Posted on

Why do I need a grow light?

At our store, we are asked by customers frequently “do I really need a grow light?” If you want to keep growing your small veggies, lettuce, and herbs indoors over the winter, the answer is yes!Catgrass growing under lights

The reason why we need lights is the quality and number of hours of sunlight that we get at this time of year in the northern hemisphere won’t cut it for your plants. Indoors, the lumens (amount of light) are a fraction of what your plants would get outdoors in the summer. If you just put them on a windowsill, they’ll stretch their stems looking for light and become leggy.

A grow light is like a little sun for your home. The sun produces electromagnetic radiation, some of which is visible to us as colours. This is what plants use for photosynthesis.

What kind of bulb do I need?

T5 bulb

Compact fluorescents

It really depends on what you want to grow. For seedlings, cool crops (like lettuce), microgreens, wheatgrass, and herbs, get a full spectrum compact fluorescent bulb, such as the one pictured to the right. It produces light by bouncing gas off of the metal powder inside the bulb. This sort of bulb is great for beginners and will provide enough lumens for these crops. These bulbs are cool and efficient, but the bulbs need to be replaced periodically (about every 6 months).

High-Intensity Lights

If you want to continue growing your greenhouse crops indoors (such as your tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, etc) you’ll need a higher intensity light. The light from compact fluorescent bulbs won’t be able to penetrate the leaf canopy (the light stops at the first leaf it encounters). The high-intensity lights can penetrate the canopy like real sunlight. They work by shooting high-voltage electricity into the bulb, making the gas spark. This means they run hotter than the compact florescent bulbs as well, so you’ll need additional venting, cooling fans, and ducting. They also require ballasts to control the power source in addition to the bulb and fixture.

High Pressure Sodium (HPS)Sunsystem HPS

These bulbs produce a yellow-reddish light that’s ideal for mature flowering plants. Young plants do require light from the cool/blue end of the spectrum, so HPS lights are mainly used to supplement  the natural light in a greenhouse or area which receives some natural light.

 

 

 

Metal Halide (MH)

MH bulbs produce a more balanced blue-ish light, and are used generally when the lamp will be the only source of light for the growing area.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LED)

These bulbs convert electricity to light and run at a lower voltage than the HPS and MH bulbs.  This technology is not yet mature and not readily available to retail consumers. We are in the process of comparing the LEDs to other forms of lighting and so do not carry them in our store yet.

 How much light will I get from each lamp?

Wattage Area Covered
 150-175  2′ x 2′
 250  3′ x 3′
 400  4′ x 4′
 600  6.5′ x 6.5′
 1000  8′ x 8

Having grow lights near young seedlings (4-6″ away) prevents the stems from elongating, so the plants develop strong stems. The lights need to be this close because of the inverse-square law of light. If your lights need to be farther away because of how you are using your space, you’ll need stronger bulbs. In general, plan to place the lower wattage systems 12-24″ away from the plants,  the medium wattage 12-36″, and the high wattage 18-48″.

When you are shopping for lights, the package will tell you how many lumens the bulb emits. For reference, the lumens on a clear summer day will be about 20,000, and about 100,000 under full direct sun at noon. For comparison, a bright office will be about 500 lumens. This should really drive home the need for lights in the winter.

How long do I run the lights?

This is where you open up your trusty search engine and do some research. Your plants will react to the hours of light and temperature provided as if it were actually that time of year outdoors. For example, warm temperatures, long days and short nights will cause lettuce to bolt, but tomatoes and peppers will love those conditions. Expect to run your lights for at least 10 hours per day.

Do I need anything else?

15 Amp Timer
A grounded timer will turn your lights on and off for you.

 

Other accessories you might use are timers, circulating fans, ducting, and reflectors to bounce the light back towards the plants.

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Guide to Garlic Varieties

Garlic is a member of the allium family, originating in the Caucasus Mountains. They can be either Ophios (hard-necked garlics and Sativum (soft-necked garlics).

Softneck

These varieties are more rounded, and their stalks are soft and flexible for braiding.

"Regular" garlic

 

 

“Regular”
The “regular” garlic at Garden Retreat is the soft necked garlic that you have probably bought at the grocery store. The 1-2″ bulbs are small and white in colour.

 

 

 

Elephant

 

 

“Elephant”
Soft necked and similar to the grocery store variety, very large bulbs.

