One of my garden dreams has started to come true. After several years of anticipating, my poly house has finally got a roof on it. It was finally ready to have the plastic roof added in late November but then I decided I might as well have shade cloth up over the heat of summer, so a couple of weeks ago we took the shade cloth up and popped plastic on. Of course, it’s the royal “we”. I am the gardener and husband Richard is the one who builds things. When I first suggested a poly house a few years ago, I was thinking a humble tunnel structure like I had in the family plant nursery. Richard had built several for himself when he was a cut flower grower so wasn’t averse to the idea. We decided that if it was positioned on the northern side of his shed, it might actually make his shed warmer and more liveable in winter. Well it went from being a simple hoop structure to a larger more engineered addition to his shed, following the same roof line as the shade, but that’s given me more space to play with, so I am not complaining!?
On a practical note, at the moment I only have a plastic roof and no sides. They are yet to be added from second hand sliding glass doors and windows we have collected, however we plan to add these in the next month and with these sliding panels the sides can be opened up to aid ventilation in summer. There are 8 wicking beds in this area, and I have plans to add one more, as well as an in ground bed against the northern wall of Rich’s shed.
So why would I want a poly house? Winter tomatoes in frosty Mount Barker of course!? Having adored the delicious taste of summer for the last few months, I am keen to see if I can extend the season of my other warm season favourites such basil, eggplants, capsicums and chillies. A market gardener’s son once told me that in Adelaide his dad would cut their in-ground eggplants hard at the end of autumn, and cover them with mini poly tunnels, so that he could have the first eggplants of the next season in the market. I tried that here but our frosts to minus 5 still wiped them out. So, as an experiment I have dug up a few of the smaller capsicums, chillies and eggplants and planted them into the wicking beds in this area to see if they can overwinter in here. And I have some cool season tomatoes I am planting into a bed – they are Burnley Bounty. I admit they would have been better being planted a month or more ago, but still worth a shot.
I am also keen to try more subtropical plants such as turmeric, ginger and galangal, as well as herbs like curry leaf and lemon grass. I have already got lots of vertical vegies climbing over builders’ mesh against the northern wall of Rich’s shed and it will be interesting to see how long they go for now they won’t be directly frosted. These include, indeterminate tomatoes, Malabar spinach and my all-time favourite New Guinea bean, the latter which has even put on a lot of new growth since the roof went on just two weeks ago. Whether or not this growth will translate into fruit remains to be seen.
Now I like to think that I am entering into this new era of garden learning mindfully, aware of what challenges might occur and what might go wrong. A major one is the heat of next summer. I have seen a number of poly houses which aren’t useable in the warmer weather as they get too hot and the plants dry out too quickly, and as a result of these two I might get a proliferation of insect pest such as mites or mealy bugs. There are a number of ways I could attempt to overcome the heat –make sure there is good air circulation with the ends and sides open to allow breeze to flow through, add a shade cloth cover over the top, and/or add a high tech thermal blanket designed for glasshouses as a blind running horizontally on the inside, and with vertical veggies growing on the sides and ends to act as evaporative cooling machines. As far as the plants drying out I plan to have most vegies in wicking beds and even anticipate that I will need to top them up twice as often as I do outside, however that’s still only two times a week for most of summer, so that’s manageable. I also plan to add a misting system to keep the humidity up so the plants are happy. If I can successfully keep plants moist and happy, the insect pests might not become a problem, but even if they do, I can invest in beneficial insects to control them, which with any luck will actually take up residence in this environment.
Now maybe I am being Pollyanna about my poly house, but you have to have garden dreams…………… don’t you?