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Tunnel Vision, March 28th

Jo Perry

March 28th

I had an early morning wander through my tunnels today. I always go straight to the propagator and seed trays. After a lifetime of growing I am still always delighted to see new seedlings pushing through the compost. This morning annual flowers are showing through; Salvia horminum in pink, blue and white, cosmos in white and various pastel shades, cornflowers, Ammi majus and Orlaya grandiflora, these are all mainstays of our flowers borders
and summer bouquets. Many people feel that annuals are just too muchtrouble but they are so versatile and most are no more trouble than vegetable seeds. They are also inexpensive, for the price of one or two perennials you can grow literally hundreds of annuals from seed.

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The bigger of the two tunnels by the house is crammed full of vegetables and sweet peas. The overwhelming scent of the broad bean flowers is delicious. The plants are about 200cm tall and well covered with flowers. I haven’t actually seen any insects in the tunnel yet, but there are small pods forming, so obviously we have been visited by pollinating insects. This year we have tried a new system and planted a double row of broad beans down the centre of a bed. In the past we have planted them in blocks, but despite supporting the outside rows they still inevitably collapse over the paths, and many of the inside beans don’t get harvested properly. With the new system, we have worked hard to keep them supported and then either side we have a row of lettuce. It seems to be working well so far and the lettuce have been harvested since January. We take outside leaves rather than cut whole heads. There is lots of lettuce still to come.

Other crops in the tunnel at the moment include a similar row of sweet peas with chard either side, one whole bed of early potatoes and the other row is home to spinach, bulb fennel (sown late winter and nearly ready to use), red frilly mustard, corn salad, chervil, a green mustard and more lettuce. The black grape at the bottom has been pruned into shape and without leaves throws no shade yet. Plastic tunnels are not the most aesthetically pleasing structures but it is
possible to grow an awful lot more, especially throughout the winter. Our tunnels happen to be on a north facing slop, hardly the most promising situation, but it was the only space available. Even so, they are really productive. I did have a bit of a fright with the frosts last week, but luckily I had covered tiny tomato plants and other tender things with a double layer of fleece.    I think everything survived but frosts are very rare here on the coast of West Cork, especially this late in the spring. The weather continues to keep us guessing.

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