Telus Spark’s Adults Only Night – Off the Grid Garden Hacks

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Current farming techniques may be much more efficient, but your garden can get food to you even if the roads are impassable or there isn’t a network of fuel stations anymore. And even if there are, your garden greens are fresher! Join the Leaf Ninjas to find out some hacks to get your garden producing you grid-independent food!

Kathryn Blair – Telus Spark

Telus spark, leaf ninjas. garden hack, adults only nightTelus Spark Adults only Night – Hacking your Garden 

The Ninjas are getting ready to make our way back to Telus Spark to hack the gardening grid January 12th, at Telus Sparks – Adult only Night.  We’re going to be chatting about easy ways to start a garden or improve what you have going on.

Below is the cheat sheet of some basic information to start with or take a piece or two away with you. Each garden, plant and gardener is unique and ever changing and with complicated layers of information involved. Hope this little tid-bit can help you hack your own garden ahead!

Timing to Start Seeds/ Where to Get Them


Timing is crucial, especially for a climate like Alberta which on average only has 110 frost free days. Below is a list on general timing to start your garden starts. 

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Leaf Ninja garden Starts

Early March
Tomatoes (Here’s a link to the best tomato seeds in Alberta, Casey’s Tomatoes)
Herbs (basil, rosemary oregano etc.)
Winter Squash
Zucchini (summer squash)

Fall planting – Second week of October
Spinach (experiment)
Carrots (experiment)

Direct sowing – Early May (frost dependant)
Swiss chard
Turnips, rutabaga (other root vegetables)

If you don’t have the proper space to start your own seeds or prefer to buy starters, here’s a list of our Ninja picks.

Seedy Saturday
Greenview Acres
Sunnyside Market
Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers Market
Your local community plant exchange

Easy Vegetables That Grows Well in Calgary/ Basic Conditions

Here’s a list of great vegetables that are easy to grow, general timing and the sun/shade conditions they do best in.

Kale – 60 days Sun or Shade
Lettuce – 30 days Sun or Shade
Swiss Chard – 60 days Sun or Shade
Radish Sun or Shade
Spinach – 30-45 days Sun or Shade
Sunflower – Full season Sun
Mint – Perennial Sun or Shade
Garden Sage – 45-60 days Sun
Thyme – 45-60 days Sun
Nasturtium – 45-60 days Sun
Potatoes – Full season Sun
Beans – 45 days Sun or Shade
Peas – 45 days Sun
Carrots – Full season Sun partial Shade
Beets – Full season Sun partial Shade
Garlic – July – August harvest Sun
Squash – Full Season Sun
Zucchini – August Sun
Tomatoes – 90-120 days Sun

Calgary permaculture tour, leaf ninjas urban farm, calgary food
Calgary Permaculture Tour to Leaf Ninja production farm


Where to Plant In Your Yard

Do you research on what each plant requires for light, water, spacing and soil. It’s best to plant these plants together in the appropriate areas in your yard.
Observe your yard and note where the most sun is during the day. This is where you want to put the vegetables that require the most sun and heat.
Be aware of large trees that will fill in with leaves if you’re observing your space in the winter.
The sun exposure will change during different times of year depending when you’re observing (winter-summer).

Prepping your Space

Selecting a good growing area is the first step to getting your garden started.

Key elements for a good garden site:
Sun exposure
Access to water – rainwater is best when controlled properly (Here’s a link to one of the leading professionals in Rain Water Harvesting, Brad Lancaster)
Soil conditions (nutrients and drainage)
Accessibility – closer to home the better

Layout the garden
Size – start small and grow your garden with your skills
Grass removal – remove the top 2 – 4” of soil and sod with a shovel/sod cutter rental
Soil boosting – improve drainage and nutrients (sand, coconut coir, organic fertilizers – alfalfa)
Irrigation – hand watering, sprinklers, flooding 
Plan layout depending on size, spacing, growth habit (climbing/running) and sun needs

yyc growers, Leaf Ninjas urban farming, Calgary Leaf Ninjas
Prepping your space

Pests and Diseases

Healthy plants and good garden hygiene are the best defence for pests and disease.

Boosting Garden Hygiene
Pick up dead leaves and plant matter and put it in your composts
Don’t crowd plants in the garden
Allow for good airflow around plants to prevent fungal problems
Plant beneficial insect attractors – Cosmos, Calendula, Sweet Alyssum, Marigolds
Keep garden tools clean – especially any clippers and cutters

Avoid planting species that are known to be susceptible to pests
Arugula in the springtime
Radishes in dense clay soil

What to do when your vegetables are overrun by pests and disease???
When google hasn’t helped there are some spots to ask for advice online. One of our favourite is the Facebook Group – Calgary Area Hippie Gardeners.. That’s if you’re on the grid..

