Prepare soil now and plan ahead for a year-round harvest
Vegetables need a sheltered, sunny spot to flourish, so use a windbreak on exposed sites. Buy a soil-testing kit to work out the pH of your chosen area – for most vegetables this lies between 6 and 7 (slightly acidic). You may need to add more lime or iron sulphate to shift its pH towards neutral.
It’s easier to grow crops in narrow beds than open ground; you can reach plants without treading on soil and organic matter can go where it’s needed, not wasted on paths. Beds don’t have to be edged; just tread down paths initially marked out with string. You can easily step over 75cm (30in)-wide beds, but you could go up to 1.5m (5ft) and still reach the centre of the beds from adjacent paths.
Traditional soil preparation involves digging over the site and incorporating lots of well-rotted organic matter into the top 30cm (12in) as you work. If you find it hard to dig or wish to try the no-dig method, spread a layer of cardboard over weeds or turf and cover with a thick layer of homemade compost, well-rotted animal manure, leafmould, spent mushroom compost or council green waste, around 10-15cm (4-6in) deep. You can then plant and sow directly into this compost.
Your veg patch through the seasons
Divide crops into four beds: ❶ Legumes & grains (eg sweetcorn) ❷ Brassicas (eg cabbage) ❸ Potatoes, tomatoes & courgettes ❹ Root crops & alliums (eg onion, leeks, garlic). After harvesting, rotate crops anti-clockwise.