Red Bucket Farm is an urban farm on a quarter acre property in an average residential neighborhood. We are located in Wisconsin, USDA Zone 5. We focus on chickens, bees, orchard fruit, and raised garden beds for fruits and veggies. We hope to reduce our footprint on the planet by growing some of our food, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and gardening with sustainable practices. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Chickens in Review

We pause at the end of the calendar year to reflect on the changes at Red Bucket Farm. Specifically, we realize how much fun we've had raising chickens, and how much we've learned about them.

We began the year with four pullet hens about 8 months old. Rosie the Redstar, Hyacinth the Easter Egger, Wisteria the Columbian Wyandotte, and Delphinium the Dominique were our very first chickens. Rosie was a champion egg layer, followed by Hyacinth. Delphinium took a winter vacation between Dec 4, 2010 and Jan 17, 2011, refusing to lay eggs in the darkest part of winter. Wisteria was late to contribute to egg production, but we still managed to gather 73 eggs during January.

February began peacefully, but a terrible cold snap of sub-zero weather nearly took Hyacinth's life. We brought her indoors for a day or so to warm up, but returning her to the flock revealed the extreme bullying behavior of Delphinium. We reluctantly found a new home for Delphinium, who left us on Valentine's Day. Hyacinth took a while to recover from the trauma and didn't lay eggs from Feb. 9-25. Miraculously, we still gathered 61 eggs that month.

In March we fenced in the chicken yard so the girls could spend more time outdoors without our constant supervision. Rosie, Wisteria and Hyacinth produced a whopper 81 eggs that month, which averages to 27 eggs per hen---pretty good considering these are not production birds. At the end of March, we acquired six new baby chicks: Daisy the Delaware, Crocus the Easter Egger, Poppy the Partridge Plymouth Rock, Petunia the Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhoda the Rhode Island Red, and Squill the Speckled Sussex.

April was a hectic month as we tended to the new chicks as well as the mature hens, who gave us 77 eggs for the month. On April 9 we removed the winter wrappings around the coop, and soon realized that it was a bit too soon. The girls survived the chilly month, but we'll be more cautious to protect them longer in future springs.

In May we moved the brooder box from the home office (not recommended!) to the garage. We began the ritual of carrying the chicklets to the yard every morning where we provided a decent day shelter, and then carrying them back up the hill to the garage for secure night shelter. The three hens provided 78 eggs in May, and an additional 74 eggs in June.

In July we removed the fence in the chicken yard which divided the pullets from the hens, and soon after we stopped bringing the pullets to the garage for separate sleeping quarters. It was an awkward transition in spite of weeks of watching each other through the fence. Also, extremely hot weather caused a reduction in egg production, as the mature hens struggled to give 69 eggs for the month.

In August, the pullets began laying eggs. Production increased to 92 eggs for the month. The chickens still lived relatively segregated, with the six pullets flocking together and staying distinctly apart from the three older hens. In spite of the tension between the two flocks, life remained relatively peaceful in the chicken coop. We learned to trim flight feathers to keep the girls inside the chicken yard, mostly for their own protection.

By September, it seemed that most of the pullets were maturing into good egg layers. We collected 151 eggs for the month, but this signaled the beginning of chicken wars as the older hens worked to maintain their pecking order over the pullets. We experienced much more excitement than necessary: Rhoda's left eye was pecked and she lost sight in that eye completely.

Petunia's comb was pecked and wouldn't stop bleeding, requiring a visit to my neighborhood veterinarian, whom I'm certain thinks of me as the Crazy Chicken Lady. We installed new and improved nest boxes to help reduce aggression.

Tension settled down in October, when we gathered 169 eggs. At this point, it became impossible to ascertain which hen was laying which eggs. On Oct. 29 we wrapped the coop in 6 mil plastic to protect them from wind, rain and snow for the duration of the winter. They still have access to the outdoors, but they can wander in and out as they choose.

In early November, we began to witness the beginning of molt season. Wisteria dramatically lost most of her feathers in a matter of a few days. She hasn't laid eggs since early November because the molt takes most of her energy. Hyacinth began to molt a few weeks later. In spite of molting, we still managed to collect 129 eggs for the month.

December has been a mild and quiet month. The girls produced 100 eggs this month. Throughout the year, Rosie the Redstar has been our most reliable egg layer, and she is still clearly the leader of the flock. At the beginning of the year, Rosie rarely took a day off, perhaps once every month or three. Now she takes a day off each week. Although she produces slightly fewer eggs, they have grown to extra-colossal-jumbo size. Our total egg count for 2011 is 1,154.

Although we have no regrets for growing our flock, it seems unlikely that we will attempt to blend two flocks again. The process has been labor intensive and more violent than we imagined. Still, we have loved knowing the personality of each bird, and the reward of growing our own food is significant.

Here at Red Bucket Farm, we're grateful for the blessings of 2011 and we look forward to new adventures in 2012. From our farm to yours, we wish you all the best in the New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bee Poop on my Sheets

It's a beautiful fall day today--40 degrees and sunny with a light breeze--perfect for hanging clothes on the line. It's also a perfect day for the honeybees to leave the tight cluster inside the hive for a quick cleansing flight.

I knew there was a risk of soiling my white bed sheets out on the line, but I hoped the hives were just a bit too far from the clothesline, or perhaps my ladies might be too polite to poop on the sheets. It seemed like a risk worth taking.

And now I'm washing the sheets again, for the second time today. So much for saving energy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Good Luck at RBF

Merry Christmas from Red Bucket Farm! We received a pair of old, worn-out horse shoes as part of a white elephant gift exchange. I was reminded to hang them correctly, and so conducted a small amount of internet research. I learned that horse shoes are considered lucky in various parts of the world. Some traditions maintain that the shoes must be displayed with the u-shape facing up so that the luck will stay inside; others believe that the shoes should point down to allow the luck to flow out on the people passing by. Either way, we thought the shoes would make a fun addition to the sunshine shed on our little urban farm. Perhaps they'll bring good luck for the new year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstice Herb Planting

Today is the winter solstice, our shortest amount of daylight all year. It's been a cloudy, gloomy month with very little snow, which means no cross country skiing or snowshoeing. In spite of holiday preparations, the blase weather is beginning to weigh down. I decided to start a new tradition: plant herb seeds indoors to help lift the darkness of winter solstice.

The lighted plant stand in my basement houses a small collection of tropical bonsai trees in the winter. It's a chilly 60 degrees there, so germinating seedlings will require extra heat. We added a seedling heat mat just large enough for one flat, and then draped the shelf with plastic sheeting to help retain the heat and humidity.

I mixed my seedling soil mixture---one third peat moss, one third vermiculite, one third sifted compost. Then I planted peat pots with basil seeds and parsley seeds, which will take a few weeks to germinate. The herb pots are situated on the top shelf of the plant stand next to two bowls of spinach seedlings. This is my indoor garden, and it will have to suffice until spring. Happy Solstice!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bee Cleansing Flights

Generally speaking, bees don't fly when the temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They stay tightly clustered inside the hive, keeping each other warm and surviving on their stores of honey. But because bees are tidy little critters and they prefer to not poop inside the hive, they will make a quick appearance on "warm" winter days.

Last week we had a couple of unusually warm, sunny days. Around noon, when the air temperature reached 40 degrees, I noticed a handful of bees taking short flights from the hives. They would fly perhaps four or five feet, then swoop right back into the hive. Today I noticed little globs of bee poop on the sheet plastic wind screen that surrounds the bee yard. Most of the girls manage to make it home safely and only a few have been found dead outside the hive.

So far, so good. It's nice to see them periodically and be assured that they are still alive. It's only December and spring is still a long way off, but we'll remain hopeful and keep an eye open for cleansing flights as an indicator of survival.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Combs and Wattles

It's downright chilly now at Red Bucket Farm. Daytime temperatures struggle to reach freezing, and overnight temps are in the teens. Regrettably, there is no snow, but winds have been brisk. I've noticed that the chickens' combs and wattles have been looking pale and dried out from the cold, dry weather. I've started to worry about frostbite in their delicate extremities. It's helpful to rub a little petroleum jelly or bag balm into combs and wattles, although it's a kerfuffle to try to accomplish the task. Once caught, though, the girls seem to enjoy a gentle massage, and the color revives instantly in their combs. The photo above is Rhoda the Rhode Island Red, with her tall, single comb. We'll need to tend her comb carefully all winter.

Rosie the Redstar also has a tall, single comb. She has already survived one winter, and she practically purrs when I rub her comb with petroleum jelly.

Wisteria the Columbian Wyandotte is completing her first molt. She looks much better than she did a few weeks ago, although her comb and wattles look a little dull. This kind of comb is called "walnut" and is far less susceptible to frostbite since it is so close to her body.

