Polytunnel installation

We put up a polytunnel!

The end result of our polytunnel installation!
Skip to the end…this is the installed polytunnel!

Can hardly believe that we’ve got our polytunnel installation done, after several years of living here and working out the basic layout of the garden. I’m pleased!

This post goes through the basics of putting up a polytunnel. It’s written from the point of view of two generally useful but utterly untrained people. This is the first polytunnel we’ve ever put up.

The Polytunnel

We chose a polytunnel that is 12 feet wide and 35 feet long. That’s about 3.6 meters wide and 10.6 meters long. It sucks up the long strip on the right of the garden, nearly all the way down to the concrete pad where the shed was when we moved in. We chose to end it with a good gap before the concrete pad, though, because my next plan is to build the compost bays in that space between the tunnel end and the concrete pad start.

I’m kind of holding out for a summerhouse on that concrete pad now. The pandemic has made us think about, and use, our available property space differently. Particularly as Robin and the few friends in her safe bubble now don’t meet indoors at anyone’s house any more. But that’s material for another post!

The polytunnel, as delivered!
Wow. That’s a lot of boxes…

Back to the specifications. It has hoops at every 5 feet, screw anchors, aluminum base rails, and crop bars (which act as extra brace bars) on the inner hoops. The cover type: diffused polythene (Visqueen Lumisol). Our vendor of choice was Northern Polytunnels. Mostly, I’ll be honest, because we tend to hit clay once we dig about a foot down and I didn’t fancy having to dig so many holes for base plates!

The Space

We had talked about a polytunnel, on and off, for about a year. For us, that option gave better value per square foot of growing space than a greenhouse. With a young teen, dogs and chickens, we would absolutely have had to opt for toughened glass in a house and that kept on driving the cost way up. The polytunnel was the only viable option for the space we wanted at the cost we wanted, so we waited until the time was right.

Clearing the ground for our polytunnel installation.
Clearing ground, between bouts of rain.

In the end, the placement became obvious once we’d moved the hen run. North to south, along the fence line, with the door opposite the garage. That space needed clearing, though. The path was in the way, and had to move. Oh, and the by now overgrown failed willow yurt experiment.

Step by step polytunnel installation

First off, we screwed the foundation tubes into the ground, as we had chosen screw anchor tubes. The aluminum base rails went on next. Both of us had taken some time off work, and, typically, a storm rolled over our location for several of those planned work days. It battered it down with rain. To make things irritating, not only were we working in the wet, but we’d found some unexpected hardcore under the path. Which was black. So we were tramping black mud everything. Ugh.

Observe the mud...
Mud. Ugh.

Next, the hoop lifting. This step was so easy, Robin (who is a slight build teen) was able to assist.

Hoops up stage of the polytunnel installation.
Suddenly a structure is appearing.

Assembling the skeleton of the structure continued, with the ridge bar running along the top. We added the door frames to each end, and then our additional crop (brace) bars across the inner hoops.

Definitely the bones of a building now.
Looking good.

At this pause we had to pause for a bit, because we knew the polythene would have to go on and be tensioned all in one go. My word we slept well after the work so far!

Getting the cover on

Dealing with the polythene cover part of our polytunnel installation had to be all or nothing. It couldn’t be left unfinished.

Polythene cover section of the polytunnel installation.
Loosely draped here.

The cover was ridiculously heavy on the roll, and hard to lay out alongside the tunnel. Yet once we got hold of a single thickness at a corner and started to pull, we got it up and over between us without too much difficulty. The polytunnel is so tall, we needed a stepladder to get the cover over the ridge without deforming it by pulling too hard.

Tensioning the cover

I think the single hardest part was tensioning the cover. Our easy build polytunnel pack included specially shaped wire to clamp the cover into the base rails. But dear me, that wire felt so stiff to our hands, unused to such labour as we are! The heels of both my hands felt bruised afterwards from pressing it into place.

And then the door ends. You have to pull the cover hard over the ends to get the right tension, then fold the side of the door as you pin it in place. We were just so very tired by this time. My hands hurt. My shoulders ached. And then we had to basically do one door side all over again because we hadn’t got the tension right. So frustrating!

Cover tensioned and clipped.
Getting to this stage was both intensely frustrating and yet gratifying at the same time.

The last thing we had to do at this stage was lift the inner hoops to tension the cover all along. Imagine how it felt to realise that one of the tension collars had such a malformed drill point that it wasn’t possible to tighten it! Worst time to have realised. In the end we lifted the opposite side a little higher to finish the tensioning. Not perfect, and it looks like we have a wonky brace bar, but it’s all good in the end.

We still managed to get an alright tension on the beastly thing.

Alright tension.
It’s passable. It’s all good.

The sliding door wrapped up the polytunnel installation

All done.

It’s done. We finished our polytunnel installation!