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, May 29, 2012

Companion Planting

Last year I planted ten tomato plants in one raised bed. That way, when one of them got early blight and then late blight, they could all share the same disease more efficiently. Terrific, right?

Wrong. This year, I'm experimenting with companion planting. The idea with companion planting is that by planting different crops in close proximity, they assist each other with pest control, nutrient uptake and pollination. For example, it might be beneficial to plant onions near carrots, because onions are a deterrent to carrot fly larvae. I've read that garlic is beneficial to roses, because the garlic will ward off aphids and black spot, and increase the perfume of roses. There are numerous articles and books on the topic, and since I'm not an expert, I'd encourage you to do your own research.

This spring at Red Bucket Farm, I've inter-planted several vegetables with herbs. Tomatoes, basil, parsley, carrots, scallions and dill are all planted in shared beds. It's not as neat and tidy as last year's layout, and it may complicate crop rotation for next year, but I'm giving it a try.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rhubarb Chutney

It's rhubarb time of year! If your rhubarb patch produces well, try this recipe for rhubarb chutney. We serve it with Indian food---curried veggies with naan or chapati and mango lassi. Yum! This recipe is courtesy of my friend Terri Lynn.

Rhubarb Chutney

3/8 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh minced ginger root or 1 tsp ground ginger
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp dried red pepper
1 star anise
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine sugar, vinegar, ginger root, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, red pepper and star anise in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb, onion and raisins. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture is thickened.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dividing Strawberries

Last year's strawberry crop was sweet, juicy and prolific. We ate fresh strawberries in June, and enjoyed them frozen (sliced) all winter. Of course we'd like a repeat performance every year, but it's important to maintain the strawberry bed to keep them productive.

Strawberries grow especially well in raised beds with rich soil amended with compost and organic matter. Our strawberry bed at Red Bucket Farm was established a few years ago, and by last year the plants were becoming crowded. I knew it was time to divide them, but I wasn't sure how or when. I hoped to let them flower and produce this year's crop, then divide them mid-summer, but circumstances didn't allow for it.

In April we moved the entire strawberry bed to a new location, from a raised 8x4 bed to a raised 12x3 bed. First we moved the wooden frame for the bed, then we filled it with amended soil from one of last year's beds. Finally we moved the strawberry plants, lifting them out of the old bed in handful-sized clumps and then tucking them in the new bed with straw mulch. I moved hundreds of plants to the new bed and still had enough leftover to share with two families. The plants were beginning to bloom just as it was time to move them, and I was sure this year's crop would be negatively affected.

Good news! The strawberries are very happy in their new location. They get full sunshine now, and the blossoms and developing fruit look very promising. Perhaps this year's crop won't be disappointing after all. In the future, I'll plan to divide the strawberry plants in early spring.

Growing strawberries is easy. Once the raised bed is built, strawberry maintenance is low and the reward is delicious. Give it a try!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bobbing for Apples

Yesterday the weather was unseasonably warm---90 degrees---and the chickens were feeling the heat. The girls instinctively know to stay in the shade, and they each dig a little hollow in the dirt to seek the coolness of the earth. We also provide a trug of wet sand so they can take turns in the sand bath. Chickens do indeed pant like a dog, and they hold their wings away from their bodies when quite warm.

One of my teenagers decided that it would be fun to teach the girls to bob for apples in the heat of the day. We cut an apple into small bits and tossed them into a trug of water. It was amusing to watch the girls peck out the apples. They continued to drink from the extra water all day and I think they appreciated a little diversion from the heat.

A word of warning: I've read that chickens drown quite easily, so don't try this little trick without close supervision!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More Swarms

Perhaps I was too eager in my blog post this morning. At 12:45 pm, my brave little swarm of bees absconded the red hive. It took them three minutes to exit, and about ten minutes to form a cluster around the queen in my spruce tree. This swarm is slightly larger than a softball.

While I was photographing the smaller cluster, I noticed an even larger group of bees higher in the tree (see above). This leads me to believe that both of my hives swarmed yesterday while I was out. I'm guessing the larger swarm is from the stronger blue hive, and the smaller swarm is from the weaker green hive, which obviously isn't weak at all if it's got enough energy to swarm.

Fortunately, I'm expecting delivery of a package of bees this week for the new red hive. Perhaps I'll even remember to cork up the entrances for a day or so to encourage them to stay.

Catching a Swarm

On Tuesday of last week (April 24), I saw a "practice swarm" over the blue hive in my bee yard. A practice swarm is when several hundred bees prepare for a real departure swarm. My bees whirled in a cloud over their hive for about ten minutes at noon, in the heat of the day. After their practice drill, they all returned to the hive. But I knew this was a warning signal that the bees were preparing to leave.

In the spring, the queen begins laying eggs in huge numbers in one central location of the hive known as the brood nest. When the bees perceive that the brood nest is getting too crowded, they prepare their current queen for flight by slimming her down while simultaneously grooming a new queen in one of several queen cells. Before long, several hundred or even thousand bees will gather up the queen and leave for a new home, while the remaining bees will stay and carry on with their new queen.

Last week's practice swarm warned me that this exodus would happen soon, but the weather turned cold and rainy, postponing the event until yesterday. In the morning I could sense that the bee yard was