Sunday 16 October 2016

Recovering the Polytunnel

You can read that title in at least two ways, both of which are true . . .

As we told you back in February, our tunnel plastic was so damaged that we resorted to covering the damaged end with heavy-duty black plastic, weighed down with old tyres.  Not beautiful, but it got us through the worst of the winter.

The spring came, then the summer, and we still had not managed to get the new cover on.  The tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and other plants went in as normal, but the tunnel was not its normal cosy self.  One end was distinctly colder after we took the black plastic off!  It was a choice of warm and dark or cooler but light.  We settled for the cooler, lighter option and the plants survived – though the tomatoes have really suffered with blight this year.  Being tomatoes, though, they soldiered on and have given us quite a good crop anyway.  (The potatoes in the field shrivelled and died back all too quickly).  

Perhaps if it had just been a case of putting on some new plastic, we might have done it sooner, but there was more to be done.

When the tunnel was erected in late 1999, the plastic was buried in trenches along the sides but, as you can see in this picture, we have now fitted  4 x 2 wooden rails all round the tunnel, for two reasons:– 1) To be able to fit metal sheeting below so that we can strim right up to the tunnel with no danger to the plastic and 2) so that we could attach aluminium channel to them for our new method of fixing the plastic – 'Wiggle Wire'.

Here is the tunnel with all the plastic removed, 20th September 2016, but with the channel in place on the rails and round the doors, ready for the Wiggle Wire to hold the plastic.

First, though, the need to remove the disintegrating 'anti-hotspot' tape and attach new tape.  After 17 years, the old tape was hardly there but was enough to stop the new tape sticking to the hoops.  Scrape and stick – up and down those ladders again and again!

Finally, the moment arrived when we unfolded the new plastic and laid it alongside the tunnel.  Would we be able to pull it over the hoops OK?  Just the two of us?

Of course, we can't show you pictures of us pulling it over, because we had our hands full and could not step back to take a photo . . .

But we managed it OK, more easily than either of us had expected.  That nice new anti-hotspot tape was really slippery and the plastic slid over smoothly.

By now, it was late in the day, so we just loosely fixed it to stay in place overnight.  It WAS a very windless night, fortunately!

Next day, the task of fixing it properly!  First we undid the temporary fixing.  Good old Wiggle Wire!  It was as easy to remove as it had been to fit, with no damage to the plastic.

We tensioned it end-to-end first, fixing the plastic to the tops and sides of the door frames.  

You can see the simplicity of the Wiggle Wire system.  Not much strength needed to flex the wire into the channel with one hand, while holding the tension of the plastic with the other – and a really positive grip on the plastic, too!

Then, just a matter of fixing along one side and then tensioning along the other.

It may not be a 100% professional-looking job, but the result is good and the plastic is drum-tight.

Just got to finish off by covering the doors and making and fixing new larger automatic thermostatically-operated vents.  That is currently 'work in progress' and we will try to update you when it is finished.

Needless to say, the inside of the polytunnel immediately began to feel like the tropics again, like it should have done all summer.  Too late for the tomatoes to recover, but the peppers and chillies have suddenly accelerated and the aubergines are making a valiant effort at flowering, though it may be too late for much (if any) fruit from them.

Yes, our polytunnel has been re-covered and is now recovering well, just in time for the salads and other overwintering goodies we need to get going in there.

P.S. (2nd December) By popular demand, here is a link to Northern Polytunnels' Wiggle Wire page.

Soil Blocker News - New Looks for Ladbrooke!

Some of the Ladbrooke Soil Blockers now have a new look!

A new light green polyester resin finish is now available for the Micro 20 and the Mini 4, in addition to the familiar zinc-plated version we have known for years.

Both versions of these two models now also have fully-rounded handles – probably going to be a bit more comfortable to use, especially as you apply the pressure to form those lovely little blocks!

The resin finish is fully rustproof and may look a little more attractive.  Perhaps a suitable present with a slightly less utilitarian appearance?

Two more additions to the range are aimed to cater for the needs of the larger-scale grower who does not want such large soil blocks, but rather wants the maximum number to fit into limited space.  

The Multi 30 produces 30 blocks, each 30mm (1⅛ inch) cubes, which means that you can fit 60 of them into a standard UK/European seed tray.  Just two 'passes' of the blocker and the tray is full!

If you are using the larger US standard 1020 seed trays, then the Multi 35 enables you to fill each one with 105 blocks (again the 30mm / 1⅛ inch cubes) in just three 'passes'.  The 'footprint' of the Multi 35 is 224mm (8¾") x 155mm (6¼").

While we are talking about how many 'passes' fill a seed tray, it's worth noting that all the other 'Multi' blockers share the same 'footprint' as the new Multi 30  and measure 190mm (7½") x 155mm (6¼") at the base.  This means that, in a UK / European standard seed tray, you can fit:

12 blocks from the Multi 6, 24 blocks from the Multi 12 (or from the Mini 4) or 40 blocks from the Multi 20 (or from the Mini 5).

The less exciting news is that, after several years of keeping their prices unchanged, Ladbrooke Soil Blockers have recently needed to increase their prices.  They have done really well to hold them for so long, and the retail price rises that we have had to make over the last few years have all been caused by postage increases.

More information on our updated Soil Blockers page, with even more detail here as well.  If you need a general introduction to using Soil Blocks, this may be useful, too.