Petunia, a Barred Plymouth Rock, used to have a lovely single comb until she got into trouble with the rest of the flock. Her trimmed comb probably won't be too worrisome over the winter, although this is not typical of her breed.

Poppy is a Partridge Plymouth Rock. Her comb is moderately tall and undamaged. We'll keep this one greased up.

Crocus is a hybrid variety known as an Easter Egger. Her comb is a "pea" comb, small and bumpy, and very close to her head. This comb isn't much trouble, but Crocus enjoys the attention of the massage.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Frosty Greenhouse

Overnight temperatures dipped into the mid-20s last night and early this morning. Winter is slowly creeping upon us. Although the greenhouse is covered in heavy frost each morning, I notice that the polycarbonate walls are clear of frost immediately next to my low-tech thermal heat device---a black plastic garbage can filled with water. It absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, modifying the air temperature inside the greenhouse ever so slightly. As long as daytime temperatures are above freezing, it's a useful technique. Soon, I'll empty the water or else I'll have an ice-box in the greenhouse, which will modify air temperatures in the wrong direction. It's good to know that the garbage can technique is making a difference.

We're still growing spinach and herbs in the greenhouse. Spinach survives sub-freezing temperatures and tastes crisp and fresh. In the photo above, you can see that we've covered the raised bed with hoops and row fabric. This extra layer of protection will ensure survival over the winter. The greenhouse is also cold winter storage for a few small trees, specifically a zone 5 brown Turkey fig tree, and several small oak trees that we started from acorns a few years ago.

Our unheated greenhouse at Red Bucket Farm is small and humble, but it remains a useful tool to extend the seasons in fall and early spring. If you've ever dreamed of owning a greenhouse or hoophouse for gardening, I recommend giving it a try.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Heritage Turkey

It's the time of year when many of us roast a turkey or two for holiday dinners. This year we did some research and became more informed consumers before purchasing.

Did you know that turkeys sold in common grocery stores are not able to breed normally? The Broad Breasted White turkey has been cross bred to such an extreme it can no longer copulate. This breed will grow breast meat so large and heavy that the bird can't breed and sometimes can't stand on its own legs. All the eggs are artificially inseminated, and all the turkeys are raised in large commercial factories in confinement production.

The good news is that there are options available if you're willing to look. Thanks to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, there are a few farmers willing to keep the endangered breeds alive. Interest from the Slow Foods USA movement is raising awareness among the public.

We ordered our Thanksgiving turkey (a Bourbon Red) from a local farmer who raises meat animals in open pasture. We'll admit it was pricey----at $6/pound, it makes even a small turkey a rather large investment. We roasted our nine pound turkey outside on the grill over smoking hickory chips and stuffed with apples and rosemary. The meat was moist and delicious, and there was far more dark meat than a commercial bird. We enjoyed every bite of it, and then boiled the carcass for soup broth.

We've considered raising our own turkeys, but it's not a good idea to raise chickens and turkeys on the same property because of disease control. Besides, it's not entirely legal in my municipality. So for now, we'll pay the extra money to support our local farmers who are working hard to preserve heritage breeds.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Winterizing the Bees

Winter is nearly upon us. In fact, we've already had a few inches of snow, although it lasted only a day or so. Our overnight temperatures are forecasted to be below freezing, so it's time to make sure the bee hives are tucked in properly for the winter. 

We've taken a number of precautions in an attempt to help the bees survive. First, we spaced out a few top bars to allow for more air circulation. The mold that I reported about two weeks ago has decreased, and we learned that the bees will clean it up themselves if there is sufficient air circulation. In warm weather we wouldn't want the bees to slip between the top bars, but there is no risk that they will break cluster in the winter so we're not worried about them moving into the vaulted roof.

We fed the weaker hive with cups of honey on the floor of the hive. It was astonishing how quickly they moved the honey from the cups into their comb where they'll need it later. In retrospect, I wish that I had fed that hive earlier in the fall. I may have missed my window of opportunity to feed, but it is our intention to manipulate them as little as possible. Besides, feeding bees does not guarantee success.

We surrounded the entire bee yard on three sides with a plastic covered fence designed to serve as a wind break. Sometimes the winds can be fierce, so we also anchored the hives to the ground with nylon straps and storm anchor hooks.

Finally, we wrapped each hive in an insulated "blanket" made of R-13 fiberglass insulation sealed in construction-grade garbage bags. We covered the blankets in tar paper secured with more nylon straps. Notice in the photograph that four of the six entrance openings have been covered with corks. Soon, we'll cover the fifth opening leaving only one small entrance, which will be sufficient for winter.

It's frustrating to not be able to peek in the observation windows, but hopefully these precautions will make survival a possibility. Now I need to be patient, wait and watch.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Naked Chicken

Wisteria is molting. She looks horrible! Her beautiful black necklace fell out and many of her flight and tail feathers dropped. Her chest and shoulders are bare right down to her naked chicken skin. For several days, the hen house looked like there had been pillow fights in there when I went to clean in the morning. Now Wisteria is sprouting new quills which are poking through her skin. It must be uncomfortable.

Molting arrives at a nasty time of year. I'll never understand why it's normal for chickens to molt in the fall of the year. We've had snow for the last two days and poor Wisteria never leaves the coop in her efforts to keep warm. Because growing new feathers requires so much energy, she won't be laying eggs for several weeks.

Molting is a normal process for pure breed and heritage birds like Wisteria, who is of the Wyandotte breed. My hybrid chickens (Rosie the Redstar and Hyacinth the Easter Egger) haven't been as affected by the molt. Rosie lost a patch of chest feathers over the summer, but she never stopped laying eggs. So far, Hyacinth has shown no signs of molting. Of course, the pullets won't molt until next year.

We'll try to keep Wisteria warm and dry for the next few weeks while her feathers fill in. Soon she'll be the glamour girl of the chicken yard once again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making Hard Cider

I've been vaguely interested in home brewing for years, but only as the willing sampler of another person's handiwork. Somehow, the jumbo-sized cooking pots, fermenting pails and extra equipment seemed overwhelming to me. But a small article in a recent issue of Mother Earth News magazine brought hard cider to my attention, and I began researching this ancient beverage. Did you know that hard cider was the most popular American beverage prior to Prohibition? Also, did you know that in Europe, all cider is hard (alcoholic) cider unless specified as sweet cider?

My first reference for making cider was www.makinghardcider.com. The author of this website describes the whole process in great detail, so I won't need to repeat it. I also purchased a book called Strong Waters by Scott Mansfield, who advocates making one-gallon batches of homemade beer, wine and cider. Creating small batches has allowed me to make three different blends of cider in a few weeks. The equipment set-up has been minimal, the learning curve is quick, and mistakes are less expensive. Besides, now I can choose from different spirited beverages for my late evening popcorn and beer routine.

The process for making hard cider is simple. Purchase a gallon of pasteurized cider in a glass jug. You'll use the jug as your fermenter. Choose cider with no preservatives, which will kill the yeast. Add 3/4 cup of sugar and a little champagne yeast. A teaspoon of yeast nutrient will help. Shake it all up in the jug and then cover it with a bung (rubber stopper with a hole in it) and an airlock. These supplies are cheap and readily available at your local brew shop. The yeast eats the sugars in the cider and causes fermentation. It's fun to watch the bubbles rising to the top, but I cover my jug most of the time with dark fabric because light can damage the final product. Fermentation is finished in a week, and then I bottle the cider into beer bottles with a teaspoon dextrose for carbonation. The cider will get a little better with time, so wait a week or two before enjoying.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall Bee Inspection

Yesterday it was 60 degrees and sunny, so we took an opportunity to open the bee hives and peek inside. There was good news and bad news.

The good news is that the bees gathered plenty of pollen this fall. The photo above was taken on Sept. 24. You can see the huge orange pollen sacs on the bee's hind legs. It was amazing to watch the bees working diligently for most of September. We could actually smell honey as we walked past the bee yard.

During yesterday's mini-inspection, we observed that the blue hive (at right in the photo) appeared healthy and  contained perhaps a dozen combs of honey. We moved only a few top bars to consolidate their honey stores, shifting the smaller empty combs away from the main cluster of bees and honey. In the winter, the bees will stay together in one dense ball, moving very slowly as a unit to feed on their honey stores.

The green hive (at left in the photo) is struggling with mold. I had noticed moisture on the observation window several weeks ago. Since we have vents in the hive, I was hoping the bees were managing the moisture on their own. Unfortunately, there is mold on the walls of the box. We removed about three top bars with moldy comb and honey. The mold is growing in the part of the hive furthest away from the entrances. We think the combs closer to the entrances are okay. We also removed one top bar entirely and wiggled the others apart to create some space for air to circulate. At the same time, we hope that it's not too much space and that the bees won't be tempted to squeeze into the vaulted roof space and build comb.

Winter will be a difficult time for the bees and there is little we can do to help. We'll finish insulating and winterizing soon, and after that we just wait until spring. If one hive survives, we can split the bees during their peak and build the second hive again.

Meanwhile, we're looking forward to an upcoming new book by Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees. There is relatively little information about the management of top bar hives, and Christy is both knowledgeable and inspirational. It's interesting to be a bee guardian and participate in the non-chemical practice of beekeeping. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Green Eggs (and Ham?)

These are the six eggs I gathered from the hen house this morning. Aren't they beautiful? The jumbo egg in the center is pale celery green, while the egg on the left is a darker jade green. The chickens that lay green eggs (or sometimes blue or pink) are a hybrid variety known as "Easter Eggers."  These birds have a small comb that makes them less susceptible to frostbite, and their legs are vaguely green or blue. They have a sweet disposition, which means that they're often at the bottom of the pecking order. Since they're a hybrid, color variations are common. The chicks usually have a wide chipmunk stripe down their backs, which fades as they grow.

Hyacinth is my mature Easter Egger hen. She's been laying eggs for year. I've noticed that her eggs are now much larger than when she first started laying, and they have been growing more pale in color over the last few months. I think this is a typical pattern.

My new Easter Egger is Crocus. She laid her first egg on Sunday, and she accidentally mislaid it in the run area rather than the nest box. Today she was more successful in getting it in the right place. The color is simply lovely. She'll probably lay five or six eggs a week for the next year, and then begin tapering off.

I'm sure there's a Dr. Seuss story in here somewhere, but I'll leave that to you!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Making Cheese at Home

I must confess that most of the projects at Red Bucket Farm are of my own doing. I don't usually need any help coming up with another new idea. So I'm pleased to report that I'm passing along some of my inquisitiveness to the next generation. My college freshman came home on fall break with a desire to make cheese.

The first cheese project arrived before we had all the correct ingredients. Not to be daunted, my ingenious teen found a recipe using everyday grocery items--a gallon of 1% milk, a few eggs, a quart of buttermilk and a little salt correctly heated, blended, separated, strained and pressed to create a mild flavored hard cheese, photographed above and below. The recipe and instructions came from www.tammyrecipes.com.

The next project occurred after a trip to the brew shop, where we acquired vegetable rennet (in tablet form) and citric acid (a powder). My cheese maker used one gallon of whole milk, plus the rennet, citric acid and pinch of salt to create a beautiful mozzarella cheese.  After heating the milk to separate the curds from the whey, she salted and kneaded the cheese in the same manner as bread dough. It made two softball-sized balls of cheese. We ate it with homemade pasta and tomato sauce. Mild and delicious! This recipe came from www.cheesemaking.com.

What's next? Perhaps at Thanksgiving break I'll make sure we have enough goat milk to make feta cheese. The rennet tablets are in the refrigerator awaiting the next burst of cheese making activity.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicken Truce

The chickens at Red Bucket Farm have finally arrived at a truce. It's been a difficult transition over the last month or two as the younger pullets arrive at maturity. The older hens have been defending their dominance while the younger ones have been asserting their independence. There have been confrontations, bloody combs, and even one eye blinded. It's not called pecking order for nothing.

We took a number of measures to help alleviate tension for the hens. Most importantly, we built new nest boxes. The new nest boxes allow for more privacy while laying eggs. You can read about that in my Sept. 23 blog post.

We've also provided some new distractions to keep them from pecking at each other. The flock block pictured above is similar to providing suet for song birds, except much bigger and stuffed with seeds and grains. I'm also periodically giving the girls a whole cabbage which takes them a full day to destroy, and they enjoy windfall apples from the local orchard.

Finally, I think the flock has banded together in the face of adversity. Predator hawks have been increasing all summer, including one hawk that flew directly inside the coop! The girls really stick together when hawks are around. We've made modifications to provide more daytime cover for the hens, and the coop door no longer stands open to welcome predators.

We're happy to report that egg production is way up. It's true that happy chickens really do lay more eggs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Locked in the Shed!

This is Daisy. She's a Delaware (a heritage breed), and she gives us plenty of beautiful, brown eggs. She's also curious and friendly. We've learned that when Daisy pecks at our feet, it means she wants a little extra attention. Not many chickens ask to be hugged, but Daisy does.

This morning, Daisy's natural curiosity got her into a bit of a bind. She hopped into the sunshine shed around 7 am when food containers were being set out for the day. Daisy is very food motivated and knows where the mother lode is stored. Unfortunately, the door was shut with Daisy on the wrong side, and she went unnoticed in the early morning rush. A couple hours later I went back to clean out the coop and discovered her missing. Once released from the darkness of the shed, Daisy raced to the nest boxes, where she set a record for the fastest laying of an egg. Then she settled in to concentrate on food and water.

It reminded us of a similar event many years ago when our cat Figaro went missing for 24 hours. We discovered him in between the walls of the house behind the access door to the plumbing stack. Once released, Figaro made a bee-line to the litter box; he had not soiled his secret hiding place.

So I guess curiosity can kill a cat, or even a chicken. Luckily, our events have not been disastrous. Animals are curious and funny, but I don't think Daisy will figure out the cause-and-effect of jumping into the sunshine shed. We'll keep an eye out for her now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Green Tomatoes

In the last week or so, I have harvested about fifteen pounds of large, green tomatoes. Autumn has arrived and night temperatures have fallen to 30 degrees. I was reluctant to allow so many tomatoes to potentially freeze over night, so I picked them and brought them indoors.

There are various techniques that might allow green tomatoes to ripen indoors. Some people wrap each tomato individually in newspaper and store in a dark place. Other folks store them in an airtight container with an apple. My mother-in-law used to advise storing them in a paper bag until ripe.

Given various complications these days, I've opted for the easy choice: my green tomatoes sit on open trays in the pie safe to keep the cats from turning them into hockey pucks. After a few days they turn red and orange, and we pop them into whatever we're making for dinner. It's low tech, but effective. The fruit may not be quite as tasty as when sun-ripened, but it's better than losing the end of the crop to frost.

What are you doing with your end-of-season green tomatoes?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Root Cellar Substitute

When I was a kid, we had an unheated room in the basement that we called the fruit cellar. I didn't realize how unusual it was to have a root cellar in a mid-century ranch home. For the most part, root cellars slowly disappeared from modern American homes after the arrival of electric refrigerators and freezers.

I haven't thought about the long-term storage of vegetables before this year. It's not a big deal at Red Bucket Farm since most of my crops have been canned or frozen. But I can anticipate that a cellar would be useful for storage of squash, potatoes, onions and apples.

A friend simply tosses her crops into a wheelbarrow in the garage, so I've followed her example and set up an old desk and some wooden storage bins in our attached garage. This year it's an experiment to see if the squash and potatoes will survive the coldest part of winter. I'll monitor the temperatures and see if it will be possible to store veggies for several months. This isn't ideal, but it's a simple way to start.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blue Potatoes

In May I planted some specialty potatoes--Russian Blue and Fingerling Salad--in large containers. Later I tossed the remainder of the seed potatoes in a neglected raised bed with poor soil. It was a half-hearted experiment in growing potatoes and not very high on my priority list. Yesterday I harvested about five pounds of lovely little potatoes. It's nothing to get too excited about, but successful considering how little effort went into it.

Growing potatoes hasn't been important to me. After all, potatoes are cheap and easy to buy. But over the summer I learned that because potatoes are thin-skinned, they quickly absorb any chemicals in the soil. Therefore, if you can only afford to buy one organic vegetable, it should be potatoes.

As I plan next year's garden beds, I think I'll allow more space and consideration for growing my own potatoes. It might be more important than I realized.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Nest Boxes

At 7am this morning we installed new nesting boxes for the hens. We felt a sense of urgency to get this accomplished before the morning chicken battles.

For the last week, Red Bucket Farm has experienced a series of chicken crises. First, Rhoda's eye was damaged, very likely the result of a harsh peck from one of the dominant birds in the flock. Her cornea has a deep puncture and it's not likely that she'll regain sight in that eye.

Next, Petunia's comb was torn in a disagreement over nest boxes, as seen in the photo above. We separated her from the flock for a few days to recover and then she rejoined the flock, but late today her comb was bleeding again.

Yesterday, Squill the Speckled Sussex decided to sit in the same nest box with Daisy the Delaware, and her comb was pecked and torn in the encounter. I separated her immediately, and her comb is healing.

These incidents of aggression are making us wonder if we are failing to provide what the chickens need. Our system of nest boxes seemed inadequate, so we quickly constructed a more traditional arrangement of condo-like nest boxes with solid wood walls between each nest. Unfortunately, the reaction of the hens was the same as before--two chickens sharing one box while the other nests remain empty.

It is possible that the maturing pullets are just working out their new pecking order. Perhaps this will all settle down in a few weeks.