The Essex Allotment Debut: First Season With a Polytunnel

On September 23rd, I opened my biggest (and only, come to think of it) birthday gift from my parents. It was exactly what every thirty-something man dreams of receiving for his birthday… A 2×6 polytunnel!

For those unfamiliar with the agricultural world, a polytunnel is a little like a transportable conservatory. A dual purpose rainmac-cum-visor for your foods and seeds, if you will.

Despite the child-like excitement I could feel bubbling away inside me, I left my gift in its box until spring. As March came to a close, I was on top of the world when I was finally able to put my polytunnel to use.

As my existing Instagram followers will remember, what happened next was a disaster.

The arrival of gale-force winds meant that my time was initially preoccupied with a ripped cover, and by fixing and replacing the frame; all the while peering in the near distance from my living room window, flinching at even the slightest breeze.

When the wind lost its whistle…

It was near the end of spring before I began to plant, and after the last frost had thawed, the trials and tribulations of ‘wind-gate’ were long forgotten.

Having already faced the wrath of Mother Nature in her cruellest form, I saw no reason to wade in the shallow end with my first attempt at planting.

I had waited long enough, and I was determined to get elbow deep in the soil with my first planting (pun intended). I went for five varieties of tomato, two cucumber plants, an aubergine and one melon.

All had started from seed indoors, and were transported as young plants directly into the ground.

The good, the bad, the ugly!

Let’s start with the good. My tomato and cucumber plants were by far and away my biggest success of the season!

British folks will all know that summer here does not come without its surprises. The polytunnel did its job protecting the tomatoes from the deadly blight that comes with rain and warm weather- of which there was much.

Sungold Tomatoes

They thrived in the humid, and sometimes tropical conditions of summer. They took well to being planted directly into the ground, and quickly established large, firm root systems.

A slightly less successful (but by no means ‘ugly’) venture was the aubergine.

Aubergine is notoriously hard to grow in the UK, but the plant flourished in the extra warmth. Sadly, being the one small plant at the center of a tomato and cucumber plant jungle, it lacked the pollination it required and fell victim to larger plants in the battle to attract pollinators.

The venture was not totally in vain- I managed one perfect little aubergine, and another, not quite as curved and impressive as some you might see, but it tasted just as it should (it looked a little like the Elephant Man).

The ugly. The melon.

What can I say? It developed a powdery mildew within mere weeks of being in the ground. In that moment, I gave up with it.

It was months later, when I finally got to remove the plant from the ground, I found under one prominently diseased leaf, sat a single small, but ripe melon.

As it had gone unnoticed for some time, it had become over-ripe and lacked taste, but its existence itself was a silver lining of sorts, so I decided you can’t expect to have it all.

What’s next?

Having cleared all the plants ready for winter, a thick layer of manure ready to be put down as protection- I am pondering over what I should endeavour to plant next season. With a little experience under my belt, and with no amount of dishevelment or fear surrounding the prospect of more harsh weather, I hope for more consistently positive results.

For my day-to-day ventures around the allotment, visit @the_essex_allotment on Instagram, and let me know what you’ll be trying next season.

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