Alex James: Going bananas for a polytunnel

Rural Notebook

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I flew to Africa once in a light aircraft. It takes two days. The worst thing about it was that south of about Barcelona almost the whole of the Spanish coast is covered in polytunnels, thousands and thousands and thousands of them. They must be visible from space, like a polythene Great Wall of China. It made me feel sick after a while, the endless tatty plastic stuck on the mountainsides.

England from above, on the other hand, is enough to make you cry. I don't think there's anywhere quite so pretty as England. Today, as a dusting of snow melted, I dawdled by a roaring bonfire with Denise the gardener and we gazed into the distance: the wheat was coming away in the top field; Lady Bamford's prized organic Ayrshire cattle were milling around in the foreground. February's always a fairly tidy time of the year, no straggly bits and everything about to sprout, but light snowfall had covered all the untidiness around the yard and the sun was shining on paradise.

"Where are we going to put the polytunnel, then?" I said. It was a biodynamic farmer who won me over on polytunnels, actually. I went and had a look inside one and it was warm and calm, smelled good. I stayed in there for ages – didn't want to leave.

"But how can this be biodynamic?" I'd asked him, certain that this was the antithesis of all things bright and beautiful, citing the horror story of the Costa del Sol. The argument for polytunnels is that it's all a question of degree. Covering the whole place with polythene was ridiculous, but then not taking advantage of a longer growing season didn't make much sense either. The biodynamic polytunnel was quite a nice shape, too, a flowing curve, and I've wanted one ever since. There are only a few lonely leeks left in the veg garden at the moment. I could be eating biodynamic winter bananas. The temptation is too much.

Starkers in the dark

I have put a sauna heater in one of the sheds. I told you that. I love it more and more. Despite the frosts I have taken to roaming around the grounds naked (apart from shoes) in a big cloud of my own steam at midnight. Maybe there is something in biodynamic farming.

All wrapped up

It's hard to know where to put a polytunnel. It was during one of these midnight nature walks that I realised I don't need one after all. I've decided to cling-wrap one of the open-sided barns instead. That will do the trick. I told the gardener and by a great coincidence she is related to Christo the sculptor. He clingfilmed the Reichstag. She's got his number...

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