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!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Madame Farmer

Over the years, I've introduced myself to strangers in various ways. For many years, I was always the bassoon player, and many people still identify me that way. When I was married, I became somebody's wife. After I became a parent, I would introduce myself to school teachers and other parents as my kids' mom. Occasionally I would be known as the quilt lady or perhaps a seamstress.

Yesterday was the first time I introduced myself as an urban farmer. We attended a community event where we knew few people. Some neighbors were in attendance, but nobody that we knew very well. As I shook hands and greeted others, I reminded them that I'm the crazy chicken and garden lady. Faces lit up with understanding as they smiled and nodded at me. Oh, yeah, we know the crazy chicken and garden lady. We just don't recognize her without the baseball cap and gardening gloves.

I guess if I have to be identified with something, it's not a bad thing to be the crazy chicken and garden lady. Urban farmer sounds more authoritative, but whatever you choose to call it, I'm happy to be known for growing real food and caring for the earth.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Giant Sunflowers

Last winter, I read that sunflowers are a good source of nectar for bees. It seemed like a good idea in terms of nurturing my new bee hives, so I bought a package of sunflower seeds to plant.

I don't know what possessed me to choose the largest sunflower available. This variety is called "Mongolian Giant" and is purported to grow very large seeds up to 1 1/2 inches long, with flower heads 6-18 inches across, and reaching 12-14 feet tall.

They weren't kidding! These sunflowers have grown taller than my walk-in chicken coop, and much taller than my new apricot trees. They tower over the garden dramatically, their sparse leaves barely creating any shadows, large heads reaching to the sky. In the last few days, the heads have started to droop. We'll leave the flower heads on the stalks as long as we can, then clip them and lay flat for the final drying. I've never harvested sunflower seeds before and will report back later.

I haven't noticed any of my honeybees on the sunflowers but the big fuzzy bumble bees adore them. It was a small investment to help the bees, and I'll wait until the end of the season before I decide if I'll grow them again next year.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Squash

It seems like nearly every gardener has a surplus of summer squash at this time of year. Summer squash and zucchini are easy to grow and prolific. They're also easy to cook and so mild in flavor that they can fit nearly any cuisine.

Recently we've used summer squash in a variety of meals. We grated the squash and stirred into fritters with garlic-herb sauce. I made crispy Korean-style pancakes with squash and rice flour served with Asian sauces (plum sauce, hoisin sauce, sweet-n-sour sauce, miso-soy sauce). We grilled pizza with pesto, squash and cheese toppings. I baked squash gratin with eggs and wild rice. We stirred up a spicy burrito filling with grated squash. Last night we sauteed very thin peels of summer squash with chunky mushrooms in olive oil.

Other ideas include vegetable griddlecakes, breaded and fried squash sticks (like french fries only better), baked squash with herbs in parchment, risotto with squash, grilled squash (kebabs perhaps), or grilled squash in panini sandwiches.

Don't pass by the ubiquitous summer squash at this time of year---just get creative! If you need ideas, I recommend Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chicken Talk

It's been noisy in the chicken yard in the last few weeks, and there are plenty of reasons why this is so. First of all, this spring's six new chicks are fully incorporated into the flock. The three older hens have established dominance over the younger pullets and everybody is cooperating nicely. The only unusual behavior is at night.

Generally, chickens will sleep side by side on the highest perch available. My hens have been comfortable on the perch inside the hen house, where they are insulated from the elements. After the new pullets began spending the night in the chicken coop in early July (rather than their brooder box in the garage), the older hens didn't want to sleep with the pullets. The old girls decided to sleep out in the run area. They're still protected from predators and they have a perch, but it will eventually get chilly out there. Meanwhile, the little girls don't quite understand that the idea is to rest on the 2x4 perch. Instead, they mostly hunker down in the poop trays as you can see in the photo above. I assume this will resolve eventually. All the chickens will need to huddle together to keep warm, but for now it's plenty warm at night for them to maintain separate sleeping quarters.

The big squawk out in the chicken yard is that the pullets have matured enough to begin laying eggs. So far we have collected four perfectly beautiful little tan eggs. It's difficult to ascertain which hens have laid which egg. We're watching carefully and trying to keep track, but it will be difficult. In the photo above, you see Squill the Speckled Sussex having a practice session. We suspect she may have laid the first egg of the little girls. She was certainly excited and making a ruckus that morning. It's not uncommon for a chicken to proudly announce her accomplishments. We've noticed Squill and Daisy the Delaware making a lot of noise lately, occasionally joined by Rhoda the Rhode Island Red and possibly Petunia the Barred Rock. It's very exciting.

