How to know When to Pick Your Peaches

August means the arrival of peach season.  This post and video will help you know when to pick your peaches.

When to pick your peaches

This post contains affiliate links, clicking on them with not cost you any thing extra, but does allow Stoney Acres to make a small commission on your purchase through the Amazon Affiliate Program!

I love August!  All of the summer garden bounty really starts to kick in and there is so much good stuff to eat from the garden!  My favorite is fresh peaches!  The arrival of mid August signals the start of peach season in our area.  The earliest varieties are usually ready beginning around the 10th to 15th.  When I first started growing peaches I always struggled with when to pick your peaches.  I thought a post on the topic and a video might help those of you that still struggle a bit to know when to pick your peaches.

 

I filmed a video last week when it was time to start picking our peaches, I hope it helps!

For those of you that prefer a written description here are the 5 signs that will help you know when to pick your peaches:

Color

For most of their growing life peaches are a green/yellow color.  In the last few weeks before your peaches are ready you will start to see some drastic changes in the color of your peaches (along with a big increase in size).  You will start to see the color change from green to yellow then to orange.  Depending on the variety you are growing that orange color will deepen and maybe even redden as the peach gets ready to pick.

When to pick your peaches

As you start to see these color changes it is the first sign of when to pick your peaches.

Smell

Next you will start to notice a nice peach smell around your tree.  This is very variety dependent, some trees will get a very strong peach smell, while others you may need to put your nose right up to the fruit to smell the peach flavor!

Touch

The final indicator of when to pick your peaches is touch.  Before you peaches have started to ripen be sure to take a minute and feel the unripe fruit.  It will be almost rock hard with not give at all to the flesh.  As peaches approach their final ripeness you will start to notice the flesh “gives” to gentle pressure.  Squeeze the fruit gently with your fingers and if the flesh gives and feels soft under that pressure the fruit is ready to pick.  Pay particular attention to the top of the peach where it attaches to the tree.  If this area is soft the peach is ready.

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Birds

Birds love ripe fruit, so if you see the birds becoming interested in your tree you know the fruit is about ready.  Be sure to get some Bird Netting on your tree right away to protect your fruit and start checking daily for ripeness!

Time of year

Baring some major weird weather in the spring (think extra early or extra late spring). The fruit on your peach tree should be ready about the same time each year!  Our tree is ready between August 4th to at the latest the 15th, like clock work every year!  So keep track of your picking date from year to year and that will give you a big indication of when to pick your peaches.

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What if you mess up?

Peaches are very forgiving!  If you pick them too soon and once you eat the first one it is still firm and not sweet then you can simply set your fruit out on the counter in a single layer and let them ripen!  They may not be quite as sweet as the could be if allowed to ripen on the tree, but they will still turn out great!

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Why I HATE volunteer plants in my garden!

Volunteer plants in the garden are just glorified weeds.  Read this post to see why I HATE volunteer plants in my garden.

Why I HATE volunteer plants

Why I hate Volunteer Plants in My Garden

Pay close attention as you read this post.  There will be a test at the end!

I know I’m going to make some people mad with this post!  I see post all the time on social media where folks are all happy and proud of the volunteer veggie plants growing in their garden. But I HATE volunteer plants in my garden!  Here’s why:

Volunteer plants are Just Weeds

My favorite definition of a weed is “Weeds are just plants of out place”.  That may very well be true and if it is true then Volunteer Veggie plants are JUST WEEDS!

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Volunteer plants are not “free plants” they are not “bonus plants”, they are weeds.  If I didn’t intend to have that plant growing in that spot then it doesn’t belong there and by definition its a WEED!  and it needs to be pulled!

I am the husbandman of my little garden and as much as possible I want to be in charge.  Of course I want to work with nature and grow organically.  There are many things about nature I can’t control (Pests, Weather, etc).  But where I put my plants is under my control and if I didn’t put it there then it is a weed!

