Why Fall is the Best Time to Prepare Garden Beds

Fall is almost here and I’m wishing it was spring. However, fall is the best time to start preparing your garden for the next gardening season.

My straw bale garden did not do well at all this year which was rather disappointing. I had such high expectations. I’m not saying the system doesn’t work; it just didn’t work for me. Ideally I should have laid out the bales last fall and let them condition over winter, but I didn’t have my spot picked out at that point.

Disclaimer: Links within this post are either to my own products, or products I endorse. I may receive a small commission should you make a purchase through an affiliate link, at no extra cost to you. My blog is supported through commissions and sales of my products. Plus, if you like what you read you can show your support by pinning this post, sharing on social media, or buy me a coffee.  Thank you for your continued support.

The amount of light the space gets is ideal for a garden, so I have been converting my straw bale garden into a raised bed area. I have taken the bales and broken them up, then spread the straw over the area I wanted for the beds. Once the straw was spread out I added thick cardboard as a weed barrier. The wooden frames (4′ X 8′ fir) were placed on the cardboard, and more straw was added.

After soaking the straw with collected rainwater I added soil from the tomato planters I had in my greenhouse. (My cats were attracted to that instantly; it’s like they thought I had made oversized litter boxes just for them.) I raked some fresh cut grass and added it to the beds, then another layer of straw.

The garden beds are in progress.

I’ll be adding two more ‘rings’ to the far bed, and one to the closer bed to allow for the planting of root crops (carrots, beets, turnips, etc.). By filling the beds with the materials now I should have friable soil by the time spring planting time rolls around.

These beds are on the west side of my greenhouse and have a 2′ pathway between them. It works out well because the greenhouse is 10′ long and there’s no garden bed extending beyond it. It’ll also be easier when I mow as I left a bit of a path along the outer edges so I don’t have to get right next to the frames.

The frames aren’t touching the ground yet, but after the decomposition process through the winter, they should be. The additional rings will add some extra weight as will the snow. I’m contemplating adding plastic to start up the decomposition process; even if it’s only until the first snowfall. I don’t want to keep the plastic on all winter as the snow itself will help with the process and add moisture to the beds as well.

I’ll be making 2 beds on the east side of the greenhouse as well in the same fashion, but they’ll be 4′ X 6′ as the angle of the driveway doesn’t allow for anything longer. They too will be at 2 different levels to allow for crop variety.

My hope is that giving the materials a chance to break down over winter gives me a better garden next year. It was disappointing but as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”, and neither are garden beds. It takes time to condition the mix of straw, grass clippings, potting soil, and other compostables, so don’t be discouraged if the first year doesn’t work out.

Letting the micro-organisms and Mother Nature break down the layered materials over time creates a healthier growing medium for fruits and vegetables. Plus the composting action will warm the soil created so the beds can be planted earlier than if the seeds and transplants were going into cold ground. And here in Alberta we know all about cold ground, and how it’s generally not wise to plant anything until after Victoria Day weekend.

Learning about what does and doesn’t work in my new yard will take a few years I’m sure, but that’s what keeps gardening interesting. The best thing to do is to keep a record of what is done from year to year in a gardening journal. Mine has been started in written form and is in the process of being transferred to an easy-to-read format.

Have you started garden beds with straw, or have you used other methods? Let me know in the comments below.

Preparing Your Garden for Winter: A 5-Point Guide for Northern Climates

As the vibrant colors of autumn fade and the chill in the air becomes more pronounced, it’s time to start thinking about putting your garden to bed for the winter. In northern climates, where harsh winters can take a toll on your beloved plants, proper preparation is key to ensuring a healthy and thriving garden come spring. In this guide, I’ll walk you through five essential steps to help your garden weather the cold months ahead.

Disclaimer: Links within this post are either to my own products, or products I endorse. I may receive a small commission should you make a purchase through an affiliate link, at no extra cost to you. My blog is supported through commissions and sales of my products. Plus, if you like what you read you can show your support by pinning this post, sharing on social media, or buy me a coffee.  Thank you for your continued support.

1. Clean Up and Remove Debris:

The first step in getting your garden ready for winter is to give it a good clean-up. Start by removing any dead plants, weeds, and fallen leaves. This not only tidies up the garden but also helps prevent the spread of diseases and pests during the dormant season.

