If youíre using a traditional plot, youíll need to give it a good dig in the winter. Pick a dry day, when the ground isnít frozen. Invert your spade vertically into the ground, not at an angle. Turning over the soil and leaving it rough through the winter, exposes soil pests to the seasonal frosts which helps to kill them off. The frosts also help to break up the lumps of soil.
This is the time to work in plenty of manure or garden compost to enrich the soil, improve soil structure and increase the moisture and nutrient retaining capacity. Add around one wheelbarrow full per ten square metres. Whilst roots do not like freshly manured soil, if your soil is very poor and lacking in humus, you can dig some in during the winter. Pick out stones and the roots of perennial weeds as you work your way through the plot. Annual weeds can be dug into the ground.
Use a soil testing kit to find out the Ph level of your soil as most veg prefer an alkaline/ Ph neutral soil. Roots (see below) are the exception as they prefer a slightly acidic soil. If your find your soil is acidic, you can neutralise it by adding some Lime (except if you are planting Roots). This should be sprinkled over the surface of freshly dug soil if manure has not been added. If manure has been dug into the soil, the lime should be added a couple of months later.
In the spring, you should rake in a general all-round fertiliser like Growmore around 2 weeks before sowing or planting. This should be at least a month after the addition of lime.
Veg falls into three main types:
Roots: Beetroot, Carrot, Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke, Parsnip, Potato, Salsify and Scorzonera.
Roots do not like a freshly manured soil or the addition of lime.
Brassicas: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohl Rabi, Radish, Swede and Turnip.
Brassicas like manured soil at digging time and the addition of lime if the soil is acidic.
Others: Aubergine, Beans, Celeriac, Celery, Cucumber, Leaf Beet, Leek, Lettuce, Marrow, Onion, Pea, Spinach, Sweet corn, Tomato.
These veg really appreciate a liberal amount of compost or manure digging in and the addition of lime, only if the soil is acidic.
Preparing the Soil for Seed Sowing & Planting
Once the spring arrives and the soil becomes workable, itís time to prepare the beds for sowing seeds or planting seedlings. Youíll know when the time is right by walking over the plot and if the soil sticks to your boots, it is too wet to work.
Break up the clods and lumps of soil using a fork or hand cultivator to make the soil roughly level. You shouldnít let the tines go any deeper than 6Ē as you are only working the top few inches of the soil. Apply a dressing of general fertiliser, at a rate according to the instructions on the box, to the surface and then work it into the top few inches of soil with a hand cultivator. Walk over the surface and using a rake, fill in any holes and level any mounds, then inspect the surface and remove any stones or debris. Finally, use the rake to make the surface level and producing a crumbly surface with the consistancy of coarse breadcrumbs. Two weeks after incorporating the fertiliser, the seeds can be sown or seedlings planted.
Itís tempting to ignore the principle of crop rotation, assuming itís just for serious VegGrowers or that itís a bit too in-depth and scientific. In a nutshell, crop rotation is merely the practice of planting different veg types in different parts of the plot/ raised beds each year in order to stop the build-up of pests and diseases which inevitably occurs when you grow the same type of veg in the same place year after year. Furthermore, by growing the same crops in the same place, it will deplete the soil of certain nutrients leaving it unbalanced and unable to encourage strong growth and affecting yields. Quite simply, if you donít move your crops around after the first year, youíll find that they wonít do nearly as well the following season. As veg fall into three main types then the usual crop rotation works over three years:
Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Roots Others Brassicas
Brassicas Roots Others
Others Brassicas Roots
Then in year 4, you start all over again. Brassicas particularly like to be planted in the space previously occupied by legumes (Peas and Beans) as they enrich the soil with nitrogen which the brassicas need.