Part 2: A Beginner's First Year of Vegetable Gardening
With the plan created in Part 1, I could build the raised beds last fall so that they'd be ready to go for spring planting. While I knew it would be physically difficult, I did not expect the challenges that erupted when trying to source materials.
I wanted to make the raised beds out of non chemical treated but rot resistant lumber like cedar, and assumed I'd enlist my husband to help construct them. Finding a source of cedar lumber where I live turned out to be a big problem. Cedar was no where to be found at the big box stores nor at the local lumber yard.
So, I ended up ordering online both cedar and redwood (also a rot resistant wood) kits. I even briefly toyed with using cement blocks instead - but they are so heavy and a logistics problem, as well as not being the best aesthetic choice. I had a composite 4' x 8' kit that I'd saved from a feeble attempt at growing veggies at our old location, and decided that would be the asparagus bed.
The kits I chose are 11" in height. This provides good depth of soil above ground, which would be beneficial for deeper rooted vegetables like carrots.
(While I tried to find the best value options, kits are expensive, especially if you need a lot. Growing directly in the ground is definitely less costly. You could also use regular (non treated) lumber to construct your own beds, but these will rot - probably in 3-4 years), so you'll have to remake them. Cement blocks, if you can handle the weight, are also less expensive than cedar or composite kits. If you live in the northwest, perhaps you have better luck at finding redwood lumber locally to make your own beds.)
As for the paths, it came down to a choice between wood chips and pea gravel. Given a prior experience of pea gravel wandering all over the place when trying to use it in a pathway, I opted for wood chips. They will need to be topped up every couple of years, but last much longer than regular mulch.
For filling the beds, I found a landscape company that would deliver a "gardeners mix" - namely screened top soil with compost.
Locating the Garden
"Key Point #5": Your garden must get 8 hours of DIRECT sunlight to really work, especially if you want warm season crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. This seems obvious, but it killed my chances of veggie gardening at our previous house. Don't place your garden where a tree that's small today will start shading half the garden in 4 years.
Our new location has no problem complying with this point, as it's mostly wide open grass in the back and side. My main decision about location came down to visibility vs. functionality. Was it OK to have it very visible or should it go at the back of the yard? I decided that it should be close to the house so I could easily check it daily, and it would be close to a water spigot. Functionality prevailed, and I placed the garden 10' behind the driveway.
Building the Beds
The advantage of kits is that they are generally fairly easy to assemble, especially with 2 people. We got them up all in a day, then had the soil delivered. After filling and unfilling many wheelbarrows of soil, and then wood chips, the beds and paths were done.
BTW, I did not dig up the grass first before putting the soil and wood chips down. Just laid down 6-8 layers of newspaper over the grass, then dumped the contents on top of it. Making the beds in the fall created this "short cut" since the paper would decompose naturally over time and just contribute matter to the soil below.