1. Bare Soil
This is the most simple fix you can do for your garden. Quickly think about how things grow when people are not involved. What do you see in your mind? Trees, shrubs, vines, and lots of "stuff" on the ground. Nature covers the ground where ever it can. If it can't cover with plants, grasses, or "weeds" it will cover with fallen leaves, bark, and flowers. Covering the soil has many benefits. It keeps in moisture, heat in the winter, cool in the summer, and keeps the soil in place so it won't wash away with each watering or rain. Its very easy to mimic this in your garden.
If you have beds with walking paths in between, let your weeds grow there. You don't care about your weeds anyways so you won't have to feel bad about trampling them. (The one exception to this suggestion is Bermuda grass, get that devil grass out of your garden with a vengeance. It will suffocate everything.)
Now in the beds themselves cover any bare soil with "brown matter." That is leaves, mulch, or straw, whatever is easily available for you. (Specifically straw. Straw is just the stalk part of hay. Hay has all the seeds left in it. You have no clue what was growing where that hay came from and in all likelihood you'll end up with a garden full of invasive plants suffocating your beautiful, prized, heirloom tomatoes.)
2. Full Sunlight
Again thinking about how nature does it, what typically grows in full sunlight? Grasses and trees. A couple things to help you decide what needs what type of light. If the plant has large leaves, like lettuces, plant them in partial shade. If the plant has smaller leaves, like tomatoes, give them more sun. This is because large leafed plants evolved the large surface area to collect as much sun as possible on the forest floor. Whereas small leafed plants evolve to collect sunlight from various angles and directions without being scorched in a prairie or valley.
The second way to help you decide is based on what you're growing. If you're growing for fruit or roots, you plant in sunnier areas. This is because fruit and roots take more energy to produce and develop. If the plant is growing for the leaves it should go in partial shade. Now your saying "But what about squash and zucchini?!" Darn good question. When in doubt, experiment. Try one in both places and see how it goes. The worst that's going to happen is you're going to lose a seed. It's okay, there are more.
3. No Rotation
If you're anything like me, you drive the same route day after day. Have you ever taken the time to observe what's growing along the side of the road? On my route there were beautiful lilies in every color during the spring time, but come late August the lilies had been replaced with daisies. As we take another lesson from nature we learn that planting the same thing over and over again in the same spot is counterproductive. Each plant family has different needs. Legumes, beans and peas, leave a lot of nitrogen in soil, which happens to be corn's biggest need.
This is really simple to accomplish in your own garden. You just need to keep track of what you plant each season and where. So next season just make sure you plant something different there. For example, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, corn, rest. The last step is essential. Sometime between five and seven seasons, you need to let that specific plot rest. Once you've picked everything off your last crop, just leave it be. Don't pull it up. Throw a cover crop down and walk away. A cover crop is a plant you don't harvest from, it just exists to feed the soil and let it rest. You can use clover, buckwheat, alfalfa, or something of your own choosing.
Tiling is the number one most destructive thing you can do to your land. It depletes the soil of the built up nutrients and micro flora and fauna (more on this in a later post). It also leaves the soil completely uncovered, which you already know from the first point to be a very bad thing. Besides that it uncovers all those nasty weed seeds. Seeds that lay too deep to grow, suddenly they're all at the top and super excited to stretch their roots into your beautiful garden.
So you want to avoid that? Simple don't till. Continue to add new material to the top of your soil and use a pitch fork randomly to gently lift the soil without turning it over. The point of tilling is to get oxygen into the soil to boost fertility. You can accomplish the same thing by just loosening the soil.
5. Little Variety
We often get trapped by thinking the only things we can grown in back yard gardens is tomatoes, beans, and squash. But there is so much more out there. Try something you've never heard of or something you're not sure you'll like. Part of gardening is just enjoying yourself, so grow something fun. Buttercup squash looks funny and actually makes a really yummy dessert (yes, I know it sounds weird). Cuban oregano is fuzzy and soft. Watermelons actually come in yellow, orange, and white too. Stretch your legs and have some fun.
Alyse Gajda, Garden Green Girl