Another source for information and action plans are through the City of Calgary’s website


Common Calgary soil characteristics
High in clay – doesn’t drain well
Predominantly higher in PH also called alkaline soil
Tend to be low in Iron and Magnesium
Near roads and pathways soil can be high in Salt which is bad
Topsoil layer can be shallow
Soils are commonly highly compacted – beat it up!

Ways to improve your soil
Add organic matter – this could be compost and coconut coir
Add draining agents – washed sand is excellent for large gardens and perlite/zeolite are good for smaller gardens
IF your site drains too quickly – add water absorbent materials like organic matter or vermiculite for smaller gardens
Add biology – high quality compost, aged manure(sheep/pig), compost tea, compost extracts are amazing
Add nutrients – slow release organic fertilizers (gaia green brand), alfalfa pellets, bone meal, blood meal, guanos
Top off your soil with low-carbon mulch to reduce water evaporation – Clean/seedless Straw or Leaves – there are also biodegradable plastic mulches which also warm soils

Where to get this STUFF!?
Any good garden centre will carry consumer sized volumes of these amendments
For boosting biology check out Alberta’s soil consultant, Mike Dorion from Living Soil Solutions.
For BIG GARDENS local shops like Crop Production Services (Formerly Evergrow) and UFA can supply you with great value bulk quantities


Garden soil, Compost, Compost Tea
Gaia Green Organic Fertilizer
Blue Grass Garden Centre
Bow Point Nursery
Living Soil Solutions
Crop Production Services

Living soil solutions
Living Soil Solutions soil


We love rainwater because it doesn’t contain chlorine which can be harmful to the biology in your soil. Also it’s free to save and use as you need it. Rainwater collected during a thunderstorm can also contain atmospheric nitrogen which helps plants grow.

(Length of building in feet) x (Width of building in feet) x 24.25 = Rainwater Capture in litres
EXAMPLE: 40’ x 28’ x 24.25 = 27,160 L of free water
The average annual rainfall in Calgary is 326mm. We account for 20% loss in this calculation. The number 24.25 is a constant used for Calgary’s precipitation and unit conversions.

Watering plants is an art as much as it’s a science.

Plant roots need air just as much as they need water – so let your soil dry between waterings
Long and slow watering allows the water to percolate to the roots while painting the top of the ground wet doesn’t work
If you are adding liquid organic fertilizers a little bit each time is better than a lot at once and NEVER fertilize a dry plant
It’s best to water in the morning or at night – Don’t water in the heat of the day
If you are watering while it’s sunny try not to hit the leaves as they can get damaged by the droplets magnifying the sun’s rays.
Try not to splash soil onto the leaves while watering
Get a good watering wand that breaks up the water and can reach into the garden

Learn more about Rainwater Harvesting from one of the global educators, Brad Lancaster. Or take a look at our rainwater harvesting services page

Rainwater Harvesting System
Rainwater Harvesting System

Perennial Versus Annual Plants

What are annual and perennial plants?

Annual plants complete its growth cycle from start to maturity then dies in one year. Tomatoes are annual plants as they die off in the fall. You then have to replant them the following growing season.
Perennial plants live for more than two years completing its growth cycle each year. Apple trees, Strawberries and Asparagus are perennial plants.

TIP: You can mix perennial and annual plants together to compliment your garden and spend less time each year planting food. Think of your chequing and savings account at your bank. Annuals = Chequings (quick food) Perennials = (long term lasting food)

Quick Growing Crops Versus Full Season

Think about the different timing of vegetables you plant and how they could be planted together or areas that can be replanted during the season for maximum growth.
Quick growing crop example: Lettuce = 30 days to grow
Long season crop example: Tomato = Full season
You could possibly replant your lettuce patch three times in a year (weather dependant), while tomatoes you will not replant at all.

TIP: Designate a quick crop area that you can always be replanting and disturbing. Another option is planting a quick growing crop with a long season crop to save space. Plant lettuce near your tomato plant and harvest your lettuce after 30 days to then allow your tomato to mature and grow into the space it needs.

For more information on intensive vegetable production, take a look at our long time mentor and friend Curtis Stone from the Urban Farmer. Curtis is a global leader in urban farming and teaching. 

Or learn more about Calgary’s local urban farming group, the YYC Growers.

SPIN-farming, high intensity production, Leaf Ninja urban farming
SPIN-farming, high intensity production

Harvest and Fall Growing

Fall is main time to reap your hard work and reward yourself with harvest! It’s the perfect time to share food with friends and partake in the work of collecting food, drying, preserving and storing.

Here’s a few considerations when thinking about storing and saving foods.

Herbs: Best way to dry your herbs is hanging them upside down to dry, then store in a dark glass jar in a cool dry place.
Root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets etc.): After harvest you can store them in a dark, dry cool place. For longest lasting food you can store them in buckets of sand, wood shavings or garden soil.
Garlic and onions can be stored hanging or in paper bags in a dark, dry cool place.
Unlikely your pumpkins or winter squash will turn that satisfying orange colour. This is because of our short growing season. If you’re one of these gardeners you can bring your green pumpkins indoor for a warm sunny location and watch the colour change!
Green Tomatoes: Make green salsa! If you don’t want to do this you can place your green tomatoes in a cardboard box with newspaper covering it and in a short amount of time you’ll notice the crop ripen to a beautiful red.

