New vegetable garden, very little experience


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Hello all! My wife and I have talked about starting a vegetable garden this year. We want to start it small, two 4X4 areas, and can expand it next year if everything goes well. I'm not sure if we should go in ground or do raised planters. We are trying to stay budget friendly but at the same time want a good/easier experience. If we do raised planters, I've heard of people using landscaping tarp or even cardboard under the soil to keep weeds and grass from growing through. If I were to go this route, how deep would the soil need to be? 12"? Is the tarp even necessary?

I have a couple of concerns about going purely in ground. 1. Our dog would waltz though it and often. 2. Voles (not sure exactly what they are, but subterranean critters) how do I keep them away? 3. Soil conditioning. I'm not sure where to start with that.

The area we've chosen gets direct sun from about 8 30am to around 6-7pm during the summer. Southern exposure. The attached picture shows the area. I'd come out from the fence about 4-6' and to the right of the bushes. We are thinking about tomatoes, bell peppers and lettuce in one plot. Summer squash and some assorted herbs/flowers in the other. We live in the middle of North Carolina

Any direction, recommendations, resources or suggestions would be appreciated!
 

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I am partial to raised beds, myself. It is much easier to control some of the variables that way. I would not use tarps or landscape plastic, though. I find better results with organic mulch, or just plain old-fashioned weeding in raised beds. 12" of soil should be plenty for what you want to grow.
 
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Make sure the area gets at least 6hr to 8 hr of sunlight to grow tomatoes and peppers. You can amend the soil with many different amendments. I like to keep it cheap or free so I use leaf litter from under oak and pecan trees. I fill up my five gallon buckets of nice black soil from under the canopy of a bunch of trees. I put it on my garden with a little peat moss for about $20 a year. Good luck
 
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Mulching can take on interesting forms. This video show plants being grown in paving stones. I notice how well some plants do with the even moisture retained by walking path stones around my house, but the idea of gardening with them never occurred to me. So that video demonstrates a real dual use pation setup is very possible, even desireable, since outside the growing season you have a nice patio to do things upon.
 
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I also like to grow vegetables in Raised beds and containers because of the solid clay in my area. I found this page helpful when laying out and filling my raised beds: https://pinchofseeds.com/raised-garden-bed/.
Once the raised beds are set up, you can use 4 stakes at each corner and tie bird netting on the periphery to keep your dog and the criters away from the vegetables.
 

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