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.