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My DIY Polytunnel

  • 31-08-2011 2:55pm
    Registered Users Posts: 2,723 ✭✭✭ redser7

    I was offered an allotment in June. As it was late in the sowing season I decided to spend my time getting it in shape for next spring. Having struggled with a cheap walk-in type greenhouse for the last couple of years I immediately thought 'Polytunnel'. After research I decided on a size of 20' x 10'. At around 800 euros it was way out of my price range so I looked into DIY options using recycled and scrounged materials. I found instructions that used 2 inch PVC water pipe sleeved over lengths of cut scaffold tube for the main structure. I aimed to do it for around 200. This is the result.

    First step was to clear the site of weeds and debris that I inherited. I did this by hand using a fork and a Chillington hoe. It was hard work but worth it. I have very few weeds coming up now whereas I believe if you rotavate you can churn up a lot of weed seeds and chop up stems and roots and increase your weed problem.

    The tunnel would have 2 raised beds along each side with a central path. Using 9" high scaffold planks would give nice deep beds (plus single dug beneath) but it would cost a few hundred euro to import topsoil to fill them. So I excavated the topsoil to a depth of 7 - 8 inches and set that aside to go back into the raised beds once the tunnel was complete. Stones would be screened out and compost/manure/seaweed added later in the year.

    Once that was done I marked out a level plane, levelled the area and then marked out the tunnel footprint leaving plenty of space around it to work.


    It is important to get the right angles correct for the stability of the tunnel so I used the 3-4-5 rule (pythagoras' theorem). Then I measured out the distances for the 5 scaffold tubes on each side and marked their positions with rebar.

    I managed to scrounge a few 21 foot lengths of bent scaffold pipe for free. I cut 10 x 5.5 foot straight lengths from these and used them as the foundation tubes. Each one was driven a meter into the ground using a sledge hammer. Bloody hard work getting them in and keeping them straight. I would say it is a must to have a helper with you on this part. Make sure they are all in line and distanced the same as the one on the opposite side. Ensure that the tops are all level with each other.


    The ends of the scaffold will get mashed out of shape from hammering so will need to be taken off with an angle grinder or hacksaw so the PVC pipe will sleeve onto the tube. I didn't have that problem ...

    I tried to get my hands on free/second hand 2" internal diameter PVC water pipe as it is a perfect fit to sleeve over the scaffold tubes. A bolt or nail is then driven through both of them low down to tie them together. But I couldn't find any. It can be bought new from builders and plumbers merchants but is expensive at around 100 euro for 30 metres. But persistence paid off and I did manage to do a trade for enough electrical duct with a chap who had some surplus. Thanks R!

    The problem with the electrical duct is that it is too narrow to fit over the scaffold tubes. I decided on a plan to span the two using 3 foot lengths of rebar. Again I got the rebar free.


    6 inch nails were pushed through 6mm drilled holes in the pipes. Two lengths of rebar with bent ends were taped together in such a way as to hit the inside of both the scaffold tube and the PCV pipe so the pipe wouldn't move North, South, East or West horizontally. Just before I pushed the PVC pipe down on to the rebar a third shorter length of rebar was pushed in to give added stability. It worked, and there was no give on the pipe.


    At last I could see how big the tunnel would be. Each piece of pipe was 6 metres long. They need to be exactly the same length so measure twice and cut once!

    The pipes were tied to the scaffold tubes using builder's band which I had already ...


    The next step was the internal woodwork to give the tunnel rigidity and stability against the weather. But my wife headed off for the weekend with the camera. So fast forwarding ...


    ... the nearly finished tunnel with labourer doing a great job hammering some topsoil into shape.

    Scaffold boards were fixed to the exterior of the scaffold pipes using the same 6 inch nails that hold the rebar in place to span the PVC pipe. Builders band was also used to give additional hold and then the nails were flattened down. The boards will also serve as the perimeter of the internal raised beds.


    I also drove wooden stakes into the ground at intervals and the scaffold boards were screwed and nailed onto these for added stability.

    Thinner scaffold pipe, also sourced free, was driven 3 foot into the ground and the gable end scaffold boards were secured to these using builders band (great stuff! get a roll if you are doing this).


    Most of the wood and screws were scrounged from a local demolition and I was lucky to get enough to make the diagonal bracing, gable ends (door frames and stiffeners) and other bits and bobs.


    I had to buy 2 x 1 inch baton for the stiffeners that run the length of the tunnel, the ridge pole, hinged door, removable vents and for rolling the polythene cover to be attached to the scaffold boards. It is very cheap at 1.25 per 8ft length.

    This is a picture of the back end.


    The door frame (goal post) is sunk 2 foot into the ground for stability and held at the top with 4 inch screws screwed directly into the PVC pipe. The stiffeners either side are also screwed in. This end does not have a hinged door but it does have removable polythene vents. The top one is complete. I will staple debris netting to the inside of the door frame for hot days when I need to remove the polythene vents for ventilation. The netting will reduce any wind chill if it is windy and keep out unwanted animals/birds. There will be a permanent open vent at the top to allow for some heat release from the top of the tunnel and also allow pollinators in.

    This is the front gable end with the hinged door.


    The debris netting is in place and I need to make the movable vents that will sit into the door top and bottom sections. The door doesn't hang quite right so I need to refit the top hinge when I get a chance.

    I also put in builder's band on each of the three middle hoops so I can hang timber crop bars at a later stage.


    The cover is tricky to install.

    Firstly you need anti-hotspot tape at any contact points between the cover and the frame. This protects the cover from wear and increases its life-span.

    You need a still sunny day where you have the time yourself to complete this and also be able to gather a few people to help. There were three of us and we only had half a day so I didn't get it finished in one go. Luckily there was no bad weather between then and the time I was able to get back and finish it off. Three people was hardly enough. Six would be ideal, more would be even better.

    A G-clamp is essential. The first couple of batons I screwed in above the lintels were not tight enough and the cover began to tear at the screw holes. Nerve-wracking moment! I was able to adjust the lintel height up and pull the torn piece under the lintel and start again. This time with a clamp pulling the baton in tight I was able to screw it to the frame correctly so it held the polythene in place without pulling at the screws. Use the clamp wherever possible to get a tight fit between baton and frame and then screw the baton on.

    These give a pretty good idea of the size ...



    So nearly there. I need to finish off the door furniture and get the raised beds sorted.

    I would say it cost a tad over 200. 130 for the polythene, 25 for the anti-hotspot tape, 40 for timber baton and wood screws, and a few quid for sundries like hinges and staples. It took about four 6 hour days.

    Big thanks to this chap who was a great help ...


    Bring on the storms!



  • well done ,some job fair play to you bill

  • Good job Red,always good to see pics of work in process:) Don't forget to get some more up of your finished beds n path. You going to grow anything over the winter?

  • Will do. Yeah am hoping to. Will depend how quickly i can get the beds set up. Days are getting shorter :-(

  • she is a sexy looking job there redser. she looks quite sturdy too.
    i think the pipe you needed was the blue 2" water main that the council use, but you seem to have gotten the esb duct fairly secure anyhow and the pressure of the plastic sheet pulling it downwards will make sure it won't move.

  • Cheers, to be honest I just like the red :D. Goes with the name. You could put your shoulder to the gable ends and they won't budge. Heart will be in my mouth all the same when the first storm hits it.

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  • Savage job there redser! It certainly looks very sturdy, I doubt those storms will even make it flinch.

  • Wow redser7 thats a fab job!! Well done, that will hold up over winter no bother I reckon.

  • you just have to get a few beds in there now over the weekend and you will be ready for getting a few veggies in there :D

  • That's amazing! Fair play :D

    €800 for a 20 x 10 polytunnel? I've found one place online for €219 :confused:

    *goes and double checks*

    Sorry €379....

  • Thanks Mrsbear. I did a good bit of research before doing this and came across these types. Reading on other forums they almost always end up wrecked by wind and everyone warns buyers against getting one.
    If you price up a 10 x 20 foot from reputable sellers they come in at between 700 and 800 depending on optional extras like gable ends, crop bars, storm bracing etc.

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  • redser7 wrote: »
    Thanks Mrsbear. I did a good bit of research before doing this and came across these types. Reading on other forums they almost always end up wrecked by wind and everyone warns buyers against getting one.
    If you price up a 10 x 20 foot from reputable sellers they come in at between 700 and 800 depending on optional extras like gable ends, crop bars, storm bracing etc.

    Thanks for the heads up. We're quite sheltered but still. I'm turned off these ones I saw and am stuck with what to do as we're renting so foundations are a no go and €300 is a lot of money for us. Back to just trying the veg outside :( But well done with yours, it's amazing :D

  • There is a cheaper and more mobile version of the one I did. It is described in the book 'The Polytunnel Handbook'. Basically you use 3 foot legths of rebar instead of the 5 foot lengths of scaffold tube. The tunnel does not have straight sides so the rebar is fine. Also, because it doesnt have straight sides you can do without the whole sacffold board/raised bed part and just plant straight into the ground. It is a much quicker and cheaper option and if you decide to move on it can be taken down and moved quite quickly. Just something to think about.

  • Thanks so much for that. I'll try order it online. I would prefer raised beds as I have a bad back and can only do so much. They're just so much easier :)

    Now all I need is someone to build it :D

  • Excellent work. I truly love to see people doing these things in these times.

    How much with that tubing cost to buy it from a builders merchants??? It is very good price for such a sturdy looking structure and the 10 X 20 foot models available on line would not compare to that.

    I have seen someone make one very similar, maybe through the book mentioned.

    Excellent to see such a great job being done... Now get growing!!! :D

  • Thanks a lot jodaw. I can't remember exactly to be honest. The stuff I used, electrical duct, is much cheaper than water or gas main, being a little bit smaller diameter. I think I got a quote of 50 euro for the 30 metres a 20 foot tunnel would need. But get some quotes. I think Dublin Providers had it but any good builders mercheants should stock it or be able to put you on the right track.
    Msbear, you could make a smaller version of the one I did with less hoops and not as wide, but using all the same principles. Again it should be easy to disassemble and re-erect somewhere else. Where there's a will there's a way :D

  • That's a nice tunnel you built there Redser, I plan to build one myself, though it's continuously put on the long finger!

  • Great job, well done.

  • Well done Red. A word of warning, this weekend's promised very stormy and the vents you have on the tunnel might be better covered, as you don't want strong winds getting a hold, or it's bye bye tunnel. Let us know how everything is after this promised storm. By the way, what gauge polythene did you use and how did you make it taut?

  • Thanks headmaster. The polythene vents are finished now and well secured, so I'm happy enough on that front. It's the whole thing that I'm worried about, it hasn't really been tested yet. There was some strong wind last week and it was fine. Will be popping up as often as I can to see if anything is shaking or straining.
    I used 720 gauge. I used timber baton base rails and attached it to the scaffold board around the perimeter. Was easy to tension just by putting your foot to it and pushing slowly and firmly down, then somebody else puts the screws in. To be honest I didn;t get the tension exactly as I wanted in places. Didn't have enough people or time. Shame, but I can and will go back and tweak it when I have a chance.

  • I'm delighted and very relieved to report that the tunnel has made it this far unscathed! A very tense 24 hours. I popped up on Saturday to have a look and there was a little bit of movement in the 3 centre hoops so I put some temporary supports on the south side that was taking the brunt of the gusts. Not sure if this made any great difference but it didn't do any harm. Will make these permenant when I get a chance. So it's a sturdy design, thanks to Al on for the original instructions.

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  • Glad to hear you got through the worse of the storm Redser, and your first real test for the tunnel!

    To OP, I'm building a tunnel with the same design and I had to buy the tubing from a builder's provider in Ashbourne. I bought 5 foot lengths of 48mm scaffolding tubing at €5 each.

  • Glad to hear all is well Redser. Ever thought of doing this for more than a hobby, i'd imagine if you could supply and fit, at the right price, you would be on a winner.

  • Thanks but to be honest it sounds like too much hard work :-)

  • Sorry I know this an old thread but just want to know how you are getting with this, would you still recommend these methods?

    Is this the book you used? Have any links you found useful?

    Would have a rough cost? like under 500 euro or so?

    I am hoping to start something in March but costs are the biggest issue. The mind and body are willing but the walllet is missing :pac:

  • Ophiopogon wrote: »
    Sorry I know this an old thread but just want to know how you are getting with this, would you still recommend these methods?

    Is this the book you used? Have any links you found useful?

    Would have a rough cost? like under 500 euro or so?

    I am hoping to start something in March but costs are the biggest issue. The mind and body are willing but the walllet is missing :pac:

    Hi - it's still going strong, no damage at all through some strong storms. I would definately recommen the method. I did add some more bracing (3 vertical beams under the centre of the hoops), but that was to counter the heavy snow that never came. Snow can add a great weight and strain on any polytunnel structure.
    Yes I used that book. It is the best one for contruction details. Since then I also got these which are great, particularly Joyce Russle's book which gives fantastic detail on the growing side of things (timings for extended early and late planting) ...

    I did mine for just over 200. I got lucky on the pipe and got what i needed for the price of a bottle of whiskey :-) The timber was mostly scrap, apart from the baton which are very cheap. The cover cost 130 at NAD in Lusk. The scaffold pipe I got for free too but i believe it cost about 25 euro for a 21 foot length which you can cut in four.

    It's all about scrounging and asking around.

    I might know someone who still has some 2 inch pipe. Can ask him to PM you if he still has it. But you would need a van or trailer to pick it up.

  • thanks so much, I've not got the land as of yet but if your man has the pipes for a while, I may be able to collect them next month.

    I'm gonna see if I can get those books in the library tomorrow.

    Fair play that they stood up againist those storms last year. Would you consider your site to have good shelter.

    I can't wait to get started, it's a pity it will be so late but I'm going to try and get few things started in friends gardens. I am hoping to use for flower growing mainly as a bit of a business venture, although, it would be great to get one up for veg as well.

    Did you manage to get much going for last year?

  • Sent that chap a PM so it's out of my hands now :-)
    Actually mine hasn't got any shelter at all. The allotments are on a slope and mine is pretty much at the top and there are no trees or hedges around. Great for full sunshine from dawn to dusk but awful for wind. Still it's coping fine so far. So I've got great hopes.
    At this time of year there's no point being in too much of a rush. It's good to put the cover on during a calm sunny (hot) day so the cover will soften and stretch a bit and allow you to get it on tight. So get your materials together and do a bit of research until you're ready to build it in Spring.
    Sounds like an intereting venture, a tunnel would really help. The book 'Gardening under plastic' has a section all about growing flowers in tunnels. But do consider maximising the space and growing some fruit and veg. If for no other reason than to save you a packet at the supermarket. Tomatoes in summer and autumn, early strawberries and salad leaves all year round are cheap to grow and will quickly pay off the price of the tunnel materials (plus give you the obvious joy of growing your own food).
    I only got the plot last summer so missed spring sowing and had a lot of work to do to get the plot in shape. So I only got going this weekend actually. Spuds in pots, mangetout, carrots. Touch wood they'll work out.

  • Just thought I'd update this thread with some photos I took this morning of the tunnel and some early crops.
    Spuds in buckets sown in January. Leeks and onions in a tub on the right, followed by French beans under fleece (flowering), mangetout and maincrop peas (Oregon sugarsnap and Hurst greenshaft), strawberries and brocolli on the cappillary bench, various salad stuff (soon to be evicted to make room for tomatoes and peppers)


    Early strawberries


    Early peas

    Early nantes fingerling carrots

    Just some shots of the rest of the plot for good measure
    Peas with salad in cloches sharing the bed, strawberry bed, alliums bed with overwintering onions and garlic and spring onions, room for leaks, roots bed behind that waiting for net cover over the hoops, long spuds bed to the right (plants just starting to show), and various fruit along the perimeters.


    Tunnel finished with IBC waiting to be hooked up for an automatic watering system.

    Phew :)

    Now get building!!

  • looking good redser, you got alot going on there:)

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  • Much appreciate the detailed post with pictures.
    Have been thinking of best and cheapest way to build a polytunnel based on what waste materials I can pick up.
    seems to me if a person paid 800 euro for a polytunnell they still have a lot of work to do to put it up.

    I had considered a very lightweight structure using that black 2" water main pipe- which I have. I would probably prefer to set longer lengths of pipe in holes full of concrete. This might be easier work and help to hold structure down in high winds. I also have galvanised metal studs which I could use as bracing. Have 6" concrete blocks to use around base. These wont rot and will add stability.

    I think there is a wisdom in letting the materials you can easily source influence the building system.

    I wonder what type of plastic you use. Is it ordinary 1200 gauge polythene. Putting on plastic seems to be the most difficult and I would need to think of a simpler method.