When the nice people at First Tunnels asked me whether I’d like one of their mini polytunnels to review, my answer was a swift “yes, please!”. I have serious polytunnel envy; I’d love to have one, but the garden isn’t big enough. And the closest I get to a greenhouse is my potting shed, which has lots of windows that don’t open 🙁

The mini polytunnel is not your standard garden centre ‘out of the box’ plastic tunnel, but a proper polytunnel in miniature. Its hoops are made from 25.4mm galvanised steel tubing, and stands at over a metre tall. It comes with apolyethene cover that is the same grade used in commercial polytunnels (or there is a netting option), and a pressure-treated timber base rail.

The only slight downside, for a gardener, is that “some assembly is required”. But I have the Chief Engineer on hand, and he assured me it would be easy to assemble. So last weekend I left him to it, merely providing “hold this” assistance when required.

The base comes first:

Mini tunnel base

Once the base has been assembled, the hoops fix nicely into sturdy galvanized corner braces:

Mini polytunnel instructions

It’s at this point you find that, if you haven’t read the instructions properly, the supplied timber is longer than it needs to be, and the top bracing bar isn’t going to fit.

So… you have to take it all apart again and saw the timber down to the correct length. Which actually wasn’t a problem because the Chief Engineer had been putting it together ‘as supplied’ for a photoshoot, but was always intending to cut the timber down because we want to modify the polytunnel (supplied as 4×5 ft to fit over a one of our raised beds – 4×4 ft).

And when you’ve done that and put it together properly (and cut down the bracing bar because it’s now too long…), it looks like this:

Mini polytunnel frame over a raised bed

The idea of the mini polytunnel is that it’s portable, and that suits me fine because I’d like to be able to move it from bed to bed in the garden. It takes two people to lift and move it safely (although it’s not heavy), but the Chief Engineer is often on hand, so that’s fine.

The mini polytunnel can sit flat on the ground, or on the patio, and has two leg extensions that allow you to prop it up, either to access your plants, or to allow some ventilation. First Tunnels tell me that some people attach it to a raised bed with hinges, which allows them to use the prop legs.

I don’t want to fix the mini polytunnel to one bed, I want to be able to move it around. I also don’t have the space to take it off and hide it away when it’s not in use, so it’s always going to be on a bed.

Given that it doesn’t have any other means of ventilation/access, the Chief Engineer and I have spent the week discussing how best to make use of the mini polytunnel in our situation.

In an ideal world, a mini polytunnel would be able to offer weather protection during the winter, and pest protection during the summer. But the covers aren’t interchangeable – once they’re on, they’re fixed down. So, although I opted for the polythene cover, I have changed my mind and think my mini polytunnel will be better covered in netting. It can offer the blueberries (which are getting quite tall now) protection from the birds when they’re fruiting, and stop the cabbage whites laying their eggs on the purple sprouting broccoli plants after they get too tall for one of my lower tunnels. In the winter they can give my overwintering greens a little bit of weather protection, but – more importantly – will stop the sparrows eating my chard! Ventilation and overheating won’t be an issue.

The Chief Engineer has been pondering the access issue, and has come up with a plan. He’s in the garden at the moment, sawing away.

So there will be a second part to my mini polytunnel story, in due course. In the meantime, I can tell you that the Chief Engineer is very impressed with the quality of the materials supplied, and I reckon the end result will be very sturdy and windproof, and a great addition to the garden 🙂