Thursday, 29 October 2015

Mushrooms and Poly Tunnel

Mushrooms and Poly Tunnel

Earlier on in the year I tried growing mushrooms.

Previous posts:

I didn't think that the temperature was right and gave up on them but over the last couple of days they have appeared. I say they but more correctly "it" appeared.

One mushroom has grown:
It shows that it worked but hasn't exactly been a great success. I think I'll put the idea of growing mushrooms outdoors to the back of my mind for now :)

The poly tunnel on the other hand is going great. Everything is growing strongly even to the point where a harvest can now be taken from the salad leaves. The Spring Onions have germinated as well as the radish. The garlic, although not showing yet has grown some roots and is about to poke through the soil and the field beans sown in a corner to see if they will fruit earlier than outdoors have started to grow.

(Click to enlarge pictures)

On the left the Oak leaf lettuce and Mizuna are going very well as is the beetroot, on the right the Chard and Pak Choi are also growing very strongly.

In the middle the Spinach, Radish, Garlic, Spring Onion, Strawberry and Chinese Cabbage are doing just as well.

What is immediately noticeable is that none of the leaves have been nibbled so everything is looking perfect. The Cape Gooseberry has even flowered. It's only been a few weeks since we put the Poly Tunnel in (see: Poly Tunnel Post) but the extra warmth and humidity has made a big difference as has the fact that it hasn't needed watering much since the humidity and lack of a drying wind has kept the soil moist. The roof of the Tunnel collects water droplets and automatically waters the beds as well, which is a nice bonus.

Today has been a rather breezy day but the Tunnel's plastic isn't noticing the wind much which bodes well for the much windier days ahead. This week the max temp reached 30 deg C and the minimum went down to 1.2 deg C so no frosty conditions inside the tunnel even though a few people have commented that they have had a ground frost in the area. It is now noticeable that the day time sun is not effective enough to warm the soil to keep the night time temp higher than the outside by the end of the night and I think that after a few hours of darkness any residual heat has dissipated by midnight.

My next job, and probably tonight, will be to put a heater inside set to the anti-frost setting, on for 2 hours from midnight to see if that will keep the inside temp a degree or two above the outside temp. The tunnel is probably too big for the heater to raise the temperature enough so that it can turn off the heat. If it fails to heat up quickly and be able to turn off then it will be a waste of time as the cost of the electricity will be a waste of energy but it's worth a test. A 2 kW heater on for 2 hours is going to cost 26p a night but if it can manage to do it's job and only be on for 45 minutes then at under 10p a night it might just extend the growing season for a few more weeks before the proper cold weather sets in. Once the proper cold spell starts the idea of a heater becomes silly, price and energy wastage wise but if the plants can just be allowed to grow for another 2 weeks then the amount of salad leaves we get and can sell will make it worth while. The same will apply at the end of the winter. If we can get the temperature up by just a degree or 2 during the night late February and the day time sun starts to heat the tunnel then we might get a months head start on some crops for next year. If we can sell the leaves (as we currently do) a couple of weeks later and a few weeks earlier than the other Alford Country Market growers then we'll have one month per year being the only one selling these products and therefore no competition.

One of the problems with selling home grown produce is that when winter starts the customers will be forced back into the super markets to buy their greens for juicing. By postponing that by a few weeks you can keep them loyal for longer and they can keep their habit of buying from us. By starting to sell the greens earlier in the new year using a poly tunnel we will have more time to pull them back in and get them back in the habit of buying locally again before the main season starts.I can see the possibility that once the regular customers go back to the supermarket over winter they may not start to come back to the country market by the time we start selling again but if we have some of what they want before the start of the main season we can start to grab them back one by one slowly so they are already on the look out and thinking about the country market when our main produce starts coming through. Instead of being a slow start to the main season we may be able to get up to full speed selling quicker....anyway, if we don't try we'll never find the thing that works for us :)

Still hoping that the money and time spent on the poly tunnel will pay big dividends.    

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Poly Tunnel!

Poly Tunnel

After years of wanting one but not liking the eye sore that they can be nor the expense we finally bit the bullet and got a very cheap one. So cheap we wouldn't be losing much if it didn't last or ended up not being what we wanted.

We've looked at ones costing over £1000 but this one is £200 reduced down to £139. Surely too cheap to last or be any good? As it turns out it is remarkably good for the money structure wise but did need some extra support to stiffen it up. It is 6m long by 3m wide by 6m high (19.6ft by 9.8ft by 6.5ft). Would have been nice to have a taller one but then again you always want bigger.

Plastic cover wise only time will tell but it is supposed to be UV protected and new covers are £60.

We didn't have a good place to put it so it went where it was assembled and we'll move the path instead.

I had to dig a trench to sit the metal frame into and then peg down the frame. The turf that came out of the trench was then placed on the outside over the plastic skirt to hold it down and stop the wind from blowing it away.

Three beds were dug, 0.5 wide on the sides (they look smaller in the picture) and 1m wide bed in the middle. At the end there is space for a couple of chairs and I intend on having a grape vine at the end in the centre so it can travel the length on the tunnel. The hay actually covers the edges of the beds deliberately to help stop the grass.

A thick layer of hay to kill the grass, a load of manure and we're done. About a day to do.

Finally a load of salad plants go in, which have been waiting for a home, a few posts to stabilise the structure and the centre ones (a couple missing in the picture) have string attached from them to the roof for tomato plants to grow up and they also anchor the structure more. I'll add wooden edges to the beds during the next week to make them into raised beds. 

With the door closed, today, which was over cast for 90% of it, the temp rose at one point to over 40 deg C, opening the door reduced it to 23 deg C while the temp outside hit 18 deg C. I dread to think how hot it could get in the height of the summer!. Last night the outside temp went down to 9.8 C and the minimum temp in the poly tunnel went down to 10.7 C which was the result of 4 or so hours of heating from the sun in the evening when the tunnel was first up so tunnel made 1 deg of difference. 

So the tunnel made 5 C difference during the day and 1 C during the night to the minimum temps. A small heater during the coldest winter nights (or water butt inside) and we might be able to avoid all but the worst frosts.

Planted so far are:

Wild Rocket
Ruby Chard
Pak Choi
Chinese Cabbage
Beetroot to see if they grow.

Hopefully we can have salad and leafy greens during the winter and the green house can be freed up for seedlings but these are just planted now in the hope they will grow. Really the tunnel is for next spring but we couldn't resist planting it now.

Just need to cross fingers with the wind and hope the plastic doesn't go brittle with severe frosts and cold spells but if we hadn't of got it we'd never know if a cheap one would work!


Raised bed borders added plus filled up beds with manure, soil and compost.

Added some field beans to see if they fruit earlier than outdoors plus a load of garlic.

Added a small section of staging and strengthened the structure at the back and front against wind problems.

Also sown or planted
Radish "French Breakfast"
Ramrod Spring Onion
Cape Gooseberry that was grown last year and survived the winter, then this summer and is still going, small and pot bound and neglected, but now planted in the soil as it has a few fruits on.