Volunteer Plants Promote poor crop rotation

Quite often (nut not always) volunteer plants come up in the same spot (or close to it) as the parent plant was growing the year before.  By letting a volunteer plant grow in the same spot as it’s parent did you deplete the soil of nutrients and encourage disease build up and pest problems.

Any spot in your garden shouldn’t see the same family of plants for at least 4 years.  Letting volunteers grow breaks that rule.

Unfair Competition

Let’s say for example I plant carrots in a spot where latter a volunteer tomato plant comes up.  If I let the tomato grow it will shade the growing carrots and it’s roots will rob space, water and nutrients from the carrots.

Hmmmm . . . . does that sound familiar?  Yep, that sounds just like what a WEED does!!

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You never know what your going to get

Even if you only grow heirloom or open pollinated plants, cross pollination will happen!  Cucumbers cross with zucchini, butternut squash crosses with pumpkins, two different types of tomatoes will cross with each other, etc.  That volunteer squash plant could easily be a pumpkinini, or a buttercumber or some other type of FREAK!

And don’t even get me started on hybrid plants!  You have know idea what you are going to get with volunteer plants from hybrids!

Why waste time, space and water on something that may not even produce a viable (or tasty) fruit?  Again, it’s a WEED, pull it!

Quiz about volunteer plants

Okay here’s the test I promised:

#1 – Volunteer plants are _____________????

Answer:  WEEDS!

#2 – What should you do with volunteer plants in my garden?

Answer:  Pull them, Burn them, feed them to your chickens, just don’t waste space on them in your garden!

Alright!  Let me have it!  Give me your reasons why you agree or disagree with my view of volunteer plants.  Leave your comments below!

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Homegrown and Handmade Book Review & Giveaway!

Homegrown and Handmade Book Review & Giveaway!

Homegrown and Handmade Cover Art

I’ve been given a fun opportunity to review the new edition of the book Homegrown and Handmade by Deborah Niemann.  This book was first published in 2011 and the author just released a revised version of the book this month.  And along with the release there is a fun giveaway that will get you a copy of the book and some other fun items!! (more about that later).

Homegrown and Handmade By Deborah Niemann

All I can say is what a great book!!

Deborah, the author, and her family are living every budding homesteaders dream on a beautiful 32 acre rural farm.  They grow a beautiful garden and orchard.  They also raise all their own meat from various farm animals.

This book covers all the traditional homesteading topics but in a very engaging and visual way.  It is full of practical examples and beautiful photos that will get you started on your own homesteading journey.  I really love the practical advice Deborah gives on a broad range of topics, from growing tomatoes to raising a milk cow, she covers it all!  But she has also filled the book with a ton of advice for those of us that don’t live on a “homestead”.  So much of this book will help even folks like me who live in the city but want to grow a garden and raise a few chickens to help provide for your families food needs!

This books has sections on the following topics:

Growing a Sustainable Garden and Orchard

Of course this is my favorite section of the book!  This is a great section to learn more about growing your own food in a very sustainable way.  I love how she includes hints on both food preservation and recipes for using your garden bounty!

The Backyard Poultry Flock

Lots of great info in this section on raising your own poultry for both meat and eggs.  You will learn about chickens, ducks and even turkeys!

The Home Dairy

Learn about cows, goats, sheep and more in this section.  And learn how to use what you produce by making butter, yogurt, cheese and even soaps!

Home Grown Pork

Here Deborah teaches you about raising your own pigs; learn about breeding, fencing, care and more.

Homegrown Sweeteners

Honey and maple syrup are the topics of this section.  I see a beehive in my future!

Home Fiber Flock

Here you can learn about raising your own animals for fiber.  Rabbits, sheep, goats and Llamas can all be used to make your own cloth!

Homegrown Business

The last section of the book teaches you how to take you homesteading skills and turn them into a business to further help support your family!

 

I have to say I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad to have it as part of my library!  You can buy it directly from the publisher by following this link or you can also find it on Amazon!

 

Get a copy of this book and $60 in other gifts!

As part of the celebration around this latest addition of Homegrown and Handmade we are having a giveaway.  The $100 prize package includes the following:

One winner will receive:

Enter to win in the rafflecopter widget below. Log in with your name and email or Facebook account, complete the mandatory entry method to unlock optional entry forms as well.

Giveaway will close August 31st, 11:59pm and the winner will be emailed the following day. Winners should respond within 48 hours or a new winner will be contacted. Open to US residents 18 years of age and older.

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If you would like to help me spread the word about this giveaway you can pin this image below and share it with your friends!
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I hope you enjoy the book!!

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Over Wintering Spinach – 8 months of harvests

Over wintering spinach is a great way to have an extra early and very productive spring crop. If planted at the right time and given some protection you will also have leaves to harvest in the fall and all winter long.

Over Wintering Spinach #1

This post contains affiliate links, clicking on them with not cost you any thing extra, but does allow Stoney Acres to make a small commission on your purchase through the Amazon Affiliate Program!

This was my harvest on February 10th this year. No I don’t live is southern California or some zone 9 mecca. We live in a cold Zone 6 almost zone 5 garden. Although we don’t have winters as cold as some, we do have tons of snow and very cold temps all winter long.

Over Wintering Spinach

Spinach is a very hardy winter green. Even those of you that live in Zones 3 and 4 can have a successful winter crop by over wintering spinach.

Planing Time for Over Wintering Spinach

To be successful at over wintering spinach you need to get started in early fall or late summer.

The first key for over wintering spinach is to get your seeds planted 6 to 8 weeks before your average first frost in the fall. For us that planting date is August 1st. Your date will be different base on that average first frost date. The newly planted seeds will need some extra care if your weather that time if year is hot. Be sure to water often (probably daily till the seeds are up and strong) and also offer extra protection from pests by covering your bed with a light weight fabric row cover.

Adding Protection from the Cold

The second key to over wintering spinach is to have some type of protection from the cold of winter. I recommend a cold frame if you live in zones 6 or colder. Those of you in zones 7 and warmer should be able to get away with just a hoop house. Either way you will need to think about getting that protection out around the time your first frost arrives in the fall.

Over Wintering Spinach #2

If you live in zones 6 or below I would also recommend adding a second layer of protection inside your cold frame. You do this by adding a piece of heavy fabric row cover to your cold frame once your night time temperatures drop to between 20 to 25 degrees. You will just leave that row cover in place until the temps warm back up and the longer days (more than 10 1\2 hours) arrive in the spring.

Harvest time Starts in Late Fall

One of the benefits of over wintering spinach is that your harvest begins in the fall and continues all winter and into the spring! You should have a decent harvest starting about 75 days after planting. That harvest will slow during the winter, but you should be able to harvest a salads worth of leaves every couple of weeks.

Over Wintering Spinach #3

Once spring arrives the growth of the plants will really take off and you should have a fantastic harvest starting in early spring and lasting until your spinach plants finally bolt and go to seed in mid to late spring. Not only will you have an extra early harvest but that harvest will also be very heavy because the plants are so mature early in the spring.

We have found that over wintering spinach is the most productive method for growing spinach. The continual harvest of leaves for over a 6-8 month time frame is a great addition of fresh veggies to our winter and spring diet.

Over Wintering Spinach #4

Remember that the keys to a great crop is planting 60 days before your first fall frost and having a cold frame or hoop house to protect the crop during the cold winter months.

Get this idea on your schedule for this fall and you will be over wintering spinach for a great spring harvest.

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Growing Lettuce in the Fall & Early Winter

Growing lettuce in the fall and early winter is really quite easy. All it takes in a little planning and protection from the cold to get a great fall crop.

Growing Lettuce in the Fall

This post contains affiliate links, clicking on them with not cost you any thing extra, but does allow Stoney Acres to make a small commission on your purchase through the Amazon Affiliate Program!

