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!

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?