Saturday, 3 April 2010

How to take down a polytunnel

Well, we did take the tunnel down last Saturday (see previous post), as we said we would, with the much appreciated assistance of neighbors Brendan and William - thanks guys, we couldn't have done it without you.

Thanks also to everyone who offered their help, sympathy, food and suggestions - it all helped.

Here are some pictures of the event, in the hope that they might be useful to anyone having to take down a tunnel themselves or just change the plastic cover - which does need to be done every 5 - 7 years.

First thing to say is that it isn't a task to be taken lightly. It's messy and really does require at least a few helpers and a sunny still day is preferable. Luckily, we had helpers and good weather.

First things first, uncover the edges of the plastic (if you used the trench method, like we did). If you used base plates that you can attach the plastic to feel free to grin smugly and you watch the mess unfold as we uncover our trenches.

When we put the tunnel up, last May, we put weed suppressing membrane over the trenched soil and then gravel over the membrane - to make it neater. In this first picture I'm in the process of moving the gravel and membrane away from the trenched area.

Now we (I actually) have got to the soil that the plastic is buried below.

Next step is to evict the happily sleeping dog (and apologize to her and the plants that their shelter will soon be removed).

Here Sam has removed the plastic from around the doors.

Here Brendan is unearthing the western trench, so we can lift the plastic.

Now the cover is off (I was too busy helping to take pictures of that bit - sorry) and the tunnel is in skeleton form. If you are just changing the plastic cover, you just put on the new plastic and cover it using the soil that has just been excavated from the trenches. If only we were that fortunate.

Here you can see the trench depth - not too big at all, but it held the plastic firm through some rough winds last year.

The ladder is up, so we can start dismantling (it's the royal we this time, I'm helping from afar).

Here are the three lads taking down the hoops - there are already two hoops leant up against the hedge in the background.

All done now, time to survey the chaos left behind. There is a lot of spoil (unearthed clay soil) on the long bed that was beside the tunnel. Mind you it was looking scrappy anyway. To be honest, it all looked pretty dreadful once the tunnel was down and a few plants got damaged while the lads were maneuvering the frame.

Here's the view looking south. Even the planter on the right got damaged as we moved it out of the way in order to remove the tunnel. Yes, there's quite a bit of fixing up to do.

The planting beds were just shaped out of the soil and mushroom compost when I created the beds last year. With the tunnel up the environment was dry and the paths stayed relatively weed free. I have a feeling that now the whole area is open to the weather I will have to cover the paths or they will easily get squishy if wet and weed filled. I may use black membrane and tiles to start with (as I have them already available).

Here is a good example of the benefits of the tunnel for shelter. The two plants together in the foreground are sutherland kale, planted last spring in this borer outside the tunnel and overwintered there. They did well and have some nice new growth even though there is some wind / frost damage. The plant seen behind them is the same kale, planted inside the tunnel last spring. The leaves are all soft and tender and more lush - because of the shelter they got over the winter.

Here are the 'inside' and 'outside' kale again.
By now, I have made progress in backfilling the trenches and re-covering them with membrane and re-instating the gravel. It was harder work than I expected and I really felt it in my arms and back for a few days afterwards.

This is as far as I got with 'making good' before we had to leave site on Monday. There is still a lot of soil to move at the far end .. I'm not looking forward to it (and dread to think what it all looks like now after days of heavy rain).

I had better success on the western side, which I've completely leveled and covered with membrane and gravel.

Here is the south end after some hard graft.

Here's what's left for next time! The rest of the east side.

Yes, there is still work to do to 'make good'. At least then I can re-shape this long bed .. and the bed beside it that has been half taken over by grass. Hopefully things will start to look better then.

At least now we have the pictures taken of the tunnel being removed and so can proceed with the latest round of submissions for the planning authority. All we want is to be able to get back to our build and our land. My fingers and toes are crossed .... but, judging by recent experiences, I'm not going to hold my breath.

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