1. Before you start, think carefully about the garden’s layout: factor in the distribution of sunlight (orientation and aspect), access (paths and walkways), distribution of water (irrigation systems), wind (windbreaks and sheltered sites). Take note of unique niches such as hot spots, shady areas, areas prone to wind or frost, and where you should place longstanding perennial plants (fruit trees or other perennial shrubs or herbs).
2. Avoid too much deep digging (unless absolutely necessary) as this disturbs soil life and increases oxidation of soil organic matter. Rather build soil upwards, creating raised/boxed beds.
3. Keep soil covered as much as possible with living groundcovers or non-living organic mulch (straw, bark, or leaves).
4. Have regular supply of compost to keep your soil alive and full of vitality. If you don’t have space for a conventional compost heap, set up a worm farm – this takes up very little space and is an efficient way to recycle kitchen and garden waste material. The liquid “tea” from the worms can be diluted and used as a foliar spray on your plants. The worm casts can also be used for raising seedlings, on beds, and to make a transplanting paste.
5. Timing is key. Plant in late September/early October for summer or warmth dependent crops (cucumbers, beans, brinjal, peppers, tomatoes, courgettes, melons, maize, squashes and pumpkins). Plant in March/early April for cool season crops (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, coriander, English spinach, kale, leeks, onions, oriental greens and rocket). A few varieties can be grown throughout the year – such as carrots, beets and Swiss chard. Lettuces usually do best during Spring and Autumn.
6. Monocultures are unnatural and there is increasing evidence to show that companion planting (when you plant different species next to each other) improves the flavour of your vegetables and reduces pest problems. For example, plant tomatoes with carrots, onions and basil; plant Swiss chard spinach and beetroot with beans in the summer or onions in the winter; the cabbage family (brassicas) with celery, onions/leeks and aromatic herbs.
7. Maximise vertical space: locate tall crops in the middle of growing areas, and shorter plants on edges.
8. Use perennial/biennial culinary herbs on edges of growing areas for easy access and to give structure to growing areas.
9. Think of your garden as an ecosystem rather than simply as a vegetable plot. Create refuges for beneficial pest predators. Hedges (rosemary, sages and lemon verbena are some possibilities) provide a home for ladybirds, praying mantises, spiders, wasps and chameleons. Small cairns of rocks/ stones encourage lizards and toads. For the more adventurous, a bat house provides guano and the bats themselves devour large numbers of moths and nuisance flying insects.
10. Try to water your garden in the evening where possible. Plants have been shown to “drink” between 15.00 and 03.00 so this practice is aligned to natural cycles and also greatly reduces loss by evaporation.
11. Try to follow a sequence of crop rotation. Start with leaf crops (cabbage, spinach, lettuce), then root crops (beetroot, carrots, onions, potatoes, radish, and turnips), then fruit crops (maize, cucumbers, courgettes, brinjal, peppers, tomatoes, melons, squashes and pumpkins), and lastly legumes (all the many bean varieties or, in winter, peas and broad beans).