Meanwhile, the older hens have their own noisy dynamic. Lately, Hyacinth the Easter Egger has been announcing the arrival of her eggs, but she gets even louder and seems angry when Wisteria the Wyandotte sits on the nest for too long. There are three nest boxes in the hen house, but Hyacinth and Wisteria fight over the largest box in the corner, as seen in the photo above. Sometimes I think that Wisteria has long finished laying her egg, and she's just napping in the box to irritate Hyacinth.

Finally, we still have a problem with chickens occasionally escaping the chicken yard. We've clipped flight feathers and this has helped a good deal. Still, Daisy and Squill like to fly over the fence and then squawk to get back inside. We clipped wings again Friday evening, and Daisy was outside the fence by Saturday afternoon. I don't mind except that it could put her in danger of wandering dogs.

So that's the update on all the squawking in the chicken yard. It's fun to visit the chickens and see what's the latest kerfuffle. There's a lot of personality in a three pound bundle of feathers!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Roasting Peppers

My pepper plants this year have been disappointing. They struggled with tiny white bugs for several weeks, finally recovering at the end of July. The plants still look a little stressed, but they are producing some fruit. In spite of all the struggles, yesterday I was able to harvest about a dozen peppers. This is a fraction of last year's harvest, but I'll take what I can get.

Here is how I prepare the peppers for freezing. Pour a couple tablespoons olive oil on a baking sheet. Place the whole peppers on the pan along with a quartered onion and a few garlic cloves. Roast at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cut the stem end, slice the peppers open and scrape out the seeds. Lay the sections of pepper flat on the baking sheet and flash freeze for an hour or so. Use a spatula to remove from the frozen pan, and zip them into a freezer bag. Now you have peppers ready to use all winter in soups and stews. Yummy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Peaches Dropping Prematurely

Our little peach tree has been loaded with fruit this summer, and we've been anxiously anticipating harvest of these delicious morsels. This tree was planted as a bare root stick only three years ago, and we've been delighted in its growth. But in the last week or so, we've been noticing small green peaches fallen to the ground. At first, it was just a little peach here and there. I didn't know if I should blame the chipmunks or the robins. Today, however, at least a dozen peaches dropped to the ground and they're not quite ripe. Hang on, little peaches!

A bit of internet research has revealed my ignorance. My brave peach tree has done very well holding on to all its fruit for so long. I should have thinned the crop weeks ago, when the fruits were the size of a cherry or grape. Peaches should not be touching each other on the branches; they should grow at least three to six inches apart on the branches. Otherwise, I'll end up with lots of teeny little fruits rather than a harvest of reasonable sized peaches.

We picked some green fruit off the tree this afternoon that we hope will ripen well enough to make into crisp or cobbler. Meanwhile, there are still quite a few peaches on the tree that should mature soon.

Live and learn.....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roasting Sweet Corn

It's sweet corn season in Wisconsin! We don't grow our own corn at Red Bucket Farm, but we take advantage of the season by visiting local farm stands. Lately, we've been buying two dozen ears of corn at a time.

Our favorite way to preserve sweet corn is simple. We soak the ears of corn--husks, silk and all--in water for 20-30 minutes, then roast whole on the grill. You can choose gas or charcoal grill, or even a campfire works nicely. Let the ears of corn cool, then remove the husks and silk. Cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. Flash freeze the kernels in a thin layer on cookie sheets for an hour or two, then scrape into freezer bags. (Don't forget to compost the husks, and feed the cobs to the chickens.)

We have several bags of roasted corn waiting to be used over the winter. Roasted corn is a lovely addition to stews, soups, savory pies, gratins....the list is endless. Don't miss out on the corn this season!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Enjoying Eggplant

Until a year ago, I had no idea that we could grow eggplant in Wisconsin. It seems so exotic and tropical that I was surprised when a friend mentioned that his eggplant were going crazy. It's true that eggplant love the heat. Cool summers might not produce many eggplant, but this summer has been plenty warm, and the addition of my greenhouse last fall made me want to give it a try.

If the only eggplant you've ever seen are the giant purple things grown commercially in Florida, then think again. Eggplant come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. They can be white, red, green, orange and purple. They can range in size from a golf ball (ornamental) to football. Some are even striped. Almost anything that you grow at home will be more tender and tasty than the grocery store variety. The skins are softer and may not need to be peeled at all.

Since eggplant (sometimes called aubergines in cookbooks) come from all over the world, you'll find recipes for them in a wide variety of cuisines. If you haven't got many cookbooks, visit your local library to find ideas. If you love Italian food, try eggplant Parmigiana, eggplant calzones, stuffed eggplant, caponata (eggplant salad), grilled eggplant with pasta, or even eggplant on pizza. If Indian food is your thing, try eggplant with yogurt and rice, or curried eggplant puree with flatbread. Martin Yan recommends Chinese spicy fried eggplant, which is messy but delicious. Mediterranean traditions really know what to do with eggplant: spicy chickpea and eggplant stew, grilled eggplant packets, marinated eggplant, moussaka, eggplant frittata, gnocchi with eggplant, ratatouille, and bab gannouj.

