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


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:


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.


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 and by using the hashtag #growwithniagara