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How to choose the best plant starts at the nursery

This post was first published as a guest post on the Bakerette.
choose the best plant starts
Growing season has arrived for most of us around the country.  Now is the time to get your vegetable and flower starts in the soil.  So here are a few tips to help you choose the best plant starts at your local nursery!
  • Choose the right store!  I avoid box store plants like the plague.  Instead find a local smaller nursery where the employees actually know how to care for seedlings and care about giving you the best product!
  • Find a local grower. Buy directly from the grower if you can.  If not then find a nursery that buys from a local grower.  You want plants that spent hours on a truck not days! (This is another reason I avoid box store nurseries)
  • Buy on the right day.  Ask your nursery when they get new deliveries and shop that day or the next when the selection of plants will be the best and freshest.  Come back often and be picky about what you buy, don’t just get something because its all they have!Watermelon Start
  • Where are the plants being displayed?  Flowers and veggie displays at the front of a store in full sun right next to the hot side walk are not going to be the best plants you can buy.  What does the store look like, is it well kept, are the plants watered well?
  • Look at the leaves of the plant not the flowers.  Nice dark green, healthy looking leaves are more Important than flowers.  In fact I prefer to buy flower plants without flowers.  A plant without flowers but instead with nice tight buds will end up being a much better choice.
  • Smaller compact plants will always be the better choice. This is especially true with vegetable starts. A nice small healthy plant will give you better results
  • Avoid any veggie starts that have flowers (including tomatoes). Flowers on a small vegetable plant often means the plant has been stressed and is trying to hurry and set seed.  Choose veggie starts that are small and compact without any flowers at all. (And never buy a tomato start that already has tomatoes!)Tomato Start
  • Watch out for tall leggy plants.  Many plants can recover from “legginess”, but they will spend weeks trying to compensate when they should be growing.
  • Look at the roots! Don’t be afraid to carefully remove the plant from its pot.  Look for signs of root damage, disease, or root bound plants.  If you pull a start from its container and find a tight clump of circling roots you should move on!  Another sign of a root bound plant is a start that is much larger than you would expect for the size of its pot.  A big plant in a small pot means its root bound. Root bound plants seldom do well and many never recover.Good RootsBad Roots
  • Look out for signs of bug damage or disease.  Be sure to check under the leaves for signs of aphids or other critters that you don’t want to be bringing home with you.  And never choose seedlings that have weeds growing in the pot!


Take your time, search for the best, don’t grab from the front.  Choose the best plant startsat the nursery.  A little extra time and effort spent at the nursery will pay big dividends later in your garden.

Monday Harvest Report – June 8, 2015

Monday June 8 2015

We had a beautiful week full of 70 degree temperatures!  Perfect growing weather for all our cool season veggies.


Look how much progress the broccoli made in only one week.  Last week when I wandered through the garden and took photos, there were no heads on the broccoli at all.  Now it looks like we may be only a couple of weeks away from our first harvest!!


Also many of the seeds we planted last Saturday are up and growing already!!  Including these cucumbers!!


We were able to harvest quite a bit this week.  The strawberries are on and ripening like crazy!  This picking was Saturdays and weighed in at a pound.  But earlier in the week we had a day where we picked 4 1/2 pounds of sweet juicy berries!!  Of course I forgot to take a photo.


The first of the peas were ready this week.  This year the snow peas were the first to be ready for picking.  If we can keep them way from the kids long enough we will try to freeze 1/2 of these.  But the kids love munching on snow peas as a snack so they won’t last long.  The shelling peas and sugar snap peas are almost ready, just another day or two.


And we finally have some lettuce ready again.  An early spring infestation of aphids took out all of our normal early harvest of lettuces.  The seeds and plants we put in after that are just finally starting to mature.

Not pictured was a big handful of Kale that we grabbed on Thursday night and put straight into that nights pasta dish.

Here’s our weekly total:
Kale – .25 lbs
Lettuce – 1.25 lbs
Strawberries – 5.5 lbs
Peas – .75 lbs
Total – 7.75 lbs

That brings our annual total to 40.32 lbs.  We are about 10 pounds less than we were last year at this time, but we are quickly catching up!!

Hey a quick note for my weekly readers!  I am running a special on all my video courses this week.  All three courses are 25% or more off for this week:

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I love selling these courses and we are getting more and more students each week.  Come join the great community of gardeners from all across the world who are taking my courses!!


From the Farm Hop – June 5, 2015

We had a beautiful week around our place.  Highs mostly in the low 80’s and high 70’s.  I could just see all the veggies in the garden soaking in the sun and growing!!


Here’s this weeks From the Farm Hop!!



