Kyle Tunnel Tale

A group of residents from Cumbernauld have been growing on YMCA land just off Kyle Road. This small fenced-off area of land in a residential area has proven to be amazingly productive. The catalyst for growing food together is 18x8ft  polytunnel.  At the time of writing, there are some proposed changes to the area, reducing the outside growing area, which will concentrate all the group efforts on maximising their produce from the tunnel for the near future. Pauline, a knowledgeable gardener and nature lover, recounts the Kyle Tunnel Tale, highlighting what’s possible when we grow under a small bit of plastic!

“It started by accident, a happy accident when someone offered us a free tunnel at a YMCA climate emergency talk in 2019, and we took things from there. A couple of friends and I started growing food together during the pandemic, up until then, we had been involved in litter picking in our local area. I mainly did the gardening on my own with some input from Community council members as many of the original volunteers were shielding from Covid. 

Last year I managed to network with other groups thanks to contacts via Carbrain Community Council and Craigieburn Community Garden. Kildrum Community Council has been instrumental in getting financial support for the garden and held an open day last year and helped get more volunteers.

Now between 4 and 8 of us meet regularly on a Sunday afternoon to plant and maintain our garden, support wildlife and catch up over a cup of tea which is also made possible as we can shelter under the plastic on rainy days! During the pandemic, one enthusiastic volunteer sowed 200 tomato seeds, which all germinated and had to be given away across Cumbernauld! In the tunnel, we have grown tomatoes, chillis, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs for pollinators. Last year was our best year for local engagement, with volunteers from other local garden projects joining forces. The garden began to feel really good and we entered the It’s Your Neighbourhood Award.

It’s been a learning process adjusting to changes in weather and crop requirements. Courgettes didn’t like the heat last year even though we vented the back door, sides, and double sliding doors. Air circulation is vital on hot sunny days. Shade is crucial too, or crops will be burned.

To have the polytunnel is a bonus it means we have a little bit of control over our growing environment, because Cumbernauld is quite high the winds can be harsh. Last year, we ran a solar-powered fountain in the tunnel to give us some humidity and stop that dry burning heat on hot sunny days. We collect water in troughs and water butts and top up our water supply from a hose in the adjacent YMCA child playzone.

Polytunnel gardening has been a learning process with the changes in climate. It reached 40 degrees easily and required more frequent watering and attention.

Outside, we have grown onions, garlic, cabbage, beans, peas, broccoli, herbs—parsley, chives, marjoram—and a space for salads and radishes. We make our compost and have a wildlife corner for bees and a hedgehog house that is as yet uninhabited. We always try to please the wildlife. Working with nature and our climate needs to be fun. We use no pesticides on the site and make our own fertiliser from nettles, comfrey and compost juice.

The tunnel has meant we can start growing earlier in the year and finish growing later- last year’s chillies cropped for ages. We also grew pak choi and winter greens and overwintered herbs under cover in the winter months. We dried marjoram and sage and shared bags with people who wanted them both in the group and at the Carbrain hub pantry.

Food and plants grown in the garden are shared with volunteers, the YMCA and the community hub/pantry. We have been known to barter produce for manure! The garden’s fruit crop is popular with the kids and local neighbours, any surplus is made into jam to generate funds for charity. With the family-run fruit and veg stall in Cumbernauld now closed, the community’s only other access to fresh food is through the Hub-run pantry or one of the big supermarkets. The wee market has been a huge loss to the community, making the growth of small initiatives like ours even more critical.

Pauline’s advice to others:

  • Think through what you want to grow and what’s possible with the size of your tunnel and don’t forget to grow vertically too for more space.
  • Go out visit others, network and see what’s possible.
  • Read about indoor growing as it’s so different to outdoor growing in Scotland. Our tunnel has been great for starting off plants and overwintering things.
  • Do think about security. Our site hasn’t been vandalised as it has a high fence but other sites sadly have.
  • Groups and individuals are growing in sites across Cumbernauld in collaboration with other groups to combine our efforts but ours is the only site protected with a fence which has protected the tunnel.

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