 

 

 

Hardneck
Hardneck varieties do not have a stalk flexible enough for braiding. They have an extremely firm neck protruding an inch or two from the top of the bulb. Hardnecks send out “scapes”, small green stalks that eventually produce more bulbs of garlic. They take energy away from the plant, so most gardeners will cut them off and use them in the kitchen.

Mexican Purple

 

 

“Mexican Purple”
Hardneck and extremely flavourful.

 

 

 

“Red”Red
Hardneck red, strong flavour.

 

 

 

 

 

German Hardneck

“German Hardneck”
These bulbs are about 2″ in diameter, hardnecked.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Grow Garlic

  • * Break the bulb into cloves when planting, and leave at least some of the “basal plate” (where the roots develop from) for each clove. Space the plants 4-8 inches apart.
  • * Garlic likes evenly moist,well drained soil. Too much moisture leads to mold, and too little leads to small bulbs.
  • * A few weeks before harvesting, stop watering your garlic when the tops begin to turn brown and dry out. This is usually a sign that the bulbs are almost ready to harvest. Pull up a few bulbs and check that the wrappers are still papery and the bulb has not split open.
  • * After harvesting, hang your garlic in a protected area with good ventilation (add a small fan if the area lacks adequate air flow), so air can reach each surface of the bulb. Allow two weeks for drying.
  • * The bulbs can be stored indoors at cool room temperature (15 degrees) for several months.
Posted on

Extend the Season with a Cold Frame

September 5, 2013

With September already here and the leaves starting to change it feels like summer came and went too quickly! Have you consider extending the growing season with a cold frame? They are a very useful thing for gardeners to have on hand as they can also help start seedlings earlier than the area permits. They can also help protect tender plants well into the fall and you can even force bulbs in them during the winter months, such as tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and crocuses.Cold Frames are a great way to extend our short growing season

There are lots of options on the construction of cold frames — whether you salvage old window tops or use polycarbonate — the most important key is to consider the height to suit the needs of your plants. For durability I would suggest you use 1 x 8 cedar boards. There is also an array of kits (such as this one) out there if you do not have the required materials.

Once you have decided on your materials, you have to consider placement of your cold frame as there are certain factors that are critical to successful use. Make sure to place your cold frame in a well-drained area that will not get flooded. Also make sure to orient the frame so the window faces south, this will protect it from easterly and westerly winds and help capture good light levels. It’s always nice to have them situated near a water source to save yourself some work. Consider painting the inside of the frame white or silver to help reflect more light on to the plants but don’t treat the wood as you don’t want to poison your plants. You may even want to consider burying a heating cable to extend the season even more! Keep in mind that on really cold nights you will need to consider increasing the insulation around you cold frame with blankets, old carpet, straw, leaves, newspaper or even snow. This in mind also consider on the warmer days ventilation will be necessary.

Here is a list of veggies and herbs to prolong in the fall season.

Plant, Height, frost tender notes

Basil, 30-60cm, frost tender

Beets, 30cm, tolerates light frost

Carrots, 30cm, tolerate light frost

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussel sprouts, 30-75cm, tolerate light frost

Eggplant, 60cm, frost tender

Onion seedlings, 30cm, tolerate light frost

Peas, 90cm-2m, tolerate light frost

Peppers, 60cm, frost tender

Radishes, 30cm, tolerate light frost

Salad greens, 30cm, tolerate light frost

Tomatoes, 60cm to 2.5m, frost tender

Posted on

Clematis Pruning: A,B, or C?

So, you’ve bought a clematis, and you’re confused about how to prune it? Newly planted clematis vines should be pruned to the lowest pair of strong buds after their first winter (In about march) to promote a thicker and more vigorous plant. Subsequent pruning is based on when that particular species flowers, starting the following year. Doing this helps you to train the plant into the shape you want to take. Look at the plant’s tag; it should tell you which pruning group it is a member of.

Pruning Group ‘A’ 

Macropetala 'Blue bird'  has 2-3 inch lavender blue bell shaped blooms in early spring. Group A.
Macropetala ‘Blue bird’ has 2-3 inch lavender blue bell shaped blooms in early spring. Group A.

These types of vines flower on wood from the previous year in early spring. Only prune weak, spindly growth after they bloom. Excessive pruning will delay flowering for one growing season.

examples: C. montanaC. armandii, or C. macropetala

 

 

 

 

 

Pruning Group ‘B’

An old fashioned variety with large bi-colour blooms, mauve pink flowers with carmine pink bars. Blooms in spring and fall on growth from previous season (Group B).
Nelly Moser is an old fashioned variety with large bi-colour blooms. It blooms in spring and fall on growth from previous season (Group B).