It’s time for another round of From The Farm where we love to see your ideas on how to garden, homestead, or any DIY tips and tricks. Last Week’s Top 5 Favorites, as chosen by YOU:

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June 1, 2015 Garden Tour and Harvest Report

I haven’t done a harvest report for 3 weeks because there hasn’t been much happening in the garden other than rain!!  May was the wet-est I ever remember.  It rained for 3 weeks straight!  The garden never got a chance to dry out that entire time so we are way behind on planting!!  Finally Saturday we got a chance to get out and plant all of our starts, including a bunch of herbs, the tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, celery and some more lettuce.  But boy are we behind!  We usually have all those things planted by May 15th but it just wasn’t possible with the garden soaking wet.  We still have to get over to Leo’s and plant the borrowed garden space as well.


We have had a few harvests over the last 3 weeks.  The first and most exciting was this weeks first harvest of strawberries!  The plants are loaded so we are looking forward to a lot more to come!!


On Saturday I pulled up the last of the spinach, just a small basket of eatable leaves was all that was left.  But now we have room for to plant both the green beans and a new dry bean we are trying this year.


I also harvested this nice big bunch of green onions.  These were actually over wintered onions that came up volunteer this spring.  There was 3.5 pounds of them!  We are still eating last years Copra onions so we decided to share all of these with our neighbors.


Turnips are a new crop for us this year.  I just put in one short little row as an experiment.  We ended up with a little more than a pound, most are pretty small because I never got around to thinning them.  I also harvested the rest of the radishes on Saturday.  You can see most of these are past their prime, that’s another result of all the rain.  I couldn’t get through the mud to get these picked on time!!


The last harvest for this week was 4 small bunches of red raspberry leaves.


We’ve got them drying in the kitchen and they will be used in an herbal infusion that Valerie uses to help minimize some headache issues she has once in a while.

Now how about we take a quick tour around the garden so you can see where things are as of June 1st.  Dispite 3 weeks of rain that set back our warm weather crops, our cool weather crops have been loving it!!


The aphid problems we have been dealing with over the last 2 months have finally cleared up so I felt like I could take the row cover off the cabbage and broccoli.  The cabbage plants look really good and are starting to form heads.


The broccoli had out grown the row covers and are looking a little squished!!  I’m sure they will recover quickly and they too are just days away from seeing the first heads form.


Like I said we finally got the tomatoes planted over the weekend.  We will have 15 total plants this year plus 1 tomatilla.


I also took the walls of water off the two plants we put in in April and look what I found!!  This is a sun sugar cherry tomato.


The peas have loved the cool wet weather.  They are in full bloom now.


And peas are on the way soon!!


All of our early spring lettuce got ruined buy those aphids I was talking about earlier.  But these plants will be ready to harvest starting this week.  I put up a shade cloth to help keep the lettuce from going bitter because we are so far behind after having to replant.


Look at the cold frame potatoes!!  They have blossoms and look great!  They should be ready about the same time as the peas so we can have cream peas and potatoes!!


This is our experimental bed this year.  You will remember that our back door neighbors added a nice 8 foot wall on the south of our yard.  This bed is the closest to the wall and gets a ton of shade.  So I just planted a bunch of different things here to see what would do well.  So far the kale is winning, this red Russian doesn’t seem to mind the lack of sun.  This bed also has 3 different types of peas, kohlrabi, lettuce and even some carrots.


The garlic and onions also have done really well in the cool wet weather.  I think this is the best our onions have ever looked this early in the year.

Here’s are harvest totals for the last 3 weeks:
Spinach – 4.33 lbs
Strawberries – .33 lbs
Green Onions – 3.5 lbs
Radishes – 1 lbs
Turnips – 1.25 lbs
Raspberry leaves – .25 lbs
Total – 10.66 lbs

That gives us an annual total of 32.50 pounds.  Not too bad but it’s about 15 pounds behind last year and that is mainly because we haven’t had much lettuce to harvest this year.

I will be sharing this post on several blog hops this week, including the following:

The Monday Harvest Report
Good Morning Monday
Misadventure Monday
The Tuesday Garden Party

From the Farm Hop – May 29, 2015

The last 3 weeks we have had the most rain I ever remember having!!  Not that I’m complaining because we had a very dry winter, but holy cow!!  It has rained at least a little every day for 3 weeks and a lot most days.  That means the garden is way behind!!  It’s the end of May and I still don’t have my tomatoes or corn planted!!  Yikes.  It’s supposed to dry out over the weekend so hopefully I can get the rest of the garden planted!!


Here’s some good garden news!!  Our first strawberry harvest of the year!  Yeah!!


It’s time for another round of From The Farm where we love to see your ideas on how to garden, homestead, or any DIY tips and tricks. Last Week’s Top 5 Favorites, as chosen by YOU:

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Growing potatoes using the Hilling Method

Growing Potatoes Using the hilling method

Home grown potatoes are the best!! Why?  There are several reasons you should be growing potatoes in your garden: First, like most veggies, the home grown version of potatoes just taste better!! Second, having grown up in Southern Idaho and working for a potato farmer I know what they do to commercially grown potatoes. The fields are drenched in fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. Then after harvest they are treated again with chemicals to keep them from sprouting and for longer storage. Commercially grown potatoes are almost literally dripping with chemicals! Third, did you know there are over 100 varieties of potatoes that you can grow, but all the potatoes you can get in the grocery store are limited to about 5 varieties. If you only buy your potatoes at the grocery store you are missing out on tons of other tasty options.

Hopefully I have you sold on the idea of growing potatoes, now lets talk about how I grow mine.  There are several different methods for growing potatoes. Containers, towers, straw mulch, etc., I have tried them all over the years. But the method I have landed on as being the most successful for our garden is the hilling method. It takes a little bit more work and planning but over all has been a very successful method for growing potatoes for us. So let’s break it down for you.

Types of potatoes

Growing Potatoes types

The first thing you need to do is choose the type of potato to grow.  There are several different types of potatoes, do some homework before you choose the types you plant. We love red potatoes and usually about 80% of what we grow are the variety Red Pontiac. Red potatoes are creamy and delicious and are perfect for mashed potatoes and casseroles, but in my opinion are not nearly as good baked. So we always grow some type of russet potato as well as these are better suited for baking. There are purple, blue, white, red, pink, cream and brown skinned potatoes. Fingerling potatoes are small longer potatoes that are great roasted, but they are small so they would be a nightmare to peel for other uses. Spend some time on the Internet learning about all the different types of potatoes before you decide on what you want to try. Then look locally at your garden stores before you order on-line. Often ordering potatoes on-line or from a catalog can be very pricey so its always better to find them locally to avoid shipping costs if you can.

Planting times

Most potatoes need between 90 to 120 days to mature. So be sure you know what you are planting before you get started. I plant my potatoes twice during the year. Once early in the spring (around March 15th) under the protection of a cold frame or hoop house. These potatoes are meant mainly to be “early” potatoes for us to eat with our peas as Cream Peas and Potatoes. To learn more about this method check out my post on Growing Early Potatoes.

My second planting of potatoes comes between May 15th and June 1st. This planting is meant to be our main crop of potatoes and the planting is timed so that the growing potatoes are fully mature and ready to harvest in Mid September.

Chitting your potatoes

Growing Potatoes chitting

Potatoes will come up a lot faster after planting if you plant seed that has been chitted first. Chitting (or sprouting) is simply allowing your potatoes to grow small sprouts from the eyes before you plant them. Simply place them in a warm spot for a week or two before planting and let those sprouts grow. BUT, you want to be sure you get them in the ground before the sprouts are much longer than one or two inches. It you allow the sprouts to grow longer than that you risk them breaking off when planted and the plants will produce an inferior crop.

Cutting Potato Seed

Seed potatoes come in all different sizes. The smaller ones (those around golf ball sized or slightly bigger) will just get planted whole. But I like to cut up the larger potatoes. Just use a sharp knife and cut the potato into two or even 3 pieces. The key is to be sure that there are at least 3 eyes in each piece.

Growing Potatoes Cutting

There is some debate about weather cutting seed potatoes encourages disease problems. In my experience I have found no problems with disease on cut seed vs. uncut. If you live in an area with many prevalent potato diseases then you might want to consider not cutting your seed, but for us it is not an issue.

Planting for the Hill Method

To get the potato seed planted I simply dig a 4 to 6 inch deep trench. In the bottom of this trench I add a an inch of compost and mix it in with the soil at the bottom. I then plant the seed potato with the cut end down, the eyes facing upward. If you are planting a seed potato that hasn’t been cut then you should put the portion of the potato with the most eye’s facing up. For main crop potatoes I like to space the seed about every 12 inches. If I’m only looking to get small early potatoes then I may plant as close as 6 inches.

Growing Potatoes trench

Then I cover the potatoes with about 1 to 2 inches of soil but I do not completely fill in the trench at this time!

Hilling the potatoes

So first off why do I hill my potatoes? Potatoes are actually a swollen portion of the stem of the potato plant, not part of the root. So the more under ground stem a potato plant has the more potatoes it will grow.

Growing Potatoes Sprouts

So here’s the idea, as soon as you see the first green leaves come up from the emerging potato plant you cover it up again.

Growing Potatoes cover

Then as the plant grows out of the soil again you cover it again.

Growing Potatoes Hills

Once the trench is filled back up I then take soil from the surrounding area and mound or “hill” around the potato plants.

Growing Potatoes Hills

I do this every week for 2 or 3 more times. By the time I’m finished the hills will be around 12 to 15 inches high. Then I let them grow!


Growing Potatoes Flowers

These pretty pink or white flowers on the potato plants indicated that tuber formation is starting. Once I see the flowers I know there are potatoes in the ground and I make sure to keep soil mounded up and all the growing potatoes covered. An uncovered potato exposed to the sunlight will turn green. A green potato is actually mildly poisonous so be sure not to feed green potatoes or skins to your chickens or other small animals. But it is easy to prevent green potatoes by simply checking your plants once a week to be sure there are no potatoes that have risen to the surface.

If you would like some small early potatoes wait a week or two after you see the first flowers on your spuds and then carefully dig around the plant with your hand and steal a few small potatoes leaving the rest to fully mature.

Growing Potatoes tops

You know time to harvest your mature potatoes has come when the green “tops” of the plants die back. The foliage will turn mostly brown or yellow. I try to keep my potatoes in the ground for as long as I can in the fall. I figure the longer they are in the ground the less time I have to store them inside. But you do need to be careful get them out of the ground before the new potatoes start sprouting and trying grow new plants. Also be careful not to leave mature potatoes in wet soil as they can often rot! A good practice is once the tops have mostly died back start digging a plant up every few days to see what condition the potatoes are in.

One author I read suggested cutting all the foliage off once it has turned yellow, watering and then waiting 10 days to harvest the potatoes. This gives the growing potatoes a chance to harden a bit before you dig them up. That is basically what I do, other than I usually don’t bother actually cutting the tops away.

To harvest simply use a digging fork to gently lift the growing potatoes from the soil. Be careful to start digging quite a ways back from the plant so that you don’t skewer a potato with your digging fork or shovel.

Storing potatoes

Growing Potatoes table

After harvesting my potatoes I like to bring them into our garage and carefully spread them out on a table for a few days to allow the dirt on them to dry. I then very gently brush off any remaining dirt by simply rolling the potatoes in my hand. I then let them sit in the dark garage for a few more days to allow the skins to “harden” for long term storage. Be sure that you do not leave the potatoes outside in the sun to harden. Sunlight (or any light for that matter) will cause your potatoes to go green. The only way to prevent this is to keep them out of the light (even the artificial light of your garage)

After hardening (some times up to 10 days) I usually sort my potatoes by size, small medium and large. While I’m doing that I look carefully at each potato looking for any damage or “bad” spots on the potatoes. Any potatoes that are sub par go right into the fridge to be used up right way. All the good potatoes get stored by size in an airy crate or basket. The small potatoes are used for roasts, stews and other recipes where the potatoes don’t need to be peeled (we try to use these up fairly quickly as the longer they store the tougher the skins get and peeling a little potato is a pain in the neck!!) The medium sized potatoes are used for mashed potatoes and in casseroles. We save the big potatoes for baking and for homemade French fries!!

Growing Potatoes storage

Air flow is important to prevent mold or rotting. Keep your potatoes in a cool dark spot. Of course a fridge is ideal but if you are like us you just don’t have room for 250 pounds of potatoes in your fridge. So try a cool spot in your basement or garage, but be sure to keep them out of the light by covering them with a heavy fabric like burlap that keeps the light out but still allows for air flow.

Optimum conditions for potato storage would be a nice dark root cellar where the temperature stays between 40 and 45 degrees (but always above freezing). Most of us don’t have that option but try to come as close as you can. Think about cool spots in the garage or maybe you could even create a mini root cellar in an out of the way window well. (This is our plan for this fall, more to come on that as we try it!)

Under those perfect conditions potatoes could last all winter, but more likely they will store around 3 or 4 months. So for us that means once most of the fresh produce is gone from the garden in the late fall we get busy eating potatoes. We are sure to check every time we get potatoes and take any that may be going bad or sprouting first. With a little bit of management we are usually finishing up the last of our potatoes around the end of January each year.

From the Farm Hop – May 22, 2015

Well it’s Friday again.  Time for the from the farm hop!!

It’s time for another round of From The Farm where we love to see your ideas on how to garden, homestead, or any DIY tips and tricks. Last Week’s Top 5 Favorites, as chosen by YOU:

Congratulations! Grab your button and display it on your blog!



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Scroll Down for this week’s Party!


Warmly,Your From the Farm Blog Hop Co-Hosts: The Homesteading Hippy | Lil’ Suburban Homestead | The Homestead Lady | Once Upon A Time in A Bed of Wildflowers | Lone Star Farmstead |Stony Acres
|Lady and The Carpenter


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