independent

Monday 22 July 2019

Tunnel vision

David Medcalf
David Medcalf

By David Medcalf

The devil is always, always in the detail.

The time had come to install a polytunnel on the rolling acres of Medders Manor. One of those constructions made by stretching a vast sheet of opaque plastic across metal hoops to create a growing space as warm as any greenhouse at a fraction of the cost.

Such tunnels are popping up in their hundreds in back gardens and on smallholdings across the land, symbols of a national desire to grow our own. Our own tomatoes. Our own courgettes. Our own onions. We decided to follow the trend.

Leafing through the polytunnel catalogue, I began to harbour wistful thoughts of mega-marrows and of aubergines as large and as glossy in their purple-black perfection as any to be found on the stalls in a Greek market.

Hermione - darling, determined, down-and-dirty Hermione - spoke with keen intent of raising plants which will creak under the weight of massive red peppers to be served scorched to perfection with oceans of Spanish red at barbecues on mellow summer evenings. She may in a previous life have been an Andalusian peasant.

It was decided unanimously, without objection and by both of us, that a bequest from a much loved and deeply missed aunt could appropriately be devoted to financing the latest addition to the horticulture department. Arrangements were made with the vendor to have the component parts delivered in jig time, in order to make the most of the spring planting season. The perfect site was identified, a spot sheltered from the worst of the gales by a high ditch, yet not overshadowed by any great trees.

The allotted plot is flat yet well drained. The day spent digging out the earthworks, though arduous, was encouraging. Scarcely a stone was encountered to hinder the excavations. The hoops went in as per diagram and the plastic was then stretched across the metal framework as tight as a drum, in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. Tickety boo.

Construction phase over, we sprayed the contents of a bottle of homemade elderflower over the new arrival and joyfully yet reverently christened this fine piece of work the Aunty Adi Tunnel. Under the plastic, the chilly breeze of an Irish afternoon was replaced by a delicious warmth. An atmosphere reminding us of balmier climes had been created in little more than a trice. Let the growing of our own commence. Forthwith.

We eagerly set about loading up the tunnel with bags of compost, piles of manure and trays of young plants. Surely, we shall never again lack lettuce or run short of rocket. The greengrocer will soon pine for want of our custom as Medders & Co have gone self-sufficient.

The offspring displayed scant interest in the initiative, setting off for school with the worried look of teenagers facing a future laden with rather more salad than they are used to. Ha! Let them eat kale, and eat it raw, as Marie Antoinette might have said. Then Hermione went to work, eager to promise colleagues surplus produce from our crops.

And I was left at home to attend to the little matter of digging in all the manure and of planting all the plants. I laboured happily, my brow glistening in an atmosphere ten degrees warmer than on the far side of the plastic in the wind tossed outdoors.

It was all going swimmingly, I thought, until it dawned on me that there will be no swimming in this polytunnel, for there is no natural water supply. Without water, the warmth will create a desert in which nothing will thrive.

I already have a path worn across the grass from tap to tunnel, filling and endlessly re-filling the watering cans at my disposal. At the height of summer, I will be an utter slave to the tunnel as the micro-climate within approaches tropical. No holidays. No slackening of the unremitting effort.

So now Hermione is researching computer controlled watering systems to be controlled via telephone over the internet from anywhere in the world. Pending the purchase of same, I am left to rue the devil in the overlooked detail of our great plan while living the life of a small farmer in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wexford People

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