We love lettuce fresh from the garden.  In fact we love lettuce so much that we do everything we can to have lettuce growing in the garden all year long.  Lettuce is, for the most part, a cool weather plant.  Most varieties of lettuce prefer to grow in temperatures not much more than 75 degrees.  We have found that fall is really the best time of the year to grow lettuce.  In spring you are rushing to get all your lettuce harvested before the heat sets in and turns the leaves bitter.  But in the fall temperatures are cooling making it the perfect time for lettuce growing.  And most years we can get lettuce to stay tasty until the middle of December with some protection.

There are 4 important things to remember when growing lettuce in the fall.

Timing of planting, the varieties of seeds you plant, protection from the heat of late summer and protection from the cold of early winter.  Let’s talk about each of these.

Timing

If you are planning on growing lettuce in the fall the most important thing to keep in mind is the timing of when you plant those seeds.  You should aim to start getting seeds in the ground about 60 days before your first frost date.  For example our first frost usually arrives right around October 1st, so we start planting lettuce either in the garden or indoors in our seed starter on August 1st.  If your first frost date is November 1st then you could wait til September 1st to plant.  The key is 60 days.

Growing Lettuce in the Fall starts

Now, can you get away with 45 days?  Of course, but 30 days before your first frost will be pushing it.  You need to have some well established plants by that frost date.  Also keep in mind that anything planted in the fall will take longer to mature than it would in the spring.  If your seed package says your lettuce will be ready to eat in 45 days then plan on 55 to 60 days in the fall.  Your daily amount of sun will be decreasing in the fall so it just takes longer for the lettuce to be ready.

Seed Varieties

Variety selection is the least important part of growing lettuce in the fall.  Really not a ton to tell you here.  Most lettuce that you grow in the spring will also do well in the fall.  But I would avoid “head” lettuce and stick with either leaf lettuces or lettuces that form smaller looser heads.  Butter Crunch lettuces do very well in the fall as they don’t form a heavy solid head.  Some smaller varieties of romaine lettuces also do well, we grow a variety called Paris Island that usually gets a nice head developed by late November.  Varieties that we have enjoyed and have grown well in the fall include Black-Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch, Paris Island, oak leaf, Nevada and most types of red leaf lettuces.

Protection from the heat in Late Summer

If your summers are anything like ours then 60 days before your first frost is probably still pretty hot!  In August we have at least 10 days over 100 degrees.  That can be rough on new lettuce plants.  So you do need to baby those seeds and seedlings a bit when growing lettuce in the fall.  First off be sure to keep your lettuce beds moist, not soggy wet, but moist so that the newly planted seeds can germinate.  Until seeds have sprouted and are a week or so old I may lightly water my lettuce beds twice a day.  Once they are established they will do better but still be sure they get plenty to drink.

A simple frame hoop with some shade cloth on it can also really help your lettuce plants when it is still super hot.  This isn’t strictly necessary but it sure can help.

Another method we use to defeat the late summer heat is to start our lettuce indoors in our seed starter.  If you do this, it’s easier to control the environment that your lettuce grows up in.  I use some simple cell packs and thin to one plant per cell.  I keep them indoors for 4 to 6 weeks, fertilize them once a week with a good organic fertilizer and they will be ready to go out just a few weeks before your first frost.  This method also had the added benefit of producing a very pretty finished product.  It’s easy to plant a nice neat bed of individual plants that will look fantastic all fall!

Growing Lettuce in the fall 2

Protection from early winter cold

Lettuce is hardy, but it’s not super hardy.  It can handle a few nights of frost but will quickly turn to mush if it sits out unprotected for too many evenings with temperatures below freezing.  Simple protection is all it takes to get your crop to last well into the late fall and early winter.

Try buying some fabric row cover.  This simple and inexpensive garden tool can really save your lettuce from a cold night.  The heavier row cover fabrics can protect your crops for up to 6 to 8 degrees.  This means your lettuce will be snug and warm on nights as low as 26.

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For even more protection try a hoop house or even better a cold frame.  Either of these simple structures will keep you growing lettuce in the fall well into the days when you have temperatures as low at 20 degrees!  You can learn more about Hoop houses and cold frames by following these links.  The links will hook you up with some posts I wrote on using both.  You can also go here to see a great post on how to build a really nice cold frame.

All great things must come to an end and the lettuce harvest usually comes to an end when night time temperatures reach that 20 degree mark (even in a cold frame).  So if it looks like your night time temperatures are going to drop below that mark and stay there for a few days then it’s time to harvest the rest of your lettuce and bring it in and put in the fridge.  Most lettuces will stay good in the fridge for at least another two weeks giving you tons of crunchy salads well into December.

If you would like to learn more about extending your growing season then you should check out my Year Round Gardening Video Course!

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How to avoid growing funny shaped potatoes

Why did you grow so many funny shaped potatoes? You see the pictures floating around the internet all the time. Potatoes that look like feet! Or snowmen or alien’s. We all get a good laugh when we pull them out of our garden, but have you ever wondered what causes funny shaped potatoes?

 Funny Shaped Potatoes
The short answer to that question is stress!!!!!

Unlike people (who stress about mortgages and college educations for our kids), potatoes stress about heat and water!! The main cause of funny shaped potatoes is some type of environmental stress while the tubers are developing.

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The stress causing the funny shaped potatoes usually comes in two forms.
Heat Stress

If you have a very long, hot, dry spell while your potatoes are forming under the ground you can expect more funny shaped potatoes. Long stretches of temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit will cause stress on your potato plants, that stress will cause funny shaped potatoes.

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You can mitigate heat stress by mulching your potatoes with straw or even grass clippings. The mulch helps keep moisture in and also keeps the soil cooler causing less stress on the plants.

Inconsistent watering

The second cause of funny shaped potatoes is inconsistent watering. Water your potatoes every 5 to 7 days during the heat of the summer. Letting your potatoes dry out for too long actually causes the tubers to stop growing. Then when the water reappears the tubers start growing again, but they start growing by sending out either a new section of the tuber (causing thin funny shaped spots). Or the tubers will actually start growing new potatoes from the main tuber giving you the snowman or even foot shaped potatoes.

So if you have funny shaped potatoes you know you need to do something different next year with mulching and water!

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All the photos in this post come from our 2016 potato crop. In 2016 we had the perfect storm to produce funny shaped potatoes. I wasn’t surprised at all to see a bunch of odd shapes that year.

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We didn’t have a drop of rain from May until September, and we tied the record for consecutive days over 100 degrees. On top of the drought we also had a 10 day period where our irrigation water was shut off this summer because of an algae bloom in the lake that provides our water. For that whole time we didn’t get to water our potatoes. On top of that we also had a couple of family vacations that keep us away from the garden a little too long.

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All these factors combined to give us a lot of funny shaped potatoes this year. It also meant a much smaller harvest this year. About half what we would normally expect.

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Oh well, it made for some fun pictures!!

 

Would you like to learn more about growing potatoes?  Check out these posts:

How to grow potatoes using the Hill Method.

Growing an Early Crop of Potatoes.

Curing Potatoes before winter storage.

Storing Potatoes all winter long.

Did you have some funny shaped potatoes this year? Attach the photo to a comment below, or email a picture too me at admin@ourstoneyacres.com and I will add them to this post!

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Planning a Winter Garden – You need to start in July

Planning a winter garden? You need to get started in July!

Planning a Winter Garden

Fall and winter gardens are becoming very popular! I’ve been gardening in the winter time with cold frames and hoop houses for 9 years now. But it amazes my how much more popular it has become since I started. What used to be a novelty is now becoming common place even in the coldest parts of the country.

If you live in Zones 3-7 July is the time to start planning a winter garden. There are several tasks you need to get done early in order to be ready to plant your winter and fall garden. And these tasks need to get done in July and early August for most of us.

Planning a winter garden
Find your planting date

The first and most important step in planning a winter garden is determining your planting date. Fall crops and winter crops are planted at the same time. Your winter garden is an extension of your fall gardening efforts and you need to get started planting (either indoors or out) earlier than you might expect. You need to be planting seeds and seedlings for your fall and winter garden between 6 to 8 weeks before your average first frost date. Some even as early as 10 weeks. So to know your planting date, you need to know that average first frost date.

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The easiest way I have found to determine your average first frost date is to simply Google it! Most state land colleges have detailed records for frost dates for all the cities in your state. Finding this list is a good starting point. Also asking other gardeners in your area or calling your local extension agency (if you have one) can also help you get that date.

Planning a winter garden #3

Once you have your Average First frost, count back from that date 8 weeks. This will be your target date for starting most of your fall and winter crops. You have about a 2 week window to get those crops in the ground. Anything planted after about 5 weeks before your first frost most likely won’t be ready for harvest in time and will need to be protected with a cold frame and over wintered for and early spring harvest.

Let’s use my garden as an example. Our average first frost date is October 1st. Counting back 8 weeks gives us a target planting date of August 1st. So I need to get my fall and winter seeds planted between August 1st and August 15th.

Plan your Crops

Part of planning a winter garden is choosing the crops you want to grow. There are as many as 30 different crops that can be planted for fall and winter harvest. ALL of them are considered cool weather crops. Don’t plant things like tomatoes, squash, beans or corn. Temperatures in the fall will prevent these from growing.

Planning a winter garden #2

Instead you will be planting lettuce, carrots, spinach, swiss chard, Asian greens, radishes, etc.

For a more detailed list of the crops you can grow for fall and winter harvest check out these two posts I wrote as part of my winter gardening series:

Crop Selection #1
Crop Selection #2

Buying seeds

In July you need to be ordering those seeds from your favorite seed companies. As the popularity of winter gardening has grown many seed companies have responded by offering many hardy varieties of seeds and some that are even bread specifically for these cold weather conditions.

I love Johnny’s seeds for their huge selection of fall and winter ready seeds. Also Territorial seed company is now getting a very respectable supply and even publishes a fall seed catalog.

Prepping the soil

Part of planning a winter garden is getting the soil in your beds ready! And entire extra season of gardening will put a lot of stress on your soil! Be sure to treat it right be amending it will plenty of organic material before you plant your fall and winter crops.

Planning a winter garden #5
Fire up your seed starter again

One of the biggest challenges that fall and winter gardeners face is space! My planting date for my fall and winter garden is August 1st. My summer garden is still flourishing at that time. In fact in many cases it is just really starting to kick in! So I can’t just clear out productive plants to put in a fall garden.

The easiest way around this is to fire up my seed starter again on August 1st and start many of my seedlings for fall and winter indoors! You can’t do this for every crop, but most of the leafy greens (think lettuce, chard, kale, Asian Greens, etc) can be started indoors on your planting date and then transplanted outside 6 to 8 weeks later when your summer crops are winding down.

Plan for a method of protecting your crops from the cold

As the fall progress into winter you will need a way to protect your crops from the freezing temperatures. This is accomplished with either a cold frame or a hoop house. You need to get started now on planning and building these structures.

Planning a winter garden #4

To learn more about building cold frames and hoop houses you can check out these two posts:

Building a simple hoop house
Building a garden cold frame

Take my Year Round Gardening Video Course

The last step in planning a winter garden is to get all the knowledge you can! A great way to do that is to take my 5 hour Year Round Gardening video course on the Online Gardening School!

I’ve designed this course to teach you everything you need to know to grow a fall and winter garden and even to get started much earlier in the spring! This is a very extensive course that I’ve worked hard to make interesting and informative. Just follow the link below and you can get this normally $40 course for half off! Just $20!

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