But don’t stop there! Perennial plants, those that come back year after year, benefit from a trim. Cut them back to about 2-3 inches above the soil level. This not only keeps things looking neat but also protects these plants from frost damage and makes spring growth easier. If you have a variety of perennials it’s a good idea to check the pruning/cutting back recommendations for each variety.

2. Mulch and Insulate:

Mulching is like tucking your garden in with a warm blanket for the winter. Apply a generous layer of organic mulch, such as straw, leaves, or wood chips, to your garden beds. This layer of mulch acts as insulation, helping to regulate soil temperatures and protect plant roots from freezing.

Mulching also has the added benefit of preventing soil erosion and keeping pesky winter weeds at bay, making your spring gardening tasks a bit more manageable. In areas where snow covers the ground the mulch is an extra layer of insulation.

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    3. Protect Delicate Plants:

    Not all plants are built to withstand the frigid temperatures of a northern winter. If you have delicate or tropical plants in your garden, consider giving them a little extra TLC. One option is to dig them up and transplant them into containers. This way, you can provide them with indoor winter care, ensuring their survival until spring returns.

    Alternatively, you can use protective coverings like burlap or frost cloth to shield delicate plants from extreme cold and frost. Just remember to remove these covers during milder winter days to allow the plants to breathe.

    A little personal note on this: I generally do not plant anything that can’t withstand our harsh winters. However, this year I started Goji Berries and have planted them out in my mini-orchard. The seed source claims they will survive but time will tell.

    Goji Berries and 2 little helpers. Photo source: Diane Ziomek
    4. Clean and Store Garden Tools:

    Your garden tools have worked hard all season, and they deserve some attention too. Clean and properly store them to prevent rust and damage during the winter months. Ensure they are completely dry before putting them away. This simple step will extend the life of your tools and save you from having to replace them prematurely.

    Don’t forget about your garden hoses! Drain them thoroughly and store them in a dry location to prevent freezing and cracking. All too often hoses get left attached to the outdoor faucets, which results in cracked pipes as well. A little maintenance now can save you from frustration and expense in the spring.

    5. Plan for Spring:

    While you’re putting your garden to bed, take some time to reflect on the past growing season. What worked well? What didn’t? Use this valuable information to plan for next year’s garden. Consider starting seeds indoors for early spring planting or ordering seeds and supplies well in advance.

    By making a plan now, you’ll be better prepared for a successful and bountiful gardening season when the warmer weather returns. This is the ideal time to start a gardening journal if you don’t already have one. That way you’ll have a record of what did and didn’t work this season.

    Wrapping it up:

    Putting your garden to bed for the winter in a northern climate may take a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it. These five steps—cleaning up, mulching, protecting delicate plants, caring for your tools, and planning for spring—will help your garden not only survive the winter but thrive when the snow melts and the days grow longer. With a little care now, you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant and beautiful garden in the seasons to come. Happy gardening!

    Embrace Winter Gardening: Top 5 Vegetables that Thrive Indoors


    As the winter months approach, gardeners often face the challenge of limited outdoor growing opportunities due to cold temperatures and frost. However, the solution lies right within your home – indoor winter gardening! With a little creativity and the right choice of vegetables, you can continue to enjoy the joys of gardening even when the snow blankets the ground outside. In this blog post, we’ll explore the five best vegetables to grow indoors during the winter, bringing fresh flavors and a touch of greenery to your home all season long.

    Disclaimer: Links within this post are either to my own products, or products I endorse. I may receive a small commission should you make a purchase through an affiliate link, at no extra cost to you. My blog is supported through commissions and sales of my products. Plus, if you like what you read you can show your support by pinning this post, sharing on social media, or buy me a coffee.  Thank you for your continued support.

