Category Archives: Grow With Niagara

Follow our progress: White Oaks Project – Part 6

Click to view previous posts: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 & Part 5

Welcome to our garden! We are Meghan & Mackenzie, a Research Associate and a Research Assistant from the Niagara College Agriculture & Environment Research and Innovation Centre. In May of 2016, we started a project in conjunction with White Oaks to turn about 4,000 square feet of scrubby, rocky, roadside turf into a lush, sustainable garden capable of supplying a small farm-to-table restaurant. Impossible? Watch and find out!

Pest Problems

Whether you are growing organically or conventionally, pest control is a major concern when it comes to maintaining the health of your plants. Pests can be anything from a minor nuisance to a major blight on your crop, and they can affect both the quality and quantity of your harvest. Knowing what pests you are likely to encounter and how to control them is vital skill to being a successful grower. With this in mind, we thought it would be best to offer a short listing of the pests we have encountered the most in our garden at White Oaks, and how we dealt with them.

Cabbage Loopers

Cabbage Loopers; Most butterflies are very beneficial to your garden as pollinators, and can be very beautiful, however there is a member of the butterfly family that is a scourge upon cabbage/kale growers throughout Ontario. Pieris rapae or the small white is a species of butterfly originally native throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa, that was accidentally introduced to North America, Australia, and New Zealand, earning it the name Imported Cabbage Looper.

Small White - Male

Photo Source

Like the name implies, it is a small creamy-white butterfly with brown or black marking on the tips of its wings. The adult butterfly is a harmless pollinator, but its larvae voraciously devour any members of the brassica family, including cabbage and kale. Appearing in late spring, females commonly lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of host plants. Eggs are small yellowish cylinders that are rounded on the top, and are ribbed along the sides. The caterpillars eat irregular holes in the membranes of the leaves between the leaf veins, and in cabbage will typically eat their way towards the heart where the plant is most tender.

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 Example of caterpillar damage on kale.

Cabbage loopers can be controlled in one of two ways; either by physically removing any caterpillars and eggs you see, or by an application of BT (bacillus thuringiensis). BT is a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil that has insecticidal properties, is food-safe, and approved for organic production, and it can be found in most large hardware/home improvement stores. The best way to apply BT is to mix it with water in a spray bottle (following the instructions on the label in regards to proportions) and mix in a couple drops of unscented liquid dish soap (we used Dawn). The dish soap helps the mixture disperse more evenly across the leaves and to stick to the leaves providing better coverage. BT products are easily degraded by harsh sunlight, so early mornings are the best times for an application.

Aphids

Aphids are some of the most common pests gardeners deal with, and controlling them can seem very difficult for those who don’t know how. Aphids reproduce extremely quickly, and a small infestation can very quickly turn into a massive one if left unattended, so the most important factor for controlling aphids is to realize you have aphids before they become a serious problem. Larger populations can still be dealt with, however it’s always easier to control pests when there are less of them, so try to spend at least 20 minutes each day looking through your garden throughout the early spring and into summer.

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Photo Source

Aphids are what is called a soft-bodied insect, meaning they don’t have a hard exoskeleton like most insects do. This means that aphids are very susceptible to sprays like insecticidal soaps and alcohols. We had a small infestation of aphids on one of our tomato plants which with dealt with by mixing a small amount of rubbing alcohol into insecticidal soap and spraying the mixture onto the aphids. If using this method try to spray early in the morning without intense sunlight, or on an overcast day, as the alcohol will cause your plants to dry out a little, and that combined with a full day of harsh sunlight could cause damage to your crop.

Keep up to date on Meghan & Mackenzie’s progress by following http://growwithniagara.tumblr.com/ and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara

Follow our progress: White Oaks Project – Part 5

Click to view previous posts: Part 1Part 2Part 3 & Part 4

Welcome to our garden! We are Meghan & Mackenzie, a Research Associate and a Research Assistant from the Niagara College Agriculture & Environment Research and Innovation Centre. In May of 2016, we started a project in conjunction with White Oaks to turn about 4,000 square feet of scrubby, rocky, roadside turf into a lush, sustainable garden capable of supplying a small farm-to-table restaurant. Impossible? Watch and find out!

