Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘polytunnel’

Lights, Tree cabbage & Apricots

Propagation whether from seed or cutting is the starting point of growing anything so I’ve invested in a bit of kit to assist me in getting the propagation environment just right. I’ve been using a Vitopod propagator from Greenhouse Sensation for a few years with a lot of success. It’s heated with an easy to control thermostat so I can tailor the warmth to the seeds I’m trying to germinate. Not getting too hot is just as important as not being too cold when it comes to germinating seeds. Some seeds just won’t germinate if it’s too warm.

Once seeds have germinated they need light to grow well. Too little light can lead weak to etiolated seedlings. While the polytunnel obviously gets a lot of light and I’ve never had a problem with etiolated seedlings the days are shorter at the end of winter and beginning of Spring. Shorter day length can affect the flowering of plants, this is known as Photoperiodism. I don’t  plan on specifically growing plants that demonstrate photoperiodism currently but I do want to make sure that my seedlings benefit from having the maximum light they can. Using artificial light also means I can start my seedlings inside if I want to, that I can extend my growing year by starting seeds off earlier and I can grow plants that are used to longer growing periods.

With all those benefits in mind I had been thinking about how to use some horticultural light in the propagation area of the polytunnel. Fortunately, Greenhouse sensation have just brought out a light kit for the Vitopod propagator so I treated myself this week. It’s very easy to put together and fixes onto the propagator with suction pads. I’ve plugged it into a timer and set that so the lights come on from 3am to 6am increasing the day length.

Here’s a picture of the lights on the propagator. The support for the lights is made out of clear plastic so it does look like the lights are just floating above the propagator. You can adjust the height of the lights very easily.

As we move properly into Spring the permanent plants in the polytunnel are showing signs of new life. My perennial vegetables the Tree Cabbage and Nine Star Broccoli are flourishing. I’ve got three Tree Cabbage and five of the Nine Star Broccoli. I grew the Tree Cabbage from seed but bought the Nine Star Broccoli as plug plants. As perennial vegetables they stay put all year round. You can pick the leaves from the Tree Cabbage to use as you would a cabbage and the Nine Star Broccoli acts like purple sprouting broccoli but is a cauliflower. It produces multiple small cauliflower like heads and will continue to be productive over at least 3 years.  You can get the Tree Cabbage seed from The Real Seed Catalogue and the Nine Star Broccoli plants from Victoriana Nursery Gardens

We’ve also got fruit trees in the polytunnel. Once again the Apricot seems to be aiming to be the first to blossom.

Hopefully we’ll have another good harvest this year.

Last year we tried growing in straw bales for the first time. It was very successful and the bales have survived the winter. They aren’t quite as sturdy as they were though so I think this year I’ll mainly use them for salad crops. I’m going to leave them in their current position because I suspect they might disintegrate a bit if I start hauling them around the polytunnel.

This is how they look right now.

As you can see the polytunnel could do with a bit of a clean. After the big storm recently we’ve decided to replace the cover so there’s little point cleaning it now. We’ve got the replacement cover ready to put on we just need to wait for a dry, non windy day.




Spring is coming

It was a gorgeous day in the Fens today and it really felt as if Spring as on the way. There are Snowdrops in our wood and the trees are in bud. This was the view across our paddocks this afternoon.

I spent the day in the Polytunnel planting some Sweet Chestnuts. One of our long term projects is to increase the size of our wood and expand the tree species that we have growing on the smallholding. Sweet Chestnuts will provide both a wood and nut crop. Rather than buying in trees I like to grow the first batch from seed then take cuttings. I get all my tree seed from Tree Seeds Online  the seeds come with clear instructions and I’ve had good germination rates.

I’ve started  using deep tomato pots from The Garden Superstore for any trees with a deep tap root. The pots I’ve planted the Sweet Chestnuts in are 26cm deep which should be more than deep enough and being square they take up less space.

As well as planting my Sweet Chestnuts I re-potted the Alder and Staghorn Sumac that I grew from seed last year. I’ve got about 30 of each which isn’t bad for a few pounds, if you’ve got the time, space and patience growing from seed is very economical. I also planted on a few Lavender plants and Hollyhocks that have been overwintering in the Polytunnel and needed a bit more space.

Next weekend I’ll be sorting out my Sweet Peppers that are in the propagator most of them have germinated

Here’s a picture of the Sweet Chestnuts in their long square pots, the Staghorn Sumac, Alder and the Sweet Peppers.


I’m going to be growing some other trees from seed this year Walnut, Olive and Oak. I think the Olive will be the most challenging. A lot of tree seeds need to undergo Stratification before they will germinate. This means simulating winter temperatures and is most easily done using the fridge. Olive seeds also need  to undergo scarification which is a process designed to make the testa (seed coat) more permeable to water and gases (and thus more likely to germinate).

Polytunnel Pineapples, Tomatoes, Basil & Shallots

A few years ago while on holiday in Cornwall we visited the lost gardens of Heligan. It’s a beautiful garden and the background of how it was rescued from decay and ruin is an excellent read. If you search for lost gardens of heligan on Amazon you can find the book and DVDs. One of the most interesting things at Heligan is the Pineapple Pit. It is heated by horse manure and designed specifically for growing Pineapples, a prized rare plant in Victorian times. You can read more about the Heligan Pineapple Pit on their blog post The story of the £10,000 Pineapple

We don’t have a pineapple pit at Hooters Hall but we do have our hot beds now so I’ve decided to have a go propagating some pineapple tops. This is going to be a long term project. Once a Pineapple top has successfully rooted it will take 2 years before it flowers.

I bought my pineapples from the supermarket. There are lots of You Tube videos and written information online about propagating pineapples. Basically you need to slice off the top then strip the leaves off the bottom inch or so. As you strip the stalk you can see little brown tendrils which will become the roots.

Some of the information online advises rooting your pineapple stalk in water but I’ve planted mine in a pot with some free draining compost. I’ve buried the pots in the hot bed so now we just need to wait and see if they root. Here are some pictures of the process.

Less exotic than the pineapples I also got my tomato, basil and shallot seeds planted this weekend. I’ve got a few varieties of Tomato including a dwarf windowsill variety Tiny Tim, Brandywine, Black Russian and some early varieties from Europe.

The Basil I’m growing this year is a British variety which I haven’t tried before. It’s supposed to be better suited to our climate more tolerant of the British Summer weather. This year I am determined to do several sowings of Basil and get better at using it in preserving / making pesto . I did quite well with my tomatoes last year and we’re still enjoying dehydrated, frozen tomatoes and green tomato chutney.

The heated propagator is still full of my Sweet Peppers so I put the seed trays with the tomatoes and basil in the hot bed with the pineapples. I also planted some Shallot seeds. It’s the first time I’ve grown Shallots. I’ve got some in seed trays and a row of them in the raised bed in the polytunnel.

Here are all my seed trays tucked up, nice and cosy in the hot bed.