There's a hard way and an easy way to build garden beds. You can skim off the sod with a flat shovel and dig down deeply to aerate the soil and mix in compost and whatever other soil amendments you need. Or you can just layer things on top. Start by mowing down any tall grass or weeds. Shovel on a couple of inches of compost. Cover that with a weed-suppressing layer of cardboard or multiple sheets of newspaper. Top that with a mixture of brown and green plant material, just as if you were building a compost pile. "Mix it up, like in a salad," Pencke advises.
If you want to plant right away, add a few inches of compost or topsoil, and the beds are ready to go. Or wait a season and let microorganisms in the soil make the compost for you. After you harvest your first crops, you can "double dig," going down twice as deep as a shovel blade, to incorporate everything and aerate the soil. "But do this just once," Pencke says, to keep from undermining the soil structure.
Shown: A homeowner drills weepholes into a raised planting bed. You can slip a short length of 3/8-inch copper pipe into the weep holes to protect the wood and make clearing clogs easier.