6am - Been awake all night worrying about my own polytunnels and the rest of you guys out there! A lot of tunnels around this area were destroyed in the storms of last Feb. Hope your tunnels are safe - but if any flying objects like branches etc. have done any repairable damage then here's some suggestions as to what you can do.
Here's a list of what you will need:
1. A large roll of see-through tunnel tape. You should be able to get this from your local farm supplies shop, they' usually have them in stock as there are so many tunnels around now. Or if your polytunnel supplier is near enough, they're sure to have it. There is a type of Sellotape sold in DIY stores for garden use - but the rolls are smaller and not quite so effective in my experience.
2. A large roll of a good absorbent kitchen paper towel.
3. A large pair of scissors.
4. A stable stepladder that won't wobble if the damage is not within easy reach.
5. Someone to help hold the stepladder steady - (most important!) and also to hold an umbrella over you if it's raining while you're working outside as the polythene must be kept dry while you're working on it or the tape won't stick!
To mend a small or middle sized tear - up to about 4-5ins long and within reach is really easy, and needs to be done immediately to avoid the wind catching it and possible further damage.
Get all your equipment ready and keep it dry in a bag - don't put down on damp ground.
Start on outside of the tunnel first if it's within reach.
First wipe dry the area all around the tear - to about 4-5inches 10cm or so from damage - with 3-4 large pieces of kitchen towel. Do this twice with two changes of towel to ensure it's as dry as poss.
If it's only a small tear or hole just cut off enough tape to mend to about 2ins-3ins either side of the damage and press the tape gently onto the area, working from the middle of the tear out, to avoid air bubbles which will attract moisture and gradually undo the mend. Once you've it stuck to the tunnel, use the rounded handle of the scissors to gently rub all over the area, working along the length of the taped bit, as if you were brass rubbing! This really seals the tape mend and squeezes out any small air pockets. You will see the area gradually become clearer, which means it's really stuck.
Then do the same inside immediately, repeating the process of drying off the area thoroughly etc. again. You may think it's dry enough in the tunnel, but even your breath will create humidity which will affect the area to be mended, and make the seal less effective.
To mend a larger hole or tear.
Go through the same process again of drying off, starting on the outside.
Cut enough of the tape to 'stitch' across the tear to about 4-5ins either side of the damage, start in the middle, pulling it together, then work out from there either side, and literally doing large 'cartoon' stiches across the damage first. If it's really large, having another pair of hands to pull the tear together really helps - but I have done this on my own.
Making sure the area is still dry enough, then go along the whole of the damage length ways, going further out from the stiches over the whole area with the tape. Again rub over area with handle end of scissors.
If you have help get them to stay outside while repeat the process inside, while they hold their hands over the area to give you some thing to work against when putting on the tape.
To mend a tear in a tunnel roof where you can't get at the top outside without a cherry picker!
Make sure you've got someone to hold the ladder - the voice of bitter experience here!
Go through the same process as for the larger tear or hole, making sure it's really dry, getting a piece of tape to stitch across the middle of the tear first. It it's large enough to get your hand through to the outside and you can reach, put one hand on the outside and then you can push against it.
Once you have that done - the first strip of tape should hold the area steady enough to enable you to get the rest of the tape on, again 'stitching' across larger areas first. Then going along. It will also be strong enough to rub the handle of the scissors over the area as before.
Doing this will give you a good seal which will last for years - I promise! I've mended huge holes this way, and they've lasted until the tunnels were due for re-covering years later.
It can be really useful, if you're just putting a tunnel up, to save all those offcuts of the polythene. They can come in really handy later for mending difficult tears. I'm an avid recycler (some would say hoarder!) and I can guarantee that if I throw something out - I'll probably want it a couple of weeks later. 'Sod's Law'! If you don't have offcuts - then go to a local bed store like Harvey Norman's and ask them very nicely for a polythene mattress cover (threatening to weep helps if they're mean, but they're usually very nice!). They'll always have these hanging around from new show bed mattresses etc. The polythene is normally strong enough to cope with mending a large hole if well put on - and the're actually also just the right size and really useful for covering areas of my 4ft wide raised beds in spring, to dry them off a bit!!
If the tear is too big to attempt to repair in any way at all - even without using a large patch of polythene - then sadly the best thing you can do is to literally just cut your losses, get a sharp knife and cut off the polythene completely. If you leave it flapping around in the wind like a sail - it will gradually distort the frame, weaken it and it will be useless for using as a polytunnel again. Sorry! Not complete despair though - you could still use it as a fruit cage!
I know how upsetting it is to lose a tunnel completely - I did over 20 years ago - in Hurricane Charlie. But all is not completely lost - even if the frame is weakened, it can still be useful. I now use that old frame as a fruit cage/chicken run instead!
My polytunnel history!
I put up my very first tiny 6 x 8 polytunnel/plastic greenhouse in our very first garden about 35 years ago! That was the beginning of a love affair with these incredibly productive and useful things. When we moved to our current home, and I started growing organic veg commercially - after losing three greenhouses I decided that polytunnels were the only option here, as they give and move just a little, which greenhouses don't. One crack and they're gone in a high wind. I learnt as I went along. The first one that I lost in Hurricane Charlie produced great crops. It was one of those 13ft x 65ft ones, where you could only grow tall crops in the middle and the sides were very low. The only problem was that on our very windy site, the roll-up doors could potentially catch in the wind and blow inside the tunnel, going up through the roof! That was how I lost that one in the hurricane!
After that I got two more of those as they were the cheapest, and I as I earned enough from all my hard work I would buy another - ending up with 3 of those smaller ones, and then an 18ft x 54ft much taller one at the bottom of the hill where it was more sheltered. These served me well until I gave up commercial growing in the mid '90's, mainly to look after my late mother who had dementia and do my sculpture which enabled me to be around the house more for her. I still grew all my own food in the old larger tunnel, and promised myself that if I ever had the chance - then I would buy the very best I could possibly afford, with proper sturdy doors, not the 'roll up' ones which so easily catch in the wind. I hope these will last me until I gave up gardening! I also got the suppliers to put them up - an awful lot easier and a far better job!
Just in case you might think we're millionaires - I had a bit of good fortune a few years ago. I come from a farming family and used to breed horses as a hobby until very recently. Sadly I haven't been allowed to ride for 25 yrs or so now due to my increasingly bad back, but I loved having them around, and luckily they earned their keep! Anyway I happened to sell one very well and finally had enough to realise my long held dream of a buying a tunnel that would last as long as me - I hope! Having learnt so much about them over the years - I went for the strongest and biggest I could afford, with a really heavy gauge steel frame, cladding strips to hold the polythene along the sides to make re-covering easier if necessary, and a tough heavy polythene cover with proper sliding and hinged opening doors. But whether you have to beg, borrow or steal for your polytunnel - or just pay for it by the sweat of your brow as I did - I worked out a few years ago that any polytunnel should easily pay for itself in produce within 3 years. And if it doesn't - then really you don't deserve it!!
I bless my good fortune and my two tunnels every day! Even on the very worst of days when the weather is foul or I can barely bend - I can still sit on a stool and plant or weed, getting' my daily dose of light and birdsong, and it's the most wonderfully relaxing therapy as all you gardeners know. They're also incredibly productive as you can see from the 'pinned' tweeted photo on my 'tweets' Twitter page. They provide all our food here, as well as raising chicks, rescuing hedgehogs, even drying the washing - you name it - they do it! I know that greenhouses are more beautiful - but here they sadly weren't an option, and are twice the price anyway. But I hope you will agree that I've tried to make mine as beautiful as possible. They're also brilliant for bees, butterflies and all other sorts of wildlife who benefit a lot from all the nectar and pollen producing flowers while providing me with nature's free pest control! I just couldn't live without them!
PS- Thank Heavens mine are still there this morning - just been out dog walking! I was almost afraid to look! Although the wind here is going to be bad again later they say! I do hope yours are okay. But if not - I do hope that any damage is minimal and that my suggestions may be of some help! Stay safe!