We’re lucky to have been able to position our new polytunnel in a south-facing position, with reasonable protection from trees and walls to the east and west. We’ve chosen not to do a parallel beds layout, but to have larger beds on either side of a central path in a way that gives access to two central crop bars to taller plants. The crop layout we have planned has a nursery area in the south-west corner, with low growing plants coming thereafter: squash and melons, followed by aubergines, then tomatoes on the west side; with lettuces, cauliflowers, followed by peppers, then tomatoes and cucumbers, on the east side – to maximise sun exposure. Basil and chilli plants will be dotted around in pots in available sunny spaces.
In preparing the beds, we used the soil that was in the area from the existing raised beds over which the tunnel was placed. We had to put in some work to break up this soil as it was lumpy and compacted from having been walked on. We added a one–two inch layer of our organic medium grade compost on top, and will add a further layer of improver compost to the beds when we’re ready to start using them. We watered the beds (it’s important to water the beds in a polytunnel even when not in use as the soil dries out quickly in there) and covered them with polythene to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. We will only need one of the smaller beds in the short term: to plant cauliflowers, lettuce and salads (mizuna and mustard). So the rest will remain covered (except for occasional watering) for several more weeks until our tomato and other plants are further along in size and ready to transplant.
For now, we have just used cardboard to make paths. They were laid over mostly weed-free, smoothed-over soil – though creeping buttercup and dandelion are making their way through along the edges. Next year, we may invest in some bark for the paths, possibly with an underlay of garden fabric. Right now the aesthetic of the cardboard path leaves a lot to be desired.