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!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Safe Seed Pledge

When I first began gardening, I would drive to my nearest garden supply store and buy a packet of seeds, usually whatever first caught my attention. Now I'm a more informed and cautious gardener. I suspect my local seed company is in competition with DuPont and Monsanto for genetically modified seed corn, so I choose to buy my seeds from more conscientious suppliers.

There are many seed catalogs out there. Some of them have wonderful photographs, others have useful growing information, still others might include supplies and tools. It's fun to curl up next to the fireplace and read the catalogs---there is so much to learn from them.

I choose open pollinated or F1 varieties. Seeds collected from open pollinated plants will produce offspring essentially the same as the parent plant. Heirloom varieties are all open pollinated (but not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms). An F1 hybrid is a first generation hybrid produced from two open pollinated parent plants. Hybrids may be more disease resistant, but they will not reproduce reliably. By contrast, genetically modified plants have been created by inserting unrelated genetic material into a plant. The long-term hazards of consuming genetically modified food is still unknown. I'm choosing to avoid it.

I'm sending my business to companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which indicates the company will not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. These companies support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils and genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems. It's said that "money talks" in our culture, so I urge you to send your seed business to companies that make you proud.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planning the Gardens

Snow has finally arrived at Red Bucket Farm. We enjoyed a very mild December and Old Man Winter took his time in arriving, but the city is currently covered in a few inches of snow with a slick layer of crunchy ice on top. Ick.

The good news is that this year's seed catalogs have arrived, and I'm nearly finished with my garden plan for 2012. This year I'm trying to incorporate new gardening practices, specifically crop rotation and companion planting.

Companion planting is the concept that plants have friends and foes in the garden. Why do basil and tomatoes coexist so nicely? Why can't I plant carrots next to parsnips? Sometimes, a plant may emit an aroma that is offensive to another plant's predators. Often the evidence of beneficial companionship is merely anecdotal.  Still, I'm reading plenty of gardening books and trying to learn from the experience of others. Most importantly, I'm learning that it's good to plant my raised beds with a mixture of plants. This year there will not be eight tomato plants marching in a row. Instead, tomatoes will co-mingle with basil and carrots. Perhaps this will allow more air circulation and limit the blight problems of last year.

The other important planning consideration is crop rotation, which is important for soil nutrition and for pest and disease control. Soil diseases and insect eggs can overwinter in the soil. If I rotate crops around the raised beds, those bugs and soil diseases have farther to travel to find their favorite victim. This means that I can't plant beans this year where they grew last year, nor can I grow plants of the same family in the same bed. It's a little like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle.

I have my hand-drawn garden map from last year---very important since I don't always remember exactly where everything was located. This year's map is still in it's final planning stages. The next decisions will be to decide exactly which crops I want to grow, and then I'll begin choosing seeds from those beautiful seed catalogs.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Feeding the Bees

Yesterday the weather was warm and sunny. We reached a record high of 51 degrees and the bees took advantage of it. There was plenty of bee activity around the hives and the entire backyard for two or three hours during the warmest part of the day. Although I've seen them take short cleansing flights over the winter, yesterday they were stretching out for longer flights. I suspect that many of the older bees were leaving the hive for the last time, sacrificing themselves for the good of the group. Bees form an amazing democracy.

Today the weather is still warm but not sunny. There is far less activity outside the hives, as the bees are choosing to remain inside their shelters. We took the opportunity to unwrap the hive insulation covers and peek inside.

The blue hive looks great. The cluster of bees remains close to the entrance and they have plenty of honey stored in the combs. We looked only through the observation window, and chose to not open the cover or disturb this hive in any way. It's a big group of bees with mellow temperament, and they seem to be doing very well.

The green hive also looked busy through the observation window. We're more concerned about this hive because it's a much smaller cluster of bees, and they have fewer combs of stored honey. Nevertheless, this group seems more feisty than the blue hive, so I'm remaining optimistic. We quickly removed three top bars, creating just enough space to slip a hand inside. I removed three empty honey feeder cups that we had placed there in early November, and replaced them with two full honey cups. On warm days, the bees will be able to break cluster and gather the honey into the combs. We replaced the cover quickly and wrapped the hives again in the insulation blankets.

It's been an extremely mild winter. Perhaps Mother Nature is giving my bees a chance at survival. So far, so good.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pesticide Notification Sign Up

Last spring I nearly had a heart attack when my neighbor's chemical lawn service arrived just as the currant bushes in my side yard were beginning to form fruit. I ran outside and talked to the employee, who tried to be cautious and respectful about spewing liquid chemicals on my food crops.

I've just learned that we have another option. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection provides a Landscape Pesticide Advance Notice Registry, which means that the chemical lawn companies will give us advance notice of pesticide application. Here at Red Bucket Farm, this means that we can keep the bees inside the hives on the day of chemical application by corking their entrance holes when they return the previous night. Even one day's notice will give us a chance to protect them. We can also cover crops, keep the dog inside, close the house windows, and decide if the chickens are at risk.

You can register, too. Go to datcpservices.wisconsin.gov/landreg/index.jsp. First register yourself as a homeowner/renter, then register whatever adjacent property is causing concern. The deadline for signing up is February 1.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year Goals

I'm not one to make personal resolutions, but I have made a little list of projects and ideas to accomplish on Red Bucket Farm in 2012. In no particular order:

1. Plant fewer brussels sprouts and fertilize weekly with chicken poop tea. Last year's brussels sprouts grew big and leafy and took a huge amount of space, but produced almost nothing. I'll plant far fewer plants and try to take better care of them. Remember that brussels sprouts are huge feeders.

2. Create a rain water storage system under the eaves (see photo above). Remove the raised bed and recycle the lumber for other projects. Since commercially available water barrels are trendy and pricey, this will take some creativity.

3. Build a raised bed between the clothesline and the blueberry terrace, approximately 12' x 3'.

4. Plant more currants on the south side of the house. Black currants, red currants, champagne currants?

5. Replant the former juniper hill with something perennial, fruitful, and winter hardy---perhaps blackberries. (same photo above)

6. Plant all available containers with herbs and vegetables. Remember that carrots and potatoes will work here as well as herbs, tomatoes and peppers. Empty containers are a waste. Place containers in sunny spaces, perhaps on the retaining wall or bee yard. Watch that the chipmunks don't destroy these crops.

7. Plant more root vegetables and/or storage crops such as squash and potatoes, perhaps in new raised bed. (Companion plant marigolds with potatoes for organic bug control.)

8. Built root pantry storage space in garage, insulated to stay just above freezing in the winter.

9. Plant much more parsley. Lot and lots. (Remember that tabbouleh uses two cups of minced parsley leaves.)

10. Plant hops on arbor (remove grape vines.) Research the right hops for beer making. Also, remember that hops are a good tonic for the chickens (flowers only!)

That's my list for now. All plans are subject to change without notice. Happy New Year!