Answer: A raised bed is a good way to work around problem soil, but it will not keep out critters. For that, in my experience, you need a fence.
Since you have not gardened before I would suggest you start small rather than risk being overwhelmed by midseason. You might take a look at a book on intensive small space or square foot gardening such as Mel Bartholomew's book on the latter. He provides many tips and pointers as well as plans, growing instructions, and so on.
When deciding what to plant, you should consider what your family really likes to eat. Most people seem to enjoy a cherry tomato, a regular main crop tomato, a pepper or two such as a jalapeno and maybe a green bell, some early greens such as leaf lettuce and spinach, and green beans. Pole beans or, especially if you use succession cropping, bush beans can be grown in a raised bed. Most of the vine crops take up a relatively large amount of space, but you can trellis some varieties of them if they are a "must grow". Carrots often do well in a raised bed and radishes are great fun to grow for an early crop. A few herbs such as chives, parsley, dill and perhaps thyme or tarragon could also be happy additions. Have fun with your garden!
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