Get to know your soil. The simplest test is to pick up a handful, and press it into a ball.
- If the ball simply falls apart in your hand, you have a light sandy soil, which will warm up fast but drain fast; easy to work, but it needs organic matter (manure!) to help the soil hold water and nutrients better;
- If the ball holds its shape and sticks together, you have a heavy clay-type soil, which will not drain easily, and is slow to warm up; hard to work, but full of plant nutrients. Make the nutrients available by adding organic matter (manure, again!) to increase the air in the soil and help drainage;
- a good soil is somewhere in between these two, with a good balance between sand (helping drainage), and clay (holding nutrients in the soil).
Adding manure and compost can alter the acidity of your soil – it is a good investment to do a pH test, even with a cheap kit from a garden centre. Add lime to bring your soil back to a healthy level for your plants (although you may not need to on chalky soils) – it’s best to add lime just before your brassicas, as it also controls club-root. Don’t add it before potatoes though.