1. Preparing the plot
Consider the pH balance in the soil – for most vegetables this should be about 6/7. Brassicas (cabbages, broccoli, kale, sprouts etc.) like a less acid soil so you need to add a little garden lime (but don’t put it on at the same time as you apply manure/compost). For carrots and parsnips the ground needs to be weed free and they don’t like compost – they need a well worked soil free of lumps and stones.
Covering with a weed suppressant membrane is best if the land has been neglected. You can also simply cut holes in such a membrane at the points where you want to place your plants e.g. potatoes or broad beans (which are useful crops to start improving your soil).
2. Sowing seeds and rearing young plants
Carrot and parsnip need new seed – pelleted carrot seeds are the best because they are easy to handle. Peas, beans and tomato seeds have longer lasting seeds.
Onion, shallot and chilli seeds need to go in early in frost free conditions (Jan/Feb). Using jiffy 7 peat pellets and growing seedlings in modules allows them to get to a size where they are more resistant to pests before planting out.
You need to make a choice about whether to sow early and rear indoors before transplanting outside or to sow later when the ground is warm enough (when you notice that weed seeds are sprouting). If you sow indoors a windowsill will not allow enough light for many plants to grow properly once they’ve sprouted e.g. lettuce get long and floppy due to lack iof light. You can use white card or foil round the back of a seed tray as a way of reflecting more light onto your plants. Some seeds, such as lettuce, won’t germinate well in too much heat
Using short lengths of plastic guttering for germinating peas works well – once the plants are up you can simply push them out into their final growing trench. Tomatoes need warmth to ripen, they can cope without sunshine. They will also ripen off the plant. Peppers ripen on the plant.
Pennard Plants (https://www.pennardplants.com/) produce heritage seeds.
Potatoes – Vivaldi is a low starch variety of potato.
3. Protecting young plants
Fleece is a good way to protect young plants it helps to defend against flea beetle and discourage slugs etc. There is no need to constantly dig over a bed to counter weeds – it can just make the problem worse. Using a hoe to suppress weeds is more effective and efficient than digging.
When planting out young plants you can create a kind of mini-climate for them by making a dip in the soil surface so that they are defended against the wind or heaping up the soil when you prepare your beds and placing a crop of lettuce plants into the south facing slope of the bed to take advantage of the sun.
Slugs – avoid metaldehyde slug pellets. March / April is the starting time for nematodes. A weed suppressant fabric collar placed around cabbages is a useful slug deterrent. Green manure such as mustard seed scattered across a bed also acts as a weed suppressant.
4. Gathering your own seed
You can save money by gathering your own seed but you do need to make sure that it is thoroughly air-dried before you store it (using an low oven will kill off the potential seedling.)
5. Growing your own protein
Hodmedods (https://hodmedods.co.uk/) produce heritage varieties of pulses for using in the kitchen BUT you can also germinate their peas and fava beans – the same goes for other varieties of peas and beans sold for food. (A cheap source of seed for rearing pea shoots for salad).
White seeded varieties of runner beans can also be used as a substitute for butter beans if they are grown on till the seeds in the pods are ripe.
A pressure cooker is good for cooking beans and pulses. Pea and lovage soup is recommended.