I answered a forum post the other day that asked about how to get a polytunnel on a budget. I won’t go over how useful polytunnels are here – it’s been covered a million times elsewhere. Needless to say that if you are growing your own veg, they are a godsend, although aesthetically there are obvious issues. Anyhow, if you are on a budget, there are a number of ways that you can put something together that will do the job; some are more permanent than others.
Option 1 – The Polybender
I’ve seen a couple of these, the first at Lammas, and they are very effective, and also the cheapest option. You can put together a basic bender frame with hazel rods, (or any flexible branches really), tie it where necessary, and then cover with plastic, which needs to be buried in a trench around the edges to keep the whole thing earthbound. For a low (or no, if you can get some plastic sheet for nix), cost option, this is the way to go, although you probably wouldn’t build on a big scale.
Option 2 – The ‘water pipe’ tunnel
Basically you need some 50mm water pipe, which is secured onto lengths of scaffold pipe. You’ll need lengthways and diagonal bracing to keep it all together, and then a cover, which would ideally be ‘proper’ polytunnel plastic as its more UV stable. As relatively short lengths of pipe are needed, you may be able to get them either free or cheap. Well worth freecycling.
This method is also a good way of making mini-tunnels for raised beds if you need to protect them or get things started.
Option 3 – The cheap and cheerful tunnel
These are a bit maligned, but I reckon are a great cheap way to get growing. This 18×10 foot tunnel was about £130 all in. Not the world’s strongest structure, but dig the sides into the ground, add a bit of extra bracing ( I used plastic electrical conduit, with the ends flattened in a vice), and make a solid door frame at one or either end, and you have a good low cost growing space. The covers are a green mesh material rather than clear plastic, but that didn’t stop the veg growing. Highly recommend, and there are loads on ebay.
Option 4 – Second hand
We’ve been offered a couple of second hand frames, and I often see abandoned looking tunnels about the countryside, so an ad on gumtree, or simply knocking on doors might well yield a perfectly good frame. Be careful of the really big ones though, as the covers can be expensive. Our big tunnel frame was free, and to buy new clamps, timber and a cover worked out around £700 so still a lot cheaper than a new tunnel.
Option 5 – Buy a new one
They aren’t cheap, but you can keep the cost down by avoiding some of the extras and having a basic tunnel. A 21×14 foot tunnel with a sliding door is about £900 from First Tunnels, and their support is very good indeed. You get very good instructions, online videos, and a comprehensive kit. They have frequent offers, so keep an eye out.