    1. Microgreens: Tiny Powerhouses of Nutrition

    Microgreens are young, edible seedlings of various vegetables and herbs. These little greens burst with flavor, color, and nutrition, making them an excellent choice for indoor winter gardening. They are quick to grow, often ready for harvest within 1-3 weeks, and they thrive in small spaces and minimal light. Popular microgreens include kale, arugula, radish, and sunflower. Not only are they delicious additions to salads, sandwiches, and garnishes, but they also pack a concentrated punch of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

    I have taken sprout seed mixes and let them grow into microgreens with tasty results. I have used a ceramic microgreen tray with a coir base for the roots with success. I’ve also used a larger plastic tray lined with paper, but this one did dry out quicker. A note on the latter: the paper is placed on a perforated tray with a drainage tray beneath it. I haven’t tried the tray with soil yet, so I can’t discount it as a good system to use yet.

    No matter which method you use, regular misting of the seeds and greens is required. I failed to do it one day and was left with some wilted and withered greens.

    2. Spinach: Leafy Greens for Nutrient-Rich Harvests

    Spinach is a cold-hardy vegetable that thrives in cooler temperatures, making it a perfect candidate for indoor winter gardening. With bright green leaves and a rich flavor, spinach provides a steady supply of essential nutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Choose compact varieties and place them near a south-facing window or under grow lights for optimal growth. Regular harvesting of outer leaves encourages continual growth, giving you a fresh supply throughout the winter months.

    I tried to grow spinach in my large hydroponic unit with little success. It germinated relatively quickly but basically quit growing after its first few leaves emerged. That’s not to say it’s not suitable for hydroponics. I do believe the room my unit is in is much too warm for spinach. It may do better during the winter months when the room is much cooler.

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      3. Herbs: Fresh Flavors at Your Fingertips

      A windowsill herb garden is a delightful addition to any indoor space during the winter. Herbs like basil, parsley, mint, thyme, and rosemary not only bring wonderful aromas but also add depth and flavor to your culinary creations. Most herbs are relatively easy to grow indoors, requiring moderate light and well-draining soil. Regular pruning ensures bushier growth, and you’ll have a steady supply of fresh herbs all season long.

      Although some herbs do not do well in hydroponics, my mint is flourishing. I cut it back yesterday and am dehydrating the sprigs for use in tea this winter. I have been eating it fresh as well, pinching back the growing tips to encourage bushier growth.

      My self-watering herb planter (pictured below) will also be brought indoors this fall, which will continue to provide me with parsley, lemon thyme, lavender, dill, and calendula (marigold) for flavour and garnishing.

      Planter filled with parsley, dill, lemon thyme, and marigold.
      Parsley, dill, lemon thyme, lavender, and calendula (marigold).
      4. Carrots: Compact and Colourful Delights

      Believe it or not, you can grow carrots indoors during the winter months! Choose smaller varieties or “baby” carrots that are well-suited for container gardening. Select deep containers to accommodate their taproots and provide well-draining soil to prevent rot. Carrots require moderate light and consistent moisture to thrive. Witness the joy of pulling up these vibrant orange roots from your own indoor garden.

      I have grown carrots in containers before, but have yet to try them as an indoor winter crop. My house has a lot of natural light so I hope it’s enough for the carrots. I do have LED lights I can utilize as well.

      5. Scallions: A Never-ending Harvest

      Scallions, also known as green onions or spring onions, are a versatile and productive choice for indoor gardening. They can be grown from both seeds and kitchen scraps (using the root ends). Place the cut ends in water initially, and once they develop roots, transplant them into pots. Scallions can thrive in various lighting conditions, making them an excellent option for less sunny spots. Regular trimming ensures you’ll have a continuous supply of mild onion flavor for soups, salads, and garnishes.

      I love green onions and there’s nothing better than fresh-picked. As they don’t have a deep root system they’ll be ideal for a pot placed on the kitchen counter. Between them and the chives I should be set for green onion flavour all winter long.

      Wrapping it up

      Winter gardening doesn’t have to be limited to the outdoors (and in a climate that reaches minus 40 degrees, it’s not an option). By choosing the right vegetables, optimizing light conditions, and providing proper care, you can enjoy a thriving indoor garden throughout the cold months. Microgreens, spinach, herbs, carrots, and scallions are five fantastic choices that offer a range of flavors, colors, and nutritional benefits. So, roll up your sleeves, gather your gardening supplies, and embark on a winter gardening adventure that will not only satisfy your green thumb but also add fresh, homegrown goodness to your winter meals.