Strawberries and poly tunnels

Thanks to the 50 or so of you who responded to my musings on whether it would be a good idea to grow at least some of our strawberries under tunnels to protect them from the weather and consequent losses (newsletter of 14th June.) The original post is Strawberries at Wash Farm in Devonhere.

There was a (very) small majority who felt that the eyesore was justified by benefit but is was a close thing. My views have changed over the years from being very anti tunnels to thinking that they are justified for intensive crops like strawberries. We will do some costings to check that it makes economical sense and the final decision will lie with our suppliers; in Devon that, means John, the farm manager. If it works economically we will not discourage it as we have in the past.  

Responding to a few specific points raised in the responses

  • An acre (originally defined as the area that one man could plough with one horse in a day) is 4000 square metres; 15 time the paying area of a tennis court or just over half the area of a premier league football pitch. So to supply all our 60,000 customers with strawberries would require about 8 acres of tunnels or about 5 football pitches.
  • Extending the season; there was an over whelming majority who felt that tunnels were not justified to extend the season. Most people were happy to have a relatively short “natural season”. Tunnels can extend the season but this would not be our motivation; we and you seem perfectly happy with it as it is.
  • The plastic lasts 3 to five years and would be recycled after use
  • The plastic is usually clear and would appear white but some people have successfully used green. I am not convinced this is an aesthetic benefit.
  • On flavour: My views have changed from a prejudice against tunnels as promoting lush growth and reducing light levels and therefore flavour. In practice we find that the best flavour comes from the plants with the best growing conditions. We often get unpleasant off flavours when plants suffer stress. I suspect that on average the fruit would be better from under tunnels.

Hope that is interesting


5 responses to “Strawberries and poly tunnels

  1. Hi there – interesting topic. Soil Association are running a consultation about protected growing that you and your readers may find interesting. Have your say on the benefits and limitations of glasshouse and polytunnel growing, until 7th July here:

  2. Sorry for coming into the debate so late! I was pleased to see that there was an overwhelming majority who felt that tunnels were not justified to extend the season. I too am in that camp, and I’d say that expecting things only when they are in season is one of the fundamental principles of organic vegetable box schemes and organic farming. You have responded that tunnels can extend the season but this would not be the motivation as everyone seems perfectly happy with it as it is. That seems to leave just one motivation which is about growing more strawberries and not losing any to fungal disease. But that’s the same argument given for intensive agricultural practices and the use of fungicides. Even if the polytunnels are recycled, what about the environmental damage caused by their production i.e. the energy used in the production of plastic and the transportation of the them. Also, plastic is an oil based product and very toxic to the environment in it’s production. I do feel the debate was couched in the wrong terms. I’m not concerned about whether or not they are an ‘eyesore’, but rather what the environmental implications are, which seem to be detrimental.

  3. Richard Holling

    Better to have poly tunnels and an eyesore, than a view of barren fields in the future.
    People will not stop buying foreign strawberries unless there are British ones in the shops.
    Better poly tunnels than the road and air food miles.

  4. Kate Maciver-Redwood

    Certainly the strawberries grown here in the Tamar Valley under plastic (also honey eye variety) tasted so much better than the Riverford ones last year – I actually had to spit yours out they were so ghastly.

    If you have problems with planning permission at Wash and you’d like to have some grown here, I’m sure we could organise something.

  5. If you put the strawberries in polytunnels, could you get double use of the tunnels by planting a vine of desssert grapes outside each tunnel and running a vine up the centre of the roof. I notice you are getting grapes from france at the moment. I am in the south east and the grapes
    in my greenhouse are very nearly ripe, in the south west they probably would be ripe now. In the centre of the tunnel roof it would also provide a little welcome shade for the strawberry pickers too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *