Knowing your soil can make all the difference to what you can grow, how you prepare the ground and the quality of the resulting crops.
Soils are generally grouped under three broad headings Sand, Loam and Clay. The basic cultivation requirements of all three are the same but at slightly different times of the year.
Sandy soils have course particles and are free draining. They can be prepared by digging and dressing with organic matter in January or February. This ensures that valuable nutrients are not washed out by rain before the start of the growing season.
Clay soils are made up of particles that are so small water does not readily pass through them. Digging in autumn so the winter frosts can break them down will improve the workability, as will incorporating compost and manure.
Loam soils can vary in structure covering the whole range between sand and clay, but usually they are easy to work. Preparation can take place whenever conditions allow over winter, using just enough manure or compost to keep them in a good fertile condition.
Well rotted manure improves the texture and fertility on all soils. It also improves the drainage and workability of heavier soils.
Soil acidity and alkalinity are expressed as a pH number, 7 is neutral, below 7 is acid, above 7 is alkaline.
Adding lime to a soil corrects its acidity, improves its structure and helps release minerals in acid soils.
The alkalinity of a soil can be decreased by the addition of farm yard manure or peat.
To check the pH level of your soil, simple test kits are available. These usually require you to take small soil samples and place them in a supplied container, adding a liquid and matching the resulting colour change to a chart.
This will give you a good general indication of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil, allowing you to make any necessary changes needed for the intended vegetable type.