I think I'd better go pick some eggplant and head to the kitchen. It all sounds good to me!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Growing Squash

We've never grown squash at Red Bucket Farm. We have limited space on our urban farm and squash plants have a reputation of growing very large and sprawly. Besides, squash are relatively cheap to buy at the grocery store, so we've not been motivated to grow our own until now.

My interest in growing squash began with butternut squash, which we ate regularly last winter. Butternut squash store well, so I started Waltham butternut squash by seeds in the spring, just four small peat pots. Today I'm enjoying their ample presence in the gardens. It's true that they refuse to stay neatly in the raised beds, but I like their diva attitude, their gigantic leaves, and their profuse growth patterns. It seems like the squash fruits grow about an inch every day. At least they're not pouting like the tomatoes!

I also planted one "Butterstick" summer squash in a corner of a raised bed, and one pattypan summer squash in a large container. The pattypan squash looks like flying saucers. It's nice to have a few summer squash for immediate eating, and it's fun to watch the winter squash progress so quickly on the vines. I'll certainly plan to grow squash again next year. (Tomatoes are on the "maybe" list.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Daisy's Leg Injury

Daisy is injured! She's our Delaware hen, just over four months old. The Delaware breed is a heritage breed known for laying lots of big, brown eggs. In fact, I've been expecting her to start laying eggs any time now. We have high hopes for Daisy and we've been looking forward to what she can bring to the flock.

Unfortunately, she's clearly favoring her left leg, limping slowly around the chicken yard. After thinking about it, I realize that she's been laying down lately, quietly observing the other girls while resting in a corner. One of the kids remembers seeing her hop like a kangaroo yesterday.

The good news is that Daisy is still eating and drinking. She's not panting any more than the rest of the chickens in the summer heat, and she doesn't seem uncomfortable while resting. The other girls haven't noticed her injury and they aren't picking on her. We'll monitor the situation carefully and hope for a quick recovery.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Controlling Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are a common garden pest. They invade in mid-summer, usually from early July to the middle of August. They are voracious leaf-eaters. In my garden they seem to focus on fruit trees, especially the tender new trees, as well as grapes and raspberries.

It's not possible to eradicate the little buggers, so I'm concentrating on controlling them enough to limit damage. A few years ago we tried Japanese beetle traps, which use a pheromone to lure the bugs into the trap. It was successful (and disgusting to clean out), but some studies indicate that the traps actually increase the population of beetles in a property.

The same year that we used traps, we gave one application of beneficial nematodes to the lawn. This will help reduce the growth of the grubs in the grass and should last a few years. We also applied milky spore, another biological control method.

Lately, we've been using more immediate and practical controls. Hand picking the little rascals and crushing them between thumb and forefinger is icky, but it allows us to feed the bugs to the chickens. Most gardeners who hand pick just toss the bugs into a jar of soapy water. Finally, we let the hens into the lawn each evening to graze beneath the fruit trees. They enjoy scratching and pecking the grubs and beetles.

Japanese beetles won't kill a tree or plant, but the leaf damage weakens and stresses. The apricot tree in the photo above shows almost lacy leaves from beetle damage. The trees will survive to next year, and we'll continue to pick bugs during the most intense weeks of summer. Soon the apricots will make it all worthwhile.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Disappointing Raspberries

You can never have too many raspberries, right? So I'm not completely crazy in devoting a significant portion of my urban farm to these lovely gems. Except there's one small problem: I'm really lousy at growing raspberries!

We have a 4x8' raised bed that is full of summer bearing raspberries. We planted them three years ago. We didn't expect anything the first year, but we were hopeful the second year. The bed filled in nicely and we got a handful of berries last summer. The plants grew tall, so we fashioned a trellis system to keep them more organized.
Our home-made trellis system uses T-shaped end pieces made of pvc pipe and mounted on six foot garden stakes. We strung plastic covered clothesline through the supports, all the way around the bed and through the center of the bed. The vines are supported at knee, waist and shoulder heights.

I trimmed the canes carefully in early spring, removing only the dead canes. I added plenty of compost as fertilizer, all to no avail. Every day I pick a small handful of raspberries, barely enough to flavor my bowl of yogurt and certainly not enough to freeze for use later. Perhaps the majority of the raspberry crop arrived in mid-July when we were on vacation and the robins enjoyed my berries?

By contrast, my strawberry bed of the same dimension provided far more fruit than we could eat, prompting me to plug in the freezer and get to work. At this point, I need to reconsider the raspberries. If they're not going to produce fruit, they could be replaced by a more productive crop. Meanwhile, I've added fall-bearing raspberries to the hillside garden. Although these are new this summer, they are already looking more promising than the established summer-bearing plants.