Tara enjoying the sun in her polytunnel.

Gourmet Gardener: Highlights of my Covid year in the polytunnel

Our Gourmet Gardener, Tara Kate Linnane, was in somewhat of a reflective mood this week and takes us through her highlights of Covid year in the polytunnell...

The warm, thick air we have recently experienced has led to the onset of tomato blight. It is now a race against time and disease to clear out infected leaves or branches in a bid to save the ripening fruit. This mini natural disaster is inevitable for most of us at this time of year.

Late blight is a fungal disease that is carried in the air and is extremely infectious, particularly when the conditions are perfect, like now. But I can’t let this dampen my spirits. Having had a really successful growing season this year, I have put together some my highlights.


Like most people,I bounced into 2020 with high hopes, dreams and vibrant plans for the year. No surprises that at the top of the to-do list, was to sort out my seeds for sowing in January, February, March. This enthusiasm soon turned into a feeling of overwhelming gratefulness when the reality of the lockdown set in.

With March and April the busiest time for sowing vegetables and fruits, the restrictions meant short supplies of seeds of any kind. The nation turned to their gardens for a handful of comfort. I was no exception.

My polytunnel was my safe haven and gave me something to focus on when, like most people, I couldn’t see my family or friends. Spending the hot May evenings pottering in the garden softened the impact of the unprecedented times and I am so grateful to have had that distraction.

This year I decided to grow some exotic plants such as rainbow corn, luffas and melons. I wrote an earlier article about growing them – however, it has been a slight disappointment as not one of the luffa plants flowered and, out of six melon plants, I managed to set two melon fruits!

Gardening is all about trial and error and I will be trying a different melon variety next year in the hopes of having at least enough for a fruit salad! I believe the hot temperatures of May followed by a frosty period had an effect on their development.

The rainbow corn had better results and I am drying the beautifully jewel coloured cobs for making popcorn.

I have also had great success with the array of squash and pumpkin varieties in the polytunnel. I am growing everything from the strange shaped ‘Turk’s turban’ and ‘patty pan’, to the classic giant pumpkin. They have all done well and will be ready for harvesting for Halloween.

Another success and a regular go-to of mine are chillies. This year I grew four varieties, small, heart-shape sweet ones, yellow chillies, large south American spicy ones, and a red hot Japanese variety. They have all flourished, including the five plants I overwintered.

Chillies are usually grown as annuals but I kept some indoors and had chillies growing through Christmas. I will be looking to overwinter some of the plants again this winter. I take them inside in the next few weeks.

Having the ability to eat from your own garden is a pleasure, and that has been magnified due to the pandemic. If there ever is a time to start growing your own food, it is now. We don’t know what is around the corner or when the effects of Covid will fade, but until then, you can take inspiration and begin your own kitchen garden. There is something to plant in every season so I encourage you to dig in!

Happy gardening!

• Tara Kate Linnane is from Kilnaleck in County Cavan. She is a horticulturalist with a passion for growing vegetables at home. She has an Instagram page with her husband @two peas in a polytunnel.

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