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!

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.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Circus Update

I'm taking a moment to bring you up-to-date with the current chicken wars in my backyard. You may remember that young Petunia decided yesterday morning to assertively squeeze herself into the nest box with older Wisteria. The result was a bloody comb. It started out rather small, but by mid-afternoon she was bleeding freely and her comb was far more damaged. Chickens will continue to peck when even the smallest amount of blood is present.

I attempted to stop the bleeding with pressure and a clean rag, and I applied styptic powder, all to no avail. I needed four hands to solve this and my family wasn't available. I put the bleeding Petunia into a cat carrier and took her to our veterinarian. With great patience, he trimmed her comb and cauterized the bleeding. When we were finished, the exam room was a bloody mess and Petunia was so exhausted from the struggle that she fell asleep in my arms.

We're keeping Petunia separated from the other girls until her comb is fully healed. She's in the day pen for now. We put her into the hen house from dusk to dawn so she can stay warm with the other girls in the chill of  night, but we separated her again at daylight. She seems a little subdued, and I hope she learned be more respectful of the other laying hens. Maybe. She's not quite as beautiful with her abbreviated comb, but she still has a few years of good egg laying ahead of her, if she can stay out of trouble.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Red Bucket Circus

Occasionally, someone will ask what the difference is between a garden and an urban farm. In my mind the difference is livestock, and in my case that means chickens. Today I'm wondering what the difference is between an urban farm and a circus. It's been a crazy week here and it's only Wednesday!

On Monday, Petunia was having trouble laying an egg. She's a young Barred Plymouth Rock. She laid her first beautiful egg on Sunday, a lovely shade of palest pink-white. Monday afternoon she began sitting on the nest at 2:30 or 3:00. By the time I left for work at 6pm, she was panting and struggling. I thought she was egg-bound, which can be fatal. I left a note for the boys to deal with it when they got home from soccer. While they were on the phone consulting with our poultry expert, Petunia laid her egg. Whew! Crisis averted.

On Tuesday afternoon I discovered that Rhoda the Rhode Island Red has some kind of eye injury. Her left eye is closed as seen in the photo above. We don't see any sign of blood, redness, swelling or violence. But her eye is still shut today and she's very subdued, although she does move around a bit. I think she's eating.

Today Petunia felt the need to lay her egg at the same time as Wisteria. Wisteria is a one-year old Wyandotte, the biggest girl in our flock. She commands the largest nest box (out of three), and she doesn't like to share. But Petunia insisted on squeezing her fluffy fanny into the same box with Wisteria, and now her comb is all bloodied. I tried to wash it, but wasn't very successful.

I decided to secure Petunia and One-Eyed Rhoda into the day shelter so they could get some relief from the others, but Petunia was having a fit so I let her back out. She proceeded straight to the hen house and climbed back into the nest box with Wisteria which caused a chicken growling match. Yes, growling. Wisteria was finished laying her egg and she was staying in the box just to be ornery. I threw her out.

Also, there was one incomplete egg in the poop trays this morning. This happens occasionally and usually isn't anything to worry about, but I wonder if Rhoda is too stressed to lay properly.

So now I think I should go shopping to get more nest boxes, some eye ointment and saline solution. No, it's not for me. Fortunately, I have styptic powder to stop bleeding, if I can apply that properly. I'm off and running.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fall Nectar

Did you know that goldenrod stinks? Seriously, folks, this stuff smells icky. I'm training myself to hold my breath when I walk past the wildflower garden. I might be tempted to rip it out, except that it provides an excellent source of fall nectar for the honeybees.

We have two top bar hives at Red Bucket Farm. Bee activity had settled down in August. Neither hive looked wildly robust, and I was worried about their ability to survive the winter without enough stored honey. But the arrival of flowering goldenrod in September has encouraged substantial bee activity in recent weeks, and we are cautiously optimistic about winter survival.