The Compost Post

Compost

Since sustainability was one of the defining goals of the White Oaks project, we determined to use only organic methods of crop production. This means no artificial fertilizers or additives, no pesticides, and it meant we would need a soil that met our plants nutritional needs. When growing organically, soil nutrition is key, and soil nutrition is inexorably tied to soil microbiology. Organic methods of fertilizer can be very effective, but organic compounds have very large chemical structures, so for plants to take up these nutrients they need to first be broken down into smaller compounds, which is where the microbes come in. These tiny organisms consume the larger organic compounds, breaking them into “smaller” pieces that can be taken up by the plants, so without healthy microbial populations in a soil the nutrients will often remain inaccessible to your plants. Enter compost and compost tea, two phenomenal tools for improving the nutrient and microbe contents of your soil. For those who don’t know, compost is a loamy soil like substance made from broken down organic matter. Compost tea is water that has been allowed to ferment with compost, creating a liquid brimming with microbes. Compost is mixed in with your soil, and the Tea can be mixed with water and applied like a liquid fertilizer, or sprayed on leaves to act as an anti-fungal agent. We have been making regular applications of compost tea made by a Niagara College professor Bill Macdonald and amending our gardens soil with compost made by our Professor Tanya Blankenburg to constantly improve the soil we are growing in, which will greatly improve the health of our plants.

A Bee or not a Bee?

That is the question.

One of the most common misconceptions we experience in this line of work is the difference between wasps and bees. It’s reasonable to be wary of bees, especially for people who are allergic to their sting. However, most people who claim to fear or hate bees after being stung have actually had a run-in with a wasp. Here’s how you can tell the difference:

HoneyBee1

This is a honeybee. They have broad, furry bodies with thick legs and they make a distinct buzzing sound as they travel from flower to flower. Honeybees dutifully collect nectar and pollen to feed their hive, and are largely responsible for the pollination of many crops and wild plants. They are generally docile while foraging and will rarely sting unless they happen to be stepped on or otherwise mishandled. Honey bees will aggressively defend their hive if you are unfortunate enough to stumble across it, but otherwise a little caution and courtesy will go a long way in preventing mishaps.

Wasp2

This is a yellow jacket wasp. They are hairless with long legs and narrow waists. These wasps have a proboscis for feeding on nectar as well as strong mandibles for eating other insects and meat. Wasps are extremely defensive of their nests and often build them in nooks and crannies around homes and back yards, making you much more likely to encounter them. Unlike honey bees, wasps are capable of stinging multiple times. Their varied diet can make them attracted to those dining outdoors, increasing the chance that they will become a nuisance. You may wish to eliminate any nests near your home for your own safety, but wasps are important predators of other garden pests and deserve a healthy respect.

Regardless of which of these insects you encounter, the best thing you can do is stay calm and move slowly. They are most likely just trying to go about their day. Click HERE for more tips on avoiding sticky situations with bees.

Keep up to date on Meghan & Mackenzie’s progress by following http://growwithniagara.tumblr.com/ and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara

Follow our progress: White Oaks Project – Part 4

Click to view previous posts: Part 1Part 2 & Part 3

Welcome to our garden! We are Meghan & Mackenzie, a Research Associate and a Research Assistant from the Niagara College Agriculture & Environment Research and Innovation Centre. In May of 2016, we started a project in conjunction with White Oaks to turn about 4,000 square feet of scrubby, rocky, roadside turf into a lush, sustainable garden capable of supplying a small farm-to-table restaurant. Impossible? Watch and find out!

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Dirty Deeds

For the sake of research (and curiosity) we decided to take samples of the site’s existing soil and send it off for analysis. Aside from wanting to know what nutrients the soil contained, we were also concerned if there were any harmful contaminants that had drifted in off the road.

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The biggest challenge we faced was collecting enough soil for sampling. The auger we used is capable of drilling to a depth of six inches, but with the rocky consistency of our soil we could barely manage to get down two inches.

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This is what our sample looked like after we sifted out the rocks, leaving us with less than 50 percent of the original mass. We sent this off to Agri-Food Laboratories and a few weeks later we received our results. We were rather surprised at how unsurprising the results were. Salt content was high, which we expected as the site is sandwiched between a road and a parking lot subject to Canadian winters. Calcium and magnesium levels were above average, but that is typical of Ontario topsoil. We were also relieved to know that the presence of heavy metals was well below dangerous thresholds. We plan on doing another soil test sampled from below our garden beds to observe how the results change.

Tomato, Tomahto

Regardless of what you call them, tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown garden crops. We’ve included them in our research garden as well, but we wanted to stay away from the typical big red beefsteaks and patio-pot cherries. Enter Linda Crago of Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm. Linda grows hundreds of heirlooms varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and beans. All of her tomatoes are open pollination, meaning you can save their seeds and grow the same variety again next year. We focused on smaller fruits with interesting colours and bold flavours that will make a big impression when they’re on the plate.

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These are Siberian Speckled tomatoes. They retain those lovely dark green spots as the rest of the flesh ripens to red. The damage you see at the top of the tomato occurs when the plant takes up a large volume of water after a dry spell, causing the fruit to split. Splitting is generally a cosmetic issue and doesn’t affect the edibility of your tomatoes.

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The Tiger Toms pictured above won’t grow quite as large as the Siberian Speckled, but they will develop a beautiful red colour with orange and yellow stripes. We can’t wait to see how these babies ripen up.

