Six months ago we put up our polytunnel and its arrival transformed my summer into a whirlwind of activity. Even Wren (5 years) regularly says, “Is it the weekend again already?”.

We have only made it to the beach occasionally, as there has been so much to keep us busy at home. There’s been no need for a work out – carrying about 40 cans of water from the tap in the house, out to the tunnel once or twice a day has given me plenty of exercise!

To me, the tunnel has been a beacon of positivity through the last six months and a reminder of what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it. To Wren, my little shadow, it has been a place of wonder. So crammed with life – plants, birds and an enormous variety of pollinators, she has been fascinated by the whole process of growing from seed. In the tunnel, that process is so concentrated that it is almost magical and coupled with the protection that it gives from the weather, it is like stepping into another world, when you step through the door. To everyone else, it has been fresh food to eat everyday and a little peaceful haven to escape to.

polytunnel-tomatoes-in-orkney
growing-veggies-with-my-kids
golden-hubbard-in-polytunnel

It’s been a huge learning curve for me and some things have been fabulous successes, while others have not worked out and notes have been made for next year.

I have a tendency to try to cram too much in. I see a tray of hopeful seedlings and want them all to have their chance, but this has sometimes led to overcrowding and I have had to ruthlessly strip plants out, later on.

My squashes suffered from my enthusiasm, although the ten good ones that we have had, have been greatly enjoyed so far. I realise now that I should have resisted the temptation to plant up all of the successful seedlings, when I clearly didn’t have enough space. I planted the majority into large tubs, filled with lasagne layers to cut down on compost. 

I think this would have worked out fine, if I had only planted one in each tub, but I put four to each tub and the result was lots of tiny squash that didn’t achieve their potential. It was great fun watching them grow everywhere though.

My most successful squash was a Golden Hubbard, which was late to germinate and so it didn’t get a space in the tubs. Instead I just stuck it in the main hugelkultur bed amongst the chard and asian greens and it went from being a rather sad specimen, to a huge healthy plant, which is still going strong in October, while the others were stripped out a couple of weeks ago.

Growing them vertically was a great success and I would definitely do that again next year, but I think the tubs will be used for something else and a new squash bed will be made along one side, with just a few healthy, productive plants.

If you haven’t tried Golden Hubbard before, I would urge you to try it, it grows so quickly and tastes divine roasted and mashed, with a little salt and pepper. I spread it thickly on toast with a bit of hummus and could have lived on that quite happily for weeks, if we’d only had more!

growing-squash-vertically-in-a-polytunnel
golden-hubbard-pie
golden-hubbard-on-toast

Cucumbers seem like a distant memory now that we’re in October, but were another example of me growing too much! Unlike the squash though, this didn’t hold back the plants at all. They were in the main bed and did really well, a little too well perhaps!

Growing cucumbers was a first for me and I had no idea how many one plant would produce. We had two varieties a miniature white for salads and a Parisian Pickling variety. Both produced so many fruits that I couldn’t keep up with them and we have eaten an enormous amount of dill pickles this summer and still have lots of jars left.

Wren was often found munching the little white ones, which provided a constant snacking supply while we were working in the tunnel.

So, just a couple of plants next year, rather than a whole row!

At least our lettuces were also a huge success, so that we had something to go with the cucumbers. We have had a constant supply of lettuce since May and eating a lettuce that was only picked minutes before, is a wonderful thing!

polytunnel-cucumbers
pickling-cucumbers

My tomatoes have had their ups and downs. I didn’t have anywhere to geminate them until the polytunnel went up, so they had a rather late start. Even once they were up, they seemed to grow so slowly and I felt sure that we wouldn’t get any tomatoes again this year.

I kept feeding them seaweed and nettle tea and as soon as the weather warmed up they started to make up for lost time.

Just when I was sure that the yellow and red cherry tomatoes would soon be ripening, disaster struck! I noticed what seemed to be blight on the lower leaves. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I pulled the whole lot out that day, keeping the tomatoes in trays but with little hope of them ripening.

To my great surprise, every one of those cherry tomatoes ripened indoors, over the coming weeks and we always had a bowl of tomatoes in the fridge, ready to use.

I am currently hoping that my Grushovka tomatoes will do the same, as they have been stubbornly refusing to ripen, but ever so slowly one or two are starting to turn.

There have been so many others – courgettes, kohl rabi, peas, beans, strawberries, spring onions, carrots, a variety of green leafy veg and so many flowers! It really has been a great start. 

It will be interesting to see how the colder months go, when we don’t usually have anything growing.

As each summer veg has been pulled out, something new has been planted in its place for autumn/winter. So far from being empty, there is till a lot going on in there at the moment.

Beetroot, another round of asian greens, spring cabbages, spring onions, turnips, fennel, asparagus kale and leeks are all busy growing. There are some leftovers from summer too – nasturtiums, ground cherries and herbs, which are all keeping the tunnel like a little oasis in Orkney autumn.

So fingers crossed, we will continue to munch our way through fresh veggies all winter and next spring I have lots of plans for expansion. New outdoor beds will be going in, a soft fruit garden and if the budget will stretch to it, the beginning of a little orchard.

So much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for!