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Leaf Ninja back yard harvest

Planting in the Fall
Ever thought of planting vegetables when the season is over? Here’s what we love to plant in the fall when you think the garden might be shut down.

Be sure to do your research and taste test your food throughout the season. Go with what you like the best. Waiting too long may create undesirable tasting food.

Garlic: We have fantastic success planting garlic in the first two weeks of October and harvesting in July-August. Be sure to pick the seed head that appears early in the season. This is called a garlic scape. It is delicious to cook with. It also helps your bulb mature to a larger size.
Onions and bulbs: Plant mid October and reap your benefits in the summer.
Carrots: Experiment with planting carrots in the fall and watch them pop up in the spring. Be prepared to share with hungry squirrels and plant the gaps where someone has eaten the seeds or any failure in germination.
Spinach: Same as above, experiment and watch an early spring crop pop up for your eating. Note: Spinach grows best in the cooler months of our growing season. You’ll see low success trying to grow spinach mid summer and grow right to seed. The term is called “bolting”.

Easy Season Extension Techniques

Hoop House
A hoop house is just what the name suggests, a series of large hoops or bows — made of metal, plastic pipe or even wood — covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse plastic. The skin is stretched tight and fastened to baseboards with strips of wood, metal, wire.

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Low hoop house season extension – Mother Earth News
Low remay cloth hoop house

Cold frames
Providing a controlled warm and protected space in your garden for spring seeds will allow you to get a head start on your gardening season. Cold frames, made of lumber or hay bales and old windows or glass shower doors.

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Cold frame season extension – Mother Earth News
calgary gardening season extension, Staw bale cold frame - DIY, calgary leaf ninjas
Straw bale cold frame – DIY


Companion Planting

Some of the common plants, companions and antagonists.

Vegetables Companions Antagonists
Beans Potatoes, carrots, cucumbers Garlic, onion, chives
Beets Onion Pole beans
Carrots Peas, lettuce, chives, onions, rosemary, tomatoes Dill
Lettuce Carrots and radish, strawberries, onions  
Onions/ Garlic Beets, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, Peas, beans
Peas Carrots, Turnips, radish, beans Onions, Garlic, potatoes, chives
Peppers Basil  
Potatoes Beans, eggplant, horseradish Squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, tomatoes, raspberries, cucumbers
Pumpkin Corn Potatoes
Radish Peas, nasturtiums, lettuce  
Spinach Strawberries  
Sunflowers Cucumbers Potatoes
Tomatoes Chives, onions, asparagus, marigolds, carrots Potatoes, fennel, cabbage
Beans, bush Potatoes, cucumbers, strawberry Onions
Beans, pole Corn, sunflowers Onions, beets, cabbage
Companion planting
Companion planting

Micro-Greens – Food all year round

See full blog post on how to grow your own micro-greens here.

Leaf Ninjas Micro greens DIY
Leaf Ninja Indoor setup

Micro-greens are the first shoots of many common garden plants that can be grown easily and enjoyed in salads or in a stir-fry. The seeds can be saved from your garden so you can perpetually produce food.

Common micro-green seeds?

Materials to get started
Trays to grow in – draining is best
Soil or growing medium – sterilized potting mix is best
Seeds – Saved from the garden, old seeds, order from Mumm’s
Lights for growing in the winter time – T5, LED or other lights for growing

How to make micro magic happen
Micro-greens have to be the easiest food to produce out there period. The goal is to get a seed to start growing so you can eat it while it’s young. A rule of thumb is to harvest and eat the seedling once it has it’s first true leaves this is usually 4 leaves.

Steps to Growing
Soak the seeds in water for 24-48 hour to get them germinating
Prep the growing bed by spreading two inches of potting soil flat into your growing tray
Place the germinated seeds on top of the soil without overlapping seeds
Keep the seeds in a warm space and under strong light for at least 12h per day
Water when the try is nearly dry
Harvest in about a week after planting

Tips to improving your harvest
Get the light as close as you can – more intense light will keep the seedlings from growing long and spindly and improves the deep green colour and flavour.
Water with rainwater or dechlorinated water
Add worm castings into your growing mix to improve the soil biology.
Some species can be harvest and then put under light again for a second cut e.g. peas.

Great Calgary micro-green producer

Green Berry farms

Thank you to Telus Spark for inviting us out to share our experience and passions and to all the interested individuals who will use this information and share it with other. 

For further questions you can contact Leaf Ninjas on our Contact page for future needs, events, installations and consultation. 

Vision of Paradise, Force of Nature
Vision of Paradise, Force of Nature