Most vegetable gardeners of my generation were taught to plant in rotation and prepare the ground accordingly. TV gardeners such as Percy Thrower, Geoff Hamilton and Arthur Billitt lovingly divided their veg plots into three, each year one plot would be manured/composted, the following year fertilised and limed if necessary and the third year left alone. Great if you grow one crop per year on each patch of land with a few catch crops but not so great here on the Costa del Sol where you should get two crops per year and still have the odd catch crop, complicated because each crop is in the ground a different length of time to its neighbour. Sorry chaps, I had to give up and develop a different system.
I also no longer use artificial fertilizer or lime so a quick compost recipe follows. Compost with natural fertilizers such as borage, banana peels (good for extra potassium) and any of the herbs along with the normal grass clippings, weeds, kitchen (uncooked only) and garden waste will do the job just fine. Add all your crushed egg shells, that’s the same as adding lime, and if you can get hold of coffee grounds from a local café they add nitrogen and act as an accelerator. Add animal or poultry manure. Ideally the heap should be layered, brown stuff followed by green followed by manure but I just bung it in whenever I have it. I have a system that uses 10 wooden pallets made into ‘U’ shaped bays, 7 to make the ‘U’s and 3 for the doors that I just tie across the front of each of the 3 bays with old bailing twine. Pile the waste into bay 1. Make sure it is damp, not sodden, and keep covered with black plastic. When that bay is full the stuff on the bottom will have started to decompose. Turn it out into bay 2, make sure it is damp and cover. Use bay 1 to start a new pile. When bay 1 is full turn bay 2 into bay 3, bay 1 into bay 2 and start a new pile in bay 1. Ideally bay 3 should be ready to use by the time bay 1 is again full. If you have a large patch you may need two or three 3 bay systems.
As mentioned above, a neat and tidy crop/land rotation system is not efficient here so I prepare each row for each planting or seeding to follow. In this method each year every row and therefore the entire plot has compost dug in at least once. Autumn is a major planting and sowing season. Now is a good time to start, just follow the guide below. I have used as examples the veg that I grow, feel free to insert your favourites.
Rows prepared with well rotted compost. Plant legumes: peas, broad beans, mangetout. Alliums: white onions, red onions, leeks, spring onions, garlic. Salad veg: Lettuce, fennel, radish. Miscellaneous: potatoes.
Rows that will get compost next time: Root veg: carrots, beetroot, turnip, kohl rabi, salsify, parsnips, swede. Brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco.
Rows prepared with well rotted compost. Plant legumes: French beans, haricot beans, runner beans. Alliums: onions, leeks, spring onions. Salad veg: Lettuce, fennel, radish, dill, coriander, swiss chard. Miscellaneous: potatoes, sweet potatoes (late spring/summer), aubergines, peppers, chillies, tomatoes. Squash, courgettes, marrows, cucumbers, melons.
Rows that will get compost next time: Root veg: carrots, beetroot, turnip. Brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts, romanesco.
Try not to use fresh manure. Over years it can lead to a build up of phosphorus in the soil which makes it difficult for your plants to pick up other essential minerals.
One last tip. Try to follow any of the legumes with any of the brassicas. The legumes fix extra nitrogen in the soil that the brassicas really enjoy.