We have a spectacular garden this year, I believe that raised beds are the way to go but don't let that be an excuse for not ploughing and tilling.
Ploughing does wonders to soil, most of the nutrients in the soil soak in deep over the years and grasses and other weeds leech these out of the top
soil. Turn that stuff over and presto, you've got fresh nutrients right there on top and the dirt will be soft enough to support root growth. Manure
makes a huge difference as well, make sure it's composted or it is too rich and will cause a bacteria problem that can kill the plants. Manure is the
best thing in the world for gardening.
Also pay attention to the sun and how it moves across the area you're gardening in, most vegetables like as much sun as they can get, but things like
lettuce do pretty well in partial shade so plan your garden accordingly. Your tomatoes aren't going to prosper if they are shaded out by your corn
Water the crap out of it, if you can't use your own water because of it being flouridated or in times of shortages, try to catch rain off your roof
in mosquito proof rain barrels. Water is critical to any life and the more of it you can get on your garden the better your plants are going to do.
Eliminate competition, i.e. weeding. This will not only help your plants by giving them leg room but will also help to control insects. Delcare war on
anything that isn't a vegetable. We've been using single layer sheets of newspaper and that really works well to keep the weeds at bay, but be
careful about mulching as some things just aren't healthy to put around your plants and can change the soil or chemistry and kill your plants.
Pay attention to the trees around your garden as well, a walnut is your worst enemy along with pines and a couple other species of tress can really
ruin soil around them. Walnuts in particular cause permanent damage to soil and the only way to deal with that is to get rid of the tree and then
dilute the soil with compost and soil from another location.
We also try not to plant the same things in the same places the next year, crop rotation keeps things balanced. If you keep planting the same type of
crop in the same spot eventually they will take out what they need and won't be able to support the same kind of plants there.
I may get flamed for this one, but don't be scared to kill bugs either. Insects can completely destroy a garden in a matter of a couple days. At the
first signs of insect damage, go postal on them and spray them with insectisides or repellants. The actual method is a matter of preference, but do
not let the bugs eat your garden. There's plenty of ways to deal with them, but do something! Nothing is more heartbreaking than watching huge
broccoli plants getting reduced to stubs in a days time. Watch out for Ground Hogs and Rabbits as well, those two are the most insidious garden
munching machines in the known universe. We shoot them and I've eaten both critters which make a stew you wouldn't believe, but if you just can't
bring yourself to kill them you will need to find a way of getting rid of them. Ground Hogs can be evicted with dirty cat litter, and Rabbits can be
got rid of with predator urine (yeah it's gross but it works).
Learn to can and preserve. The one thing alot of beginner gardners don't take into account is the actual yields at harvest time. Ask yourself what
you would do if you all of a sudden had forty pounds of cucumbers, and if the answer to that is "I don't know" then you need to look into it.
Squash, Cukes, tomatoes, green beans, when these things come in they really come in and you need to be ready to deal with the quantities involved.
Avoid Hybrid seeds, like the plague. Always look for heirloom seeds so you can keep the seeds from your plants to grow next year. Your plants will
geneticly adapt to the soil you're growing them in so each year you can keep your seeds, the better the plants will do in future generations.
That's about all I can come up with off the top of my head, be prepared for alot of work and alot of dirt and sweat. It's not easy and it's not
something they teach you in school anymore, but it's ancient and accepted, and not hard to learn. You can live off the land, mankind did it for
thousands and thousands of years long before the supermarkets and industrial agriculture. Nothing is more rewarding than eating something you and
mother nature made together and wait until you taste an honest to god home grown tomato.