Members of this group bloom on both current and old growth from summer to fall, either in two showings or one continuous one. Pruning this group takes a bit of finesse but can be done if you pay attention to blooming times throughout the season. Stems that bloom late should be hard pruned, about a foot from the ground. Stems that bloom early should be dead-headed after the flowers fade, but not cut back, as they will produce buds for the following season. Some gardeners will protect the old wood by laying it on the ground over the winter.

examples: Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘Henry’, “William Kennett’

 

 

 

 

 

Pruning Group ‘C’ 

'Jackmanii' clematis is a fast-growing member of group C
‘Jackmanii’ clematis is a fast-growing member of group C.

Vines in group C bloom on current growth only. In early spring, cut every stem to 12 to 18 inches or so to keep these prolific vines under control.

examplesC. viticellaC. tanguticaC. virginianaC. texensisC. crispa

Sources: Classic Climbers, and 
Woody Ornamentals for the Prairies by Hugh Knowles
Woody Ornamentals

Posted on

Growing Orchids: The Basics

So, you bought an orchid, or received one as a gift. What now?

Orchid roots are thick and fleshy to store water
Orchid roots are thick and fleshy to store water

What are orchids?

If you purchased an orchid in a store, chances are it’s an epiphytic 
orchid. This type of plant grows on other plants or objects, such as large trees, rather than in soil. Their roots absorb nutrients from the air, rain, and material surrounding them.

Okay, so how do I grow it?

The trick to growing plants indoors is to try and replicate the environment the plant is accustomed to in the wild. This is why orchids are generally sold growing in moss or bark. Always plant this type of orchid in a loose, fast-draining potting mix with lots of bark. Research the type of orchid that you have, but most prefer a medium amount of light — a few hours morning sun rather than a hot south-facing window.

Water well, once per week, allowing the water to drain through the bottom of the pot. (If your pot has no drainage holes, you’ll have to re-pot the plant or drain the water yourself). Fertilise once per month with a general purpose orchid fertiliser, such as this one.

Keep your plants in humid, well-lit area that’s not too hot, away from air conditioners and radiators, and not directly next to a window, and your plant should be happy as can be!

Source: Bloom-Again Orchids

Bloom-Again Orchids
Bloom-Again Orchids: A great beginner’s guide

Posted on

Composting: The Basics

What is compost?

Compost is produced when organic matter slowly decomposes in aerobic conditions. It is the dark, spongy, earthy-smelling component of soil often referred to as “humus”. Compost adds nutrients and water-retention capacity to your soil while improving soil structure and moderating pH. It acts as a “slow-release” fertiliser, generally lower in the “N-P-K” nutrients, but adding more trace minerals and micro-nutrients. The main advantage is that nutrients are available to the plant as they are needed, rather than synthetic fertilisers which sit in the soil in excess and can be washed away by rainwater. Beneficial microbes and fungi present in compost both aid in making nutrients available to plants and have been found to help prevent some fungal and soil-borne diseases.

Finished compost should look a lot like soil

 

How do I do it?

Successful composting comes down to one basic thing: creating an ideal environment for the decomposers that will be breaking down the organic waste for you. They simply need water, adequate air flow, organic matter, and time. A compost pile with too much air flow lacks the required amount of water for the bacteria to operate. Too much water/too little aeration leads to less-efficient anaerobic bacteria taking over, which produce smelly by-products such as ammonia. Besides air and water, the decomposers require an even balance of carbon (“browns”, such as bark, sticks, dried leaves, and newspaper ) and nitrogen (“greens”, like grass clippings and vegetable scraps).  Do not add animal by-products to your pile. To create a compost pile, set  aside a space in the garden or build/purchase a bin that will allow air to flow through. Lay down a layer of wood chips or similar material to allow for drainage. Mix green and brown material evenly throughout the pile, add some garden soil and/or worms (to introduce microbes) and water the pile. You’re done! Just turn the pile once per week or so.

Is my compost done yet?

In Calgary during the winter months the chinook/freezing cycles will help break down the material in the pile but the low temperatures push the the microbes into dormancy. Your pile will likely take at least a year to produce usable compost. Your compost is finished when it smells sweet and earthy and looks like soil.

Source: Easy Compost