First of all was the polytunnel. My experience with polytunnels was commercial ones quite some time ago and things have improved tremendously since then. The polythene films are far better and the design has improved. Construction is far easier with the side bar method making putting the cover on far easier than the old fashioned trenching method.
I’d always thought of polytunnels as a sort of second-line, cheap alternative to a greenhouse but now I realise that, whilst they are less expensive, in some ways they’re actually superior to a greenhouse. For a start, the polytunnel is tougher than the greenhouse when storms strike.
I’ve always been a bit against grow lights. My feeling was that it was not very green paying for electricity just to push a crop. I think I’ve been guilty of muddled thinking on the subject since I’ve paid out for electricity to power propagators and paraffin for greenhouse heating to get an early crop.
Taking that thought further, greenhouses and polytunnels are much larger investments in producing early crops and growing crops where they wouldn’t grow naturally due to climate.
Having worked out that the additional cost of lighting is a lot lower than I thought and seen the brilliant results from additional lighting on the plants, I’m sold on them. And to make the most of the polytunnel I need to move sowing dates forward to when light levels are low which means additional lighting for quality seedlings.
No Dig Growing
I’ve not been keen on no-dig systems for a number of reasons. First being that too many gardeners leap on the idea as a way to avoid work rather than a positive choice. There’s actually a fair amount of work involved and, to run it properly, it needs a lot of compost. More compost than most people can make without buying it in.
The second reason was that gardening is about improving the soil and in my experience no-dig didn’t significantly increase topsoil depth beyond the additional compost added. But most of my gardening has been on heavy clay and what doesn’t work on clay may well work on lighter soils.
The soil we’re on now is quite sandy but full of stones which makes conventional digging very difficult. Push the spade in and it hits a stone, stopping it from going deeper. It can be done, but it’s very hard work.
Then I read up on no-digging methods in permaculture where they basically used a lasagne method but opened up the soil below with a broadfork. This helped get the nutrients and humus from the surface down into the soil below and aerated the soil without the disruption of digging.
I’m trying a variation of that method on half the plot and a more traditional double digging system on the other half. My hope is that the large amount of manure and compost will encourage worms who will drag the humus down into the soil and increase the depth of top soil eventually.