Why the sky over Langley turned purple

Glenwood Valley Farms is experimenting with LED lighting to help grow vegetables

MONIQUE TAMMINGA

Times Reporter

A few months ago, the sky over Langley glowed purple.

The magenta glow showed up in the evening sky a number of evenings, leaving many residents wondering what was causing the curious phenomenon.

Many speculated it was an atmospheric event, others thought it was filming or even an alien invasion. The purple haze even made it on the six o’clock news, with meteorologists weighing in on what it could be.

The mysterious purple sky is actually caused by a greenhouse in south Langley, which uses LED lights to help grow their cucumbers.

“That’s us. The owner of Glenwood Valley Farms, Herb, is using a new LED lighting system to test out if he can do year-round growing,” said Glenwood Valley Farms sales representative Bernice Neff.

Under the LED lights are cucumbers, both long English and mini cucumbers, Neff said.

“It looks like Christmas lights all around the cucumbers,” she noted.

With the low cloud cover in March, the red and blue LED lights from the greenhouse spread through the sky in the evenings, creating that incredible purple haze.

Glenwood Valley Farms, which has been operating in south Langley for 30 years, initially growing peppers and cucumbers, and now with the addition of eggplant, is testing LED lighting, mainly using the colour spectrum of red and blue, to see if it will increase the growing season.

Victoria Surrage is part of the team running the light trials at Glenwood.

“The plants are more reactive to the red and blue spectrum of light,” said Surrage. “Different crops react to different light spectrums. So far, we’ve seen positive results. Theo owner, Herb Schlacht is very innovative and likes new technology so he has been experimenting with co-generation electricity production and LEDs for efficient lighting,” she said.

“It’s a very different and exciting growing strategy.”

Glenwood Valley Farms started the light trials in November within their 7.4 acres of greenhouses in the 2100 block of 208 Street. The hope with the LED lights is to be able to produce cucumbers throughout the winter.

As Surrage and another team member, Antonio Marvuglia, collect data and growing outcomes, they may try other spectrums of colours to determine which offer optimum growing conditions.

There are only a few greenhouses in B.C. testing LED lighting, said Surrage.

Traditional lighting in greenhouses is high pressure sodium lights (HPS) which produce a lot of heat . They also create that yellow glow people are used to seeing from greenhouses.

LEDs are more efficient, offering more light and less heat, allowing for the lights to be placed closer to the plants. Because of the mild climate, plants in the Fraser Valley don’t require high heat, Surrage explained.

Studies have been conducted on how different colours of lights can make plants more productive.

There is even some thought that the colour violet helps enhance the flavour of the plant and benefits the antioxidants inside the plant.

“It’s very exciting work. Certain colour spectrums can increase the nutritional benefits of a plant, change how it fruits, affect the plant’s hormones and chlorophyll intake.”

One study found that red spectrum of LED light increased the vitamin C content in tomatoes, for example.

In 2011, the Canadian government and GE Canada put money into a study at McGill University to study LED lighting on plant growth.

The LED experiment will be closely analyzed for years to come, in the hope this will be the way to grow, said Surrage.