"Take care of your soil, and your soil will take care of you"
-some smart guy
For maximum growth of your vegetables, you must have loose, nutrient-rich soil. Here is why:
Look at that picture and you see the roots of a carrot going down up to 7 feet down. As I will show below, that only happens when your soil is well cared for.
I am clearly no Michael Pollan, but let me attempt to boil down my rules for soil into their bare essentials.
loosen soil. add organic material. cover well. stay off.
That really is it, but I will explain a bit. Let me also note, that if the thought of doing anything to your soil is overwhelming for your first time growing anything, then don't. I give you permission to make holes in the ground and put the seeds/plants in them and do nothing else.
soil structure - if you look at this picture, you can see the difference between loosened soil and compacted soil on the root structure.
Today I will cover just one aspect:
I do the following ONCE (as in ever) when I prepare a vegetable bed. I mark out the area that I will be planting in, and start digging down ~1-2 feet and move all that dirt to the side. Then I use a pitchfork and seriously loosen the soil a further 2 feet. I throw in as much organic material as I can, then replace the top layer of soil and mix. I then cover it with a couple of inches of (non-woody) mulch
That is a good bit of work and you don't have to do it. In between nothing and what I do, you can simply cover the ground with lots of good compost, coffee grounds, mulch whatever. Add some organic fertilizers and you are set. if there is organic material there, then earthworms will do the rest over time. If you really want to understand this approach then I recommend "lasagna gardening" The entire book is summarized in the first 10 pages or so.
I will delve into more details on what to add to your soil next.