Planning and starting the year’s veg garden is always exciting. If you’re an old hand, you’ll not need my advice, but if you’re new to the game you'll pick up some ideas here. Whether you’ve been lucky enough to get a plot on your local allotment or are breaking in a new part of the garden, the same ideas apply.

The first and golden rule is to restrict yourself to an area you can manage. Don’t let the spade run away with you: you’ll find the new ground, rough and maybe riddled with stones and clay, takes some working over. Your digging will bring an army of weed seeds close to the surface where they’ll germinate because they’re near the light. You’ll find, by June, half your efforts will be spent weeding. Plan to break in a large area in stages.

After choosing a practical area of ground, start by dividing it into four plots. When it’s time to sow or plant, put one group of vegetables in each plot, moving each group into a neighbouring area next year. This crop rotation keeps soil clean and healthy. You work the ground differently when cultivating each of the crops and avoid a build-up of pathogens. Roughly speaking, the four groups are: potatoes; peas, french, runner and broad beans; cabbages; and the rest – root crops, leeks, onions, courgettes, squashes and so on.

The next step is to select vegetables within each of these groups which you enjoy, are easy to grow and won’t cause too many problems. The traditional wisdom is to use potatoes to break in new ground. Once the potato shaws – the foliage – have started growing, you rake the soil at each side of the tattie row to partly cover the plants. All this raking breaks up the clods of earth nicely.

Even potatoes have their problems, but they’re easily avoided. Late potato blight, a fungal disease, can destroy the crop in days, but in Scotland it starts attacking the plants from mid-July onwards. If you only grow first and second early varieties, you can harvest them all by the end of July. Keeled slugs are the other main pest. These underground slugs – not to be confused with the ones that destroy hostas and seedlings – don’t cause damage before the end of July. The biological control Nemaslug is the only effective control because these slugs never come near slug traps or pellets.

The second group, peas and beans, couldn’t be easier, so choose what you fancy. Just one wee hint, though: when choosing broad beans, go for dwarf varieties, Sutton or the more modern Robin Hood. They don’t need staking and won’t blow over in the fiercest gale.

On the other hand, the third group can be a nightmare. Unless brassicas grow in rich, well-established beds and are fairly widely spaced, the results can be poor. Leafy varieties such as kail and broccoli are the beginner’s choice, and cabbages and cauliflowers are more challenging. Romanesco, that late summer delight, can disappoint, especially if this sun-loving Italian is grown in cooler, higher parts of the country like mine.

The mixed bag, including roots and onions, should also be chosen with care. Most roots, such as carrots, parsnips and kohl rabi, are fussy. They need deep, fine, stone-free soil to thrive and it takes a few years to achieve this. Only tough old neeps can handle most types of ground and grow well, assuming they escape the attention of resident mice and slugs.

Leeks, garlic and onions are a fair bet, provided you remember that leeks and garlic need much more space than onions: 24-30cm between plants, rather than 10cm for onions. And factor in the regular and fiddly weeding so soil nutrients go to the crop and ripening bulbs are fully exposed to the sun.

Loose leaf crops are always more reliable than hearting up varieties. So, just as you’d choose kail over caulis, choose loose leaf and cut-and-come-again lettuces rather than a Webbs Wonderful.