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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara