Shifting climate patterns, a growing awareness of the need to lower our environmental impact while also better preserving our resources has led to a search for better approaches to food production. As a result, polytunnels have set a new standard on many levels, especially on a commercial scale.
So, in answer to your question: “Is it worth getting a Polytunnel?” the answer is a resounding yes – and here is why.
The contained potential of a seed is one of nature’s wonders. This tiny embryonic plant that is constantly ready to grow only needs the right conditions to burst into life and release that abundant potential for us to enjoy.
Polytunnels allow us to create those conditions and add additional growth-enhancing elements simply not possible in open-air flatbeds. It gives us the ability to mitigate risks and enhance the requirements to obtain better, longer, more productive growth cycles while using the minimum resources needed for optimal outcomes. Let us look at how these benefits interact.
1) Cost versus benefit of whether polytunnels are worth it
Pragmatically, considering purely economic benefits and at a commercial scale, Polytunnels are worth investing in in the short term.
Commercial-sized Polytunnels traditionally start from 16-feet wide, 8-feet high, and 36-feet long. With fittings, hinged doors on both ends, anchor plates, and super-therm 800-gauge (200-micron) polythene cover, a commercial Polytunnel will cost you in the region of $3,500. Smaller allotments or domestic tunnels are substantially cheaper.
An extreme indication of potential yield per acre whilst using polytunnels can be seen in this World Economic Forum video. For example, a farm in the Netherlands annually produces approximately 100-million tomatoes on 14.5 hectares (35.8-acres) of land.
2) Contained environment can be achieved using polytunnels
Polytunnels allow you to create a growth capsule protected from outside impact factors. This may seem like a radical departure from good-old-farming as my grandpapa used to do it, and it is.
But necessity is often the mother of invention, and the world needs better ways to produce food closer to the consumers; save resources (transport, cold-chains, storage, etc.) in the process; and maximize space usage; optimize the usage of the mere 3% available freshwater globally, and reduce production costs, and all this is achievable through the use of polytunnels.
The inclusion of ground sheeting further enhances the ability to flush your Polytunnel from the potential accumulation of harmful substances, should the need arise. What Polytunnels make possible is an unadulterated environment for optimal growth with all the key elements for success controllable.
The video below shows how to construct a polytunnel step by step and all the features and benefits that it has available to control the growing environment.
3) Temperature control is possible in the polytunnel
The ability to generate higher temperatures in which to grow your produce is a prominent feature of Polytunnels. By using different polythene or netting variants, ideal conditions can be created for your specific crops.
In commercial tunnels, often referred to as high tunnels, temperature regulation can be automated with auto-vents and fans higher up and heaters at ground level (if necessary).
Some smaller Polytunnels include Velcro-ribbed side-flaps to assist with heat expulsion – helping to control temperatures optimally for what is needed for the specific cultivars as there are specific seeds now available for Polytunnels.
4) It is possible to conduct light optimization within the polytunnel
A good polythene cover will incorporate an additive that increases its thermic efficiency yet retains 90% light transmission. A beneficial side effect of this added additive is that light entering the polytunnel is diffused – scattering light evenly throughout the structure.
Light is important for Bumble Bee and Bee activity for cross-fertilization of flowers.
With tomatoes growing in Polytunnels, Silverleaf whiteflies can be a problem. However, these are attracted to sticky coils and can be controlled that way without affecting the bees. I wrote an article on tackling such challenges in the polytunnel, and you can view that here.
5) The polytunnel can serve as a nursery for seeds
Your Polytunnel provides an ideal environment for seed propagation with increased temperatures, diffused light, and moisture retention. Studies have shown that higher temperatures can improve germination results by 40%. To promote effective germination even further may require heat mats that heat trays to more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. There is also a variety of germination available that make use of steam.
From the seed grows a root, then a sprout; from the sprout, the seedling leaves; from the leaves, the stem; around the stem, the branches; at the top, the flower. . . We cannot say that the seed causes the growth, nor that the soil does. We can say that the potentialities for growth lie within the seed, in mysterious life forces, which, when properly fostered, take on certain forms.Mary Caroline Richards
Charitable organizations like churches and community centers could strengthen local communities significantly in their quest to become more self-sustaining by using Polytunnels to grow seedlings for distribution to an at-risk household.
The reduced time-lapse between planting and harvesting is often what is needed to catalyze continued independent future production. Further initiatives include the production of vertical gardens to make indoor farming possible.
6) Pest Control is achievable using the polytunnel
The isolated environment of your Polytunnel limits the number of pests able to impact your plants. However, if pesticides are required and to avoid a build-up of harmful chemicals in your Polytunnel, it is advised that you consider using nettle-based pesticides that are organically biodegradable.
For more details on organic farming, visit USDA’s site that offers advice on the topic. (Source). Even if you are not planning to go organic, the site is insightful, covering an interesting range of topics:
- Soil fertility and crop nutrient management practice standard.
- Seeds and planting stock practice standard.
- Crop rotation practice standard.
- Crop pest, weed, and disease management practice standard.
- Facility pest management practice standard.
We would also like to introduce how polytunnels can allow you to experiment and look into different ventures in the next part.
7) The polytunnel is a great environment for hydroponics
Your Polytunnel is an ideal environment for using different forms of modular designed hydroponic systems. For example, by attaching a small solar panel to the inside of your Polytunnel and running submersible pumps in below-the-plant containers, a continuous supply of nutrient-laden water can be run over part of the plant’s root system.
Using the sun to energize pumps and gravity to recirculate the nutrient-laden water, the tower concept of hydroponics should appeal to most.
Reduced need for floor space, the ability to rapidly respond to changes, and reduce potential contaminants make hydroponics even more appealing. Also, expensive systems are not a necessity. There is a huge volume of videos showing you alternative ways of creating your own towers if you are so inclined.
8) Alternative growing mediums can be utilized in a polytunnel
The use of coconut husks is a popular alternative to just soil. However, woodchip can also be used if it is not sourced from a mill that treats its boards. In this article, I wrote about woodchips as a medium for our gardens since it is such an accessible thing to acquire.
Horse manure is an optimal growing medium, while bovine manure and poultry droppings are good mix-ins too. The writer has witnessed lush bushes of Basil being grown directly in unmixed horse manure on an asphalt slap under a Polytunnel.
9) Higher yields is achievable in a polytunnel
Because of a better-controlled environment, the plants in your Polytunnel will offer you higher crop yields. Incorporate some additional cost-effective steps of measured nutrition and extended light times, appropriate harvesting, and you will be sorely impressed.
If you do the math on the extreme example provided by the World Economic Forum above, the yield per square foot is 64 tomatoes per annum. Amazing.
10) Are vertical gardens possible in the polytunnel
Polytunnel costs are proportional to the square-footage space. Though space optimization using layered shelves is an option and is done, the optimal return can be achieved by going vertical. For example, your 8-foot-high tunnel can yield a twenty-fold better return by going vertical. This will enable you to grow, as an example, 180 lettuce heads in an area of a 9-foot square (3 x 3-feet).
Vertical gardens come in many forms – tiered stacks, A-frames, castor-fitted free-standing stacks, and tower-pots.
Whatever your choice of format, going up is a wise choice to save space, optimize water usage, and create better visual control of risks and progress.
11) Having a polytunnel and being one with nature helps with Mental Health
The link between spending time in nature and mental health is well established. In addition, being proactive in self-care and self-sustainability (autonomy) has additional benefits.
Adding a third layer of routine (associated with having control) creates a trifecta benefit. Continued involvement in working with nature, optimizing its efficacy, producing goods from nature, and care discipline is a sure recipe for improved health. It is often used in different forms of therapy.
12) Extending the season is possible with a polytunnel
By adding a month on either side of your summer crops, your growing season is effectively lengthened by 80%. This allows you to better stagger your crops for an extended harvest.
At a commercial level, having a polytunnel enables you to have produced at the market long before it is widely available, allowing for premium pricing advantages.
The global drive for shortening the source-to-consumption path creates real opportunities for smaller-scale farmers to take advantage of local markets. This advantage makes it economically viable to extend growing seasons even further by investing in fleece, heaters, heated water reticulation, and other season-extenders that could enable year-round production.
13) Can exotic plants be grown in a polytunnel
Some plants may not grow in your area because of climate restraints – fruits, citrus, soft fruits, etc. Your Polytunnel gives you an environment that is a couple of degrees higher than local temperature averages.
14) Government supports those that utilize polytunnels
Many Americans are unaware of the support available to fledgling farmers in different domains. Visit USDA’s New Farmers site for more information. (source)
Farming is a tough job, but at the heart of it all, you will see a vibrant community contributing to the future of our nation’s health and food security, making it a rewarding venture.
Find the resources you need to get started or personalize your search with their Discovery Tool. An interesting reference for this post is this video from USDA and the prioritization and return on investment for Polytunnels.
He comments: “The Greenhouse (see Polytunnel) has been the heart and soul of our cash flow and sustainability. Given that the average age of a US farmer is 58 years, the US Government wants to attract young farmers, women farmers, and war veterans, providing them a leg-up to getting into the farming business.
15) Focused satisfaction is surety with using polytunnels
Whether you are merely dabbling in food or flower production, producing food for home, family, or community, or are wanting to optimize scaled production, investing in a Polytunnel is worth every dollar.
Just like with everything, success in any venture requires focused discipline. Having read the article to the end, it can be accepted that you have the level of interest that will yield focused satisfaction.
Conclusion on why Polytunnels are worth it
All in all, this article summarizes why one should look into investing in polytunnels. All the initial shelling out of money is entirely eclipsed by the number of benefits and practices that one can do and grow through them.
With this, you might want to look into just how long a polytunnel may last, and we have the perfect article on it. It also covers how to care for it and factors that can affect the polytunnel’s lifespan.
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