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.

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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.

Greenhouses, Straw Bale Gardens, & Hydroponics

Once again I have been lax in my posts, and for that I apologize.

This summer has been a busy one for me as I am creating my own garden oasis. The acreage I bought almost a year ago (July 4 will be my 1-year anniversary of owning this place) has been a learning curve for sure. I think I have all the quirks figured out now, and I have lived here all 4 seasons.

I am gradually converting over an acre of lawn into outdoor living space, gardens, and an orchard. The latter is the next project, and the groundwork for it will be done within the first week or two of July. I don’t have the equipment to do it myself, so my boyfriend will bring his little tractor and rototiller over and do it for me.

As it sits I have 7 saskatoon trees, at least 10 raspberry canes, 3 rhubarb plants, 6 very thin asparagus plants (started these from seed a few weeks ago), and 5 or 6 goji berry bushes to plant in the new space. (That space should take close to 15 minutes off my mowing time.)


I invested in a 10 X 10 greenhouse this spring, and regret not doing so years ago. It’s smaller than the porta-garage frame greenhouse I had at my other place, but being built from wood, tin, and polycarbonate panels it is much heavier and has withstood some wicked winds. I also added a wood bench to one side, which added more weight to it as well. And the anchors holding 2 of the corners down aren’t going to hurt either.

Inside I have 12 tomato plants, which I planted in 5-gallon buckets, several peppers of various kinds, 2 cucumbers in pots, all of the fruit/veggies listed two paragraphs earlier, plus other random plants. It’s a little like Heaven walking into it each day.

The inside of my greenhouse earlier this month.
Straw Bale Garden

I am also trying Straw Bale Gardening this year, as there wasn’t a garden space in the yard when I moved in. I’m not completely sold on the idea, but I may have been too impatient and planted in them before they were conditioned properly. The book I have on the method does recommend setting the bales out in the fall, letting them overwinter, and planting in the spring. I didn’t get my bales until mid-spring so I honestly can’t ditch the concept just yet.

I also built 2 raised beds and filled them with straw bales. I have potatoes in one, and an assortment of veggies in the other; along with a pansy and strawberry plant. It took awhile for the potatoes to grow, but they seem to be doing alright now. I did notice a couple are ready to bloom, which means new potatoes are on the way. When the crops are harvested I’ll cut the strings on the bales and let winter take care of the decomposition process. In the spring I should have some healthy soil to plant in.


The price of fresh produce keeps increasing, and the quality and flavour are decreasing. Summer is great because a lot of people are able to save money by growing their own. But what about those who don’t have the space to have a traditional garden? Or what about the winter months (of which never seem to end here in Alberta) when growing outside is impossible?

Enter, hydroponics. I dabbled in growing houseplants over 30 years ago using a passive hydroponics system and didn’t take the time to understand how it worked so gave up. My ex-husband and I lived in an apartment in the city then, and had I inquired about the other systems available, I could have had a lot more years of experience under my belt.

Jump ahead to a couple months ago and I once again decided to give it a whirl. This time I did more research, and also got to see an AeroGarden in use. I ordered 2 of them and am hooked. I have started plants for my greenhouse, and have been enjoying fresh lettuce leaves directly from the system every few days.

Yesterday my 108-plant hydroponic system arrived, and today I have been familiarizing myself with the way it works. Sadly the directions didn’t state how much nutrient solution to use so I have been letting the system run and adding as necessary. At present I believe 18 litres is sufficient, but I may add another 6 litres just to be sure.

I’m excited to have my own fresh lettuce, herbs, and strawberries all winter long. As the weeks go on I’ll be adding what I have learned to my blog and website. And my family and friends will also benefit, because I know I will not be able to eat as much as I grow.

In conclusion I would like to once again apologize for being so negligent with this blog. Getting back in the swing of things since Ross passed away hasn’t been easy, and I’ve basically done the bare minimum. Grief is a crazy thing, and when we lose a spouse it’s hard to remember who we were as individuals before two became one.

I’ll be posting reviews on the tools and systems I use for my gardening adventure so feel free to follow my blog.

Welcome 2022

It has been over a year and a half since I last posted, but I needed the time to just learn how to be on my own again.

As I begin this year I have set some goals for myself. One is to get back on track with this blog and website. It has been neglected for far too long.

Second is to stay consistent on my other website. I have been publishing weekly blog posts and my readership has increased, which makes me happy.

Third, I just want to enjoy what life has to offer. Summer 2020 was a major challenge for me but I got through it, and built a deck almost all on my own; simply because it was something Ross and I had talked about and I needed something to do. Summer 2021 had its own set of challenges, with the almost zero rainfall and wasps that kept me inside. Here’s hoping Summer 2022 is better in that regard.

Now that I’m moving forward in life, let me tell you about the few things I have done since May 2020.

As mentioned, I built a deck onto our house; a project that was supposed to be ours since travel was out of the question. (Damn COVID.) I may have built it a little bigger than we had talked about, but I’m happy with the result. When the package was delivered I took one look at the pile of lumber and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” After some googling I found some information I could work with, and proceeded to mark out dimensions.

Fast forward to September 2020 (I started it in July, after we had Ross’s Memorial Service and family get-together) and the deck was done. Aside from a little help from my daughter, my son’s girlfriend, and a friend, the majority of it was done by me. And I only bled once when I cut my leg with the handsaw (no stitches required, just a band-aid). Finished size: upper level 8′ X 20′ and the lower level is 16′ X 24′.

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After taking a Leave of Absence from my library position after Ross passed away, I handed in my resignation at the end of September. I decided I could manage on my savings and some life insurance; a choice I’m glad I made. I did the occasional writing gig, and made some sales on Etsy that helped pay some bills.

I invested in a snowblower so I could do most of my own snow removal. My father-in-law did use his tractor and plow a couple of times, which was appreciated. The downside to it all was we didn’t get near the snow we should have, which led to a very dry spring and even drier summer.

Summer 2021 was spent tending to my raised beds (I built two more with the help of my daughter), camping with a friend, and fighting off the wasps when I was outside. I made a self-watering planter and filled it with herbs and put it on my deck. It was nice to have fresh herbs right outside my door. I have plans to build at least one more this summer for more herbs.

Photo above was taken March 19, 2021, just after my daughter and I put my new outdoor furniture together.

The yard changes continued in November when I hired an arborist and his crew to take down some dying poplars, Manitoba maples, and a very overgrown caraganna hedge. I now have somewhat of a view from my office window, and a winter view of the field north of my house. When spring rolls around the row of young caragannas will fill in and I’ll no longer be able to see the field, but that’s okay. I do plan on having the crew back to get rid of some other dying trees, but that will have to wait until my budget allows.

And now here I am, with the first two weeks of 2022 already gone. As I anticipate a summer filled with more rain and less wasps, I have plans to plant some roses, build an arbor, and create a living fence around the firepit. My goal is to publish at least two blog posts per month, and add more articles to the website as well. Life does go on, and moving forward is something we must do no matter what life has handed us.

Oh, and my houseplant collection has grown considerably as well. I’m seriously thinking about adding on a 4-season sunroom to let in more light and give my bigger plants a better home. Did I mention the only south-facing windows I have are my office and where my dining room table sits?

I am excited to be back on track, and am even more excited to share my gardening experience and knowledge with you.

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