Most vegetables can be sown directly into the soil. You may wish to give some plants a head start by sowing them indoors in the spring, and this can be especially helpful for half hardy vegetables such as tomatoes.
Some vegetables such as artichoke, asparagus and rhubarb are grown by planting rooted material rather than by seed. When planting seeds directly outside you will need to prepare a suitable planting area for them, known as a seed bed.
You need to ensure that the seed bed consist of crumbly soil, which will enable your seedlings to easily set out roots and establish. This needs to be started in the autumn, when you need to select a suitable location for your seed bed. Dig over the bed to a spades depth. Preparing the bed now means that the winter frosts will break up the clods and do the work for you.
In the following year dig over the bed when the soil is workable and moisture is held below the top crust of soil, usually early spring. Do not attempt this if the soil is still very wet and is muddy. Break down the clods of earth using a garden fork or rotovator depending on the size of your bed. You are aiming to break up large clods of earth and roughly level the surface. Only dig down to a spades depth. You will need to repeat this operation across the bed at right angles to ensure that you have loosened up all the soil.
You will need to ensure that your seedlings have adequate nutrients in the soil to develop healthy shoots and roots, so you will need to add a fertiliser to the soil. Apply a general fertiliser to the surface of the bed at the manufacturers recommended rates immediately following the preparation of the soil and incorporate it into the top 5cm of the soil. Do not leave fertiliser on the surface of the bed as it can cause damage to the roots of your seedlings if left in concentrated form.
Rake over the surface of the bed to fill any hollows and break up mounds. Minimise treading across the bed as this will damage the soil structure. Remove any stones or debris. Finally use the rake in a push-pull technique to level the soil to produce a smooth and crumbly surface. You are aiming for the crumb structure to have consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.
You can plant direct into the soil. The larger the seed, the larger the tilth can be. Small seeds will require a fine tilth. If weather is dry ensure you water the bed prior to planting or the soil will be too fine and dusty. Plant the seeds in drills made using either a trowel or a bamboo stick depending on variety you are planting. Cover with soil, label and water lightly. You may wish to protect your seedlings from disturbance by erecting cloches or hanging old CDs nearby.
When seedlings have emerged you may wish to thin seedlings or may want to transplant seeedlings to another location to mature in-situ.