure. Lifting them makes room for a few more quick salad plants until the winter crops are ready to go in – which, despite this being the height of summer, isn’t far away. One of the keys to good gardening is keeping the next few months in mind even while you enjoy the fruits of today. While cold-hardy winter lettuces are very welcome indeed in the cold weather, the more delicate summer lettuce varieties should now be doing really well, and the sheer variety of the salad plants available is amazing.
Typically in June, I can pick these kinds of salad: 5 types of lettuce, spinach, parsley, celery, a sprinkling of fresh dill leaves, a beetroot to grate, rocket, radish, baby carrots, peas, cucumber and a tomato or two – all to hand within a few paces of each other. Add to that some chives, a sprig of mint, some fresh snow peas and a couple of stems of asparagus from the outside garden, and you have an amazing, wonderful, colourful salad that’s absolutely stuffed with flavour in every bite. And, of course, it’s all as fresh as can be. For lots more information on maximising polytunnel crops, see ‘How To Grow Food In Your Polytunnel’.
As well as all these there are still the polytunnel stalwarts of cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, coriander and spring onion – all of which (as well as radish and rocket) can be grown and harvested all year round.
Plants will grow really quickly in June and it’s very important not to let them get too crowded. Moulds and pests will lurk in unseen corners and before you know it you’ve lost a load of plants and/or have a major problem on your hands. Ventilate the polytunnel every day without fail, even if it’s raining outside. One of the most difficult things to control in a polytunnel is the humidity, and ventilation is the key.
Plant a few flowers in pots – marigolds are ideal – so that you can move them around easily. These will flower right up until the frosts, they look great, they don’t get too big and they attract a host of beneficial insects such as hover flies.
Hover flies are great pollinators and even better pest-predators. Marigold’s comparatively strong scent might also help to confuse carrot fly, though these are very rarely a problem in a polytunnel. Their only drawback is their vulnerability to slugs, especially when young. However, a strip of copper tape around the outside of the pot stops
slugs in their tracks and protects the plant – a
solution that can be applied anywhere slugs are
Cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, coriander, daikon, fennel, kohlrabi, lettuce, spring onions, pak choi, radish, rocket.
It’s a slim month for sowing – but just look at the harvesting list!
Aubergine, broad beans, French and dwarf French beans, sprouting broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chard, coriander, courgette, cucumber, elephant garlic, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion, spring onion, pak choi, peas, radish, rocket, spinach, strawberry, tomato.
And yes, turnip could have been on the list, too – but at this time of year it’s easy enough to grow them, and many other vegetables as well, outside rather than taking up valuable polytunnel space.