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Another interesting variety are these Osu Blue tomatoes. Wherever the sunlight hits their skin they develop a gorgeous purple ‘tan’. When the fruits are fully ripe the inner flesh will be the typical tomato red.

If you’re interested in growing some unusual (and delicious!) tomatoes in your own garden, head on down to Tree and Twig and pay Linda a visit.

Keep up to date on Meghan & Mackenzie’s progress by following http://growwithniagara.tumblr.com/ and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara

Follow our progress: White Oaks Project – Part 3

Check out Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.

Welcome to our garden! We are Meghan & Mackenzie, a Research Associate and a Research Assistant from the Niagara College Agriculture & Environment Research and Innovation Centre. In May of 2016, we started a project in conjunction with White Oaks to turn about 4,000 square feet of scrubby, rocky, roadside turf into a lush, sustainable garden capable of supplying a small farm-to-table restaurant. Impossible? Watch and find out!

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Irrigation system installed!

Now that we have our irrigation system installed, and the mulch and soil laid out, we can start planting! Thank you to the fine people at Greenscapes Irrigation for the installation!

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Time to Start Planting!

With the garden built, the mulch paths laid out, and the irrigation installed, we have everything we need to start planting! The first day of planting included: Tomatoes, Okra, Artichokes, Shiso, Anise Hissop, Sunflowers, Kale, Carrots, Marigolds, Eggplants, Nasturtium, Cock’s Comb, and Tomatillos. More plants to follow!

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Perspective

It’s been suggested that plants will grow better if you sing to them or play some pleasant music. These little bean sprouts seem to be doing just fine with their semi truck serenade! We will be sowing another batch of beans every ten days or so to ensure a steady harvest.

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Irrigation

This is what happens when you have too much of a good thing. After a few weeks of running our irrigation system, we started to notice that our mulch was retaining a lot of water despite the hot, dry, and windy conditions. (Thankfully the wonderful folks over at Greenscapes Irrigation came to dial it down as soon as we reported the problem.)

Aside from the obvious issue of turning our workplace into a marsh, too much irrigation can also make for lazy plants. When surface water is readily available, roots don’t need to dive down deep in search of moisture. If the water supply dries up suddenly, the plants lack the ability to draw water from deeper in the ground and can suffer damage as a result. Small seedlings such as the carrots shown above will need a little extra love until they have established, but don’t spoil them too much! A strong root system is key in producing prime produce.

Keep up to date on Meghan & Mackenzie’s progress by following http://growwithniagara.tumblr.com/ and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara

Follow our progress: White Oaks Project – Part 2

Click HERE to get caught up to date with Part 1.

Welcome to our garden! We are Meghan & Mackenzie, a Research Associate and a Research Assistant from the Niagara College Agriculture & Environment Research and Innovation Centre. In May of 2016, we started a project in conjunction with White Oaks to turn about 4,000 square feet of scrubby, rocky, roadside turf into a lush, sustainable garden capable of supplying a small farm-to-table restaurant. Impossible? Watch and find out!

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This was the first of three truckloads filled with dark, fluffy soil. Over the next few days we laid paper to smother weeds, topped it with soil, and built each bed up to the correct depth. The hardest part of this process wasn’t the seemingly endless shovelling and running of wheelbarrows to and fro, but trying to keep the paper on the ground while the gusting wind did its best to turn each strip into a kite. The end result was 1,280 square feet of growing space at an 8 inch depth, using approximately 30 cubic yards of soil in the process.

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After laying out the soil we put down a layer of mulch surrounding the garden beds.This fluffy pine based mulch was laid over paper sheets like the soil, and will serve as walkways around the beds while suppressing weeds.

Keep up to date on Meghan & Mackenzie’s progress by following http://growwithniagara.tumblr.com/ and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara

 

Follow our progress: White Oaks Project blog now live

Welcome to our garden! We are Meghan & Mackenzie, a Research Associate and a Research Assistant from the Niagara College Agriculture & Environment Research and Innovation Centre. In May of 2016, we started a project in conjunction with White Oaks to turn about 4,000 square feet of scrubby, rocky, roadside turf into a lush, sustainable garden capable of supplying a small farm-to-table restaurant. Impossible? Watch and find out!

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Here’s the site we were given for our garden. It’s not what one would usually consider an ideal location: it’s near a major highway and across from a huge outlet mall, resulting in endless traffic. Taylor Road originally ran right beneath where the garden now lies, leaving only a shallow layer of dense, near-dead dirt that was more stone than soil. Scruffy grass and stubborn weeds barely managed to eke out an existence on this barren stretch – how were we supposed to grow vegetables? The answer was surprisingly simple: We rejected that reality and substituted our own.

Keep up to date on Meghan & Mackenzie’s progress by following http://growwithniagara.tumblr.com/ and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara