From Pasture to Polytunnel – Part 1 – Erecting the Frame

by Joy Michaud on January 27, 2012 · 1 comment

in Product Reviews

Though it might look daunting, erecting a polytunnel is not difficult. It is simply a step-by-step process.

Preparing the site

1. The first step is to find a suitable site. There are certain requisites; firstly the land must be relatively flat or at least only gently sloping in one direction. The site must also not be shaded and have a water supply for irrigation. Shelter from the wind is desirable, as is soil that is not too stony. The water meadow
2. Cutting the ryegrass pasture. If there is plenty of time a sheet of black plastic (silage plastic bought from agricultural suppliers) spread over the proposed site will also kill the grass. Cutting the grass
3. It is easier to cultivate the soil before erecting the polytunnel.

Rotovating the soil

Pounding the posts

Tunnel frames are quite simple structures, composed of posts pounded into the ground in two parallel lines, and hoops that slot into the posts, forming a line of arches. The first job in erecting a polytunnel is to pound the corner posts firmly into the ground. If they are placed in exactly the correct position the polytunnel will be easy to erect and will stand firm for many years.

Mark out where the corner posts go. If they have been measured out correctly, the two diagonals will be the same length. A simple equation called ‘Pythagoras’ theorem’ can be used to calculate the correct length of the diagonals.

If your tunnel is measured in feet (a lot still are) convert the lengths into metres before calculating the length of the diagonals; doing Pythagoras’ theorem in feet and inches is very difficult.

The Pythagoras equation is the length squared + width squared = diagonal squared

The tunnel in the photos is 14 x 40 feet. This is 4.2 x 12.2 metres

So: 4.22 + 12.22 = diagonal²
17.64 + 148.84 = diagonal²
166.48 = diagonal²

Therefore the diagonal = ?166.48 = 12.903 metres

It is a wise precaution to check and double check your measurements. It is easy to make a mistake and any discrepancies at this stage will affect the quality of the rest of the job.

4. Once the exact position of the corner posts has been determined they are pounded into the ground. A sledge hammer is good for the job, but it should not be allowed to hit the metal posts directly as this will damage the rims and the hoops won’t be able to slot in. In the photo a rubber plug that fits over the post is being used. However, an old plank of wood held on top of the post does just as well.The posts should be vertical – use a spirit level to ensure this.If a post stops going into the ground when it is hit there may be a stone in the way. To remove the obstacle the post has to be pulled out (wobble it from side to side to loosen it). In most cases a stone can be dealt with by pounding a crowbar into the hole until the stone has broken up. Occasionally, this does not work and the only way to remove the stone is to dig it out. The hole must then be filled in and packed down as hard as possible with soil, then the post hammered in again.

Pounding the corner post in

5. Once the corner posts have been hammered into the ground, string should be attached to them marking out the perimeter of the tunnel. Tie the string around the posts
6. The string must be attached to the top of the posts and pulled tight so there is no slack. It should be level throughout – use a spirit level, do not do it by eye. This means if there is a slope some posts might have to be knocked deeper into the ground than others.It is possible to erect a tunnel on a slope provided it is even. In this case the corner posts should be hammered in all to the same depth, so that when the perimeter string is tied around it is not level, but rather runs parallel to the ground.

String attached to top of post

7. Once the string is in place lay the other posts along each side.

Lay the other posts out

8. Using a measuring tape running the length of the tunnel, the posts can be pushed into the soil in exactly the correct place.

Use a measuring tape

9. The posts are then pounded into the ground.

Pound all posts in

10. It is essential that the posts are all hammered in so that their rim is the same height as the string.

To height of string

Erecting the hoops

This is the easiest stage, and is a bit like putting up a meccano structure. Provided the posts have been put in vertically the whole structure will be assembled simply.

11. Depending on the model of the tunnel the hoops come in two or three parts. They are put together by slotting them into the posts. A nail should be placed through each hoop and bent over to prevent the hoops from sliding down into the post too far.

Hoops slot into the posts


12. Hoops are placed in every post.

Hoop in every post


13. Then the cross pieces at the apex of the hoop have to be added. To reduce friction with the plastic make sure that the cross piece runs under the hoops rather than above them.

Cross pieces

14 …. and the last piece!Many crops in a tunnel, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, need to be supported. The easiest way to provide that support is to run wire along the length of the tunnel, and this is the stage to put the attachments in.Also, to provide structural strength polytunnels need a side bar running between the last and penultimate hoop on both ends, and that has to be put in now.

Last piece

15. Lift the hoops out of the base post and slide in the attachment for the wire and the T-connection for the supporting bar.

Side supporting bar

16. The attachment for the wire. Ideally there will be two attachments on both sides of both end hoops.

For the wire

17. Put the supporting bar between the last and penultimate hoop on both sides and at both ends.

Putting support bar in

18. The support bar adds extra strength.

Support bar

Preparing the door frames

Tunnel doors are made out of a wooden frame. Tunnels should have a door on both ends as this improves ventilation and ultimately the quality of the crops that grow in it.

19. Tunnel doorframes can be made beforehand or put together in place. The frame should be high enough to allow an adult to walk through and as wide as possible given the width of the tunnel.



20. To make the doorframe, metal plates, which can be bought from any building supplier, are very useful.

How to make the door


21. To be sure that the door is placed in the centre of the tunnel a plumb line should be tied from the top of the centre of the end hoop.

Make a plum line

22. String should be tied between the end posts, and the point that the plumb line touches is where the door will go.

Plum line

23. Dig a hole for the doorframe legs to be buried….

Dig hole

24. and drop it in.

Put door in

25. Fit doorframe so that it fits snuggly under the metal hoop.

Fit door

26. Attach doorframe to the polytunnel hoop with metal strapping.

Attach door

27. Then fill in the holes, firming the doorframe into position.

Fill in hole

Next we will see how to put on the cover and complete the polytunnel, but that will happen in a few days time…

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