I have to admit that the learning curve for beekeeping is steep. I subscribe to a couple of email chat groups regarding bees, and I'm mostly confused by those conversations. Traditional beekeepers discuss manipulating frames, moving the supers, screening the queens from certain parts of the hive, dusting for mites, feeding sugar syrup and more. All that stuff means gobbledygook to me!

By conventional Langstroth beekeeping standards, we are grossly delinquent in our inspection and manipulation of the beehives. But when I look in the observation windows, I see thousands of bees happily doing their work. They seem to have filled most of the hives with honey, hopefully enough to feed on during the winter. We don't have plans to harvest honey at this point. We're just hoping to overwinter the hives and see what happens.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to hold my breath when I walk past the goldenrod flowers. As long as the bees are happy, I'm happy and fascinated by their addition to the farm.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Urban Foraging

Long before I was interested in urban farming, I was familiar with the concept of urban foraging. Years ago we would harvest wild raspberries along the railroad tracks to make one delicious berry pie in the middle of July. Later, we learned to look carefully along the edges of the rails-to-trails bike paths in our region, carefully timing our bike rides to gather wild berries before the birds ate them all.

In more recent years, we've made wild grape jelly from the grapes found in the woods near our house. It was difficult to harvest the grapes, which bore the most fruit at the top of their vines. My agile teenager made those harvests possible, scrambling up trees to pick grapes.

This year my foraging efforts are more.... middle-aged. I called a neighbor and asked permission to gather the crabapples from her tree. I came home with a bucket full of crabapples, ranging in size from grape to walnut, with varying degrees of scars and bruises. I salvaged enough to make a batch of spicy crabapples, seen the photo above. The crabapples are packed in a sugar syrup with cinnamon, cloves and allspice. We'll use it as dessert over ice cream or pound cake, and perhaps we'll serve it occasionally with pork.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping my eyes open for free urban crops. What have you foraged?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tomato Harvest

My tomato plants have been high maintenance this year. Although my Amish Paste tomatoes started out healthy and eager, by July they suffered from early blight. We treated with copper fungicide, which was useful and held disaster at arm's length. Just when I thought they might recover, the plants showed symptoms of late blight. More copper fungicide. These twelve plants have looked sick, spotted and wilted all summer, but in spite of it all, they have produced an impressive amount of fruit.

My favorite way of preserving the crop is simple. I oven roast a pan of tomatoes with some onion and garlic for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees. After allowing it to cool, I puree it in the food processor and freeze in plastic freezer containers. It's easy to do and doesn't require peeling tomatoes or sweating over a hot canning process. I roast a pan of tomatoes twice a week. So far, I've frozen 50 cups of tomato sauce and there are still another 100 tomatoes on the vines.

So for all my whining about the tomatoes, I'm happy to report that this crop has been successful!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Midget Melons

It's important to try growing new things in the garden each year. One of my experimental crops this year is muskmelon. (I grew up thinking of this as cantaloupe, but I guess it's technically a muskmelon.) I chose to grow a variety called "Minnesota Midget," bred at the University of Minnesota. It is known as an early-growing variety and a good choice for northern gardeners.

In mid-April I started the seeds indoors under bright lights. Since melons love heat, I transplanted the seedlings into large containers in the greenhouse, where it's extra hot all summer. The vines of Minnesota Midget grow only three feet long, making them suitable for containers. The fruits are small, about the size of a softball.

How do you know when a melon is ripe? When they turn from green to yellow and the stem is loose on the vine. If they fall off, they're over ripe, but the chickens love them that way!

We've harvested a handful of these cute little melons, perhaps five or six. The fruit has been juicy and the texture is not mealy or unpleasant. Unfortunately, they are almost tasteless. Considering that we've grown three large containers full of abundant vines and harvested only a few boring melons, I'm thinking it's unlikely we'll grow melon again next year. Still, it wasn't a complete failure and we don't regret this experiment.