If you grow your own fruit and vegetables on any scale, you’re probably familiar with trying to keep pests away from your precious crops. Caterpillars, birds, slugs and snails… there’s a seemingly endless list of hungry garden visitors who will happily feast on your plants and crops given the chance. And while I actively encourage local wildlife to visit our garden and allotment, I do want to enjoy some produce myself too!
Some crops are more prone to being stripped to the ground than others; I’ve had a nightmare with peas, cabbages, broccoli, salad and soft fruit, to name but a few. In the past I’ve just avoided growing crops that are hard to protect, but the right equipment can make all the difference to the level of damage caused to those tasty plants.
A small-scale polytunnel is a great option for providing that all-important plant protection. First Tunnels asked me to review their Mini Polytunnel, which sounded like the perfect piece of kit for our allotment.
There are two options for the cover supplied with the mini polytunnel: polythene, as the name suggests, and netting. Polythene is ideal for creating a greenhouse-style environment and protecting plants that thrive in warmer temperatures, as well as keeping pests out, whereas netting provides protection from pests but not the weather. I went for the netting option, as with the crops I’m planning to grow it’s all about protecting them from pests rather than providing higher temperatures.
The mini polytunnel is available in three sizes: 4ft x 5ft, 4ft x 10ft and 4ft x 15ft. We chose the 10ft option as it’s ideal for the width of our allotment plot. The product is delivered flat-packed, and requires construction.
As you can see from the picture, the components are very robust and solid. The timber is pressure-treated and the netting is really nice quality.
I think it’s fair to say that the assembly process is quite demanding. It took two of us about two and a half hours to build it. You need basic tools including a drill, hammer, saw, spanner and staple gun. You have to build the wooden base frame by drilling then bolting together each corner, then attach the galvanised steel hoops and extension legs with more nuts and bolts, before stapling on the netting and fixing it into place with wooden battens.
Our polytunnel was destined for the allotment, which has no power supply, so we had to do all the drilling at home first. We did originally think our cordless screwdriver would be able to cope, but you definitely need a powerful drill!
It’s well worth reading through the instructions thoroughly before you start, and working out the order in which the metal fixings need to be attached; the instructions weren’t very clear on some of this and we had to remove brackets to add components that should have been popped in first. We did get the hang of things in the end though.
It is definitely easier if two people are involved, particularly when attaching the netting. First Tunnels provide a construction helpline which is also available at weekends, so if you’re struggling someone will be able to help you out.
Here’s how the polytunnel looked once we’d completed the frame.
You’re actually supposed to trim off the excess wood on the longer sides before attaching the hoops, but we did it afterwards. I can’t think of a practical reason why you might need those extra couple of inches, and it would be great if the wood was supplied to the correct length.
Here’s our finished masterpiece!
So, what do I like about this product? Well it’s really good quality, it feels very sturdy and solid and will last for years. At just under 4 feet high it’s also a generous height, which means you can easily grow and protect taller crops. It’s not too overpowering size-wise, and won’t completely dominate the garden, particularly if you go for the 5ft option. The width is a very practical size too, with enough room for quite a few plants.
The other major positive for me is the portability. It’s relatively easy to move the polytunnel around, which is crucial for us as we rotate the crops we grow to keep the soil healthy, and will need to use it in different locations each year. And the two extension poles allow easy access for weeding and watering; if you go for a polythene cover they also provide ventilation.
I think our mini polytunnel will really extend the variety of crops we’re able to grow, providing plant protection without the need for pesticides or constant monitoring. We’re looking forward to a bumper harvest of broccoli and cabbages, which will be a first!
The 4ft x 10ft mini polytunnel with netting costs £115, you can find out more about the product and other sizes available here.
Could a mini polytunnel provide that all-important protection for your plants?
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First Tunnels provided the product for review purposes. All opinions and comments are honest and genuine.