Want to begin growing vegetables? This is the first of three articles on starting a new vegetable garden.

Location. Lots of books will tell you that you need 8 hours of full sun to grow vegetables, and that’s true. But what is not often mentioned is that 12 hours of sun will grow more and better vegetables than 8 hours. So observe how trees and structures shade potential sites for your garden, then pick a place with lots of sunshine.

Locate the garden in a well-drained area that will be convenient to maintain (mine is just outside the pantry door.) Don’t build the garden where there might be competition from tree roots or other plants. Make sure there is a nearby source of water.

Start small, but plan for expansion. One or two beds is about right for a beginning gardener. Keep the width of each bed to four feet or less, with paths in-between so you can work each bed from two sides.

Once your site has been chosen get a soil test. Test kits and instructions are free at Extension.

Raised Beds. Raised beds build up the planting area higher than the surrounding soil. They may be simple mounds of soil, or have permanent borders. Because the bed is above ground level this technique works well on hillsides and in rocky areas that have very little topsoil. Drainage is better. The soil warms faster in spring, so you can start plants earlier. And you can perform normal garden chores with less bending.

Permanent framing for raised beds can easily be made out of 2x6 or 2x8 lumber, concrete blocks, or other materials. I prefer pressure treated lumber because it is readily available and lasts a long time. Do NOT use railroad ties or other creosote-treated wood. Use galvanized or brass nails, deck screws, and hardware. Wear the appropriate safety equipment, including a dust mask and eye protection, for the materials you are working with.

Once the border is in place or you’ve marked the area for a borderless bed, it’s time to improve the soil. That’s the topic of the next column.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828-456-3575. © 2019 NC State University.

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