Creating a Community Polypod

Sharon Dismore
Thursday, 27th March 2014

A community co-operative in Devon increased their indoor growing space by working with a local carpenter to create a polytunnel. Sharon Dismore explains how to make one.

Landmatters is an off-grid, land-based, community co-operative based in Devon. In our tenth year we are currently 10 adults, seven children, six goats, two horses, numerous ducks, chickens, bees, a cat, a rabbit and two dogs... as well as all the inhabitant dwellers on the 42 acres we steward - some amazing barn owls, buzzards, badgers, deer, rabbits and a multitude of crawlies live naturally and peacefully alongside us.

Our core values are based around permaculture, low impact living, education, community, nature connection and co-creating a thriving natural environment. Our community is continuing to evolve and last year we began to dream of increasing indoor growing space for our gardens.

To date, we have established over 50 raised beds and a small salad growing business and we sell seasonal soft fruit. Using permaculture as a design tool the co-op has been planning a place for our dream polytunnel. This design has allowed for a steady development of the area, with tree planting, and mulching in place. 

We had everything ready but still we lacked a structure. A donation to the co-op of £500, specifically for an indoor growing space, inspired us to take the bull by the horns, and we raised more funds internally to add to the total and research began. Polytunnel magazines were ordered, spaces measured and re-measured, paced and plotted, costs totted up and whittled down, questions raised, investigated and answered until we believed we had reached a decision. This was until Josh (one of our member growers and a co-founder of the project) went ‘wombling’ through Totnes market and met Rowan, a local carpenter and designer.

Rowan is in his 10th year working as a carpenter and ‘pod’ designer. He has to date created pods that hang beautifully from trees, small garden polypods and hideaway pods that could be tucked into the wilderness. Josh told me, “He can make polytunnels from locally sourced larch using bent lathes, a bit like the yurt roof poles. He has a whole system worked out for how to attach to the ground (just using wood and sinking oak stakes for the actual anchoring) and how to hold the plastic on the frame, and how to attach the guttering. “I am quite excited by this possibility... Apart from being more attractive, more sustainable and locally sourced, and putting money into the hands of a local craftsperson, this would also enable us to go for exactly the size and shape we want to fit the space.”

Experimenting with the new

Landmatters is a project birthed out of desire for positive change, and a willingness to experiment with the new. The co-op was inspired and excited to be trialling a new technique and to explore a different approach to the build. This was to be the second polypod Rowan had built and at 14ft x 30ft the largest by far. We harvested some windblown oak from our woodland to be used for stakes and the ends of the beds, the vegetable bed edges we made from local Douglas fir planks and off-cuts of larch rounds from a sawmill on the moors and the slim roof slats were thinly cut and hand planed Douglas Fir which was staked and pressure bent before being raised to join at the top.

There are two long interior vegetable beds to the polypod, which are the bases to which the roof struts are bolted, each arc (of which there are nine) was attached to the bed using a chestnut hand-chiselled ‘footing’. Chestnut is an extremely durable wood and this combined with the oak stakes means that the only ‘treatment’ the wood has needed is a few coatings of linseed oil to protect it. 

The plastic wrap was stretched over the roof by wrapping and attaching then stretching and bolting down and re-bolting on a sunny day – there is now a reassuring ‘twang’ which proves it's holding it shape.

A polypod takes time to build. The wood needs shaving and pressure bending, the posts of the beds bashing in and erecting. To see the actual structure go up, displaying its almost cathedral-like elegance, left us all both hushed and excited. To help keep costs down and to share the load we invited four volunteers to the land for two weeks. With a big project like this camaraderie needed to be really high. Luckily all our wonderful volunteers brought huge energy and enthusiasm with them - opportunities for learning and working with Rowan provided space for a lot of explanations and discussions to take place.

When it came to filling the raised beds a team wheelbarrowed poo from the goat field laughing as they trundled... far more fun than a one man and his shovel job! The community’s children got involved in painting and decorating the IBC’s (used for the water collection) and the sun blessed us with long days to work in and long evenings to talk and relax.

We now have new friends, an exceptional, beautiful, and fantastically functional structure already proving its worth in terms of output. We have fresh salads growing in November, a space to plant and sow, a learning resource for both ourselves and visitors, proving to us yet again that goods and services sourced sustainably and made locally can reap huge rewards.

The polypod has guttering along the side ridges and harvests enough rain to keep the interior healthy and well-watered. Our animals provided plenty of well rotted goat and horse manure and we added compost and topsoil to fill the polypod’s deep growing beds.

The pod is multifunctional too. It has become a space for relaxing and, with a small sofa popped inside, the kids (or the dog) can curl up while I blissfully weed away. If you’re interested in more details and inspiration, then Rowans work can be found at http://rowanstickland.moonfruit.com/

More information on Landmatters can be found at http://landmatters.org.uk/

Further resources

How to build a solar greenhouse

Making a hotbed in your polytunnel

How to Grow Food in Your Polytunnel All Year Round for just £9.95 from our Green Shopping site

The Polytunnel Handbook for just £10.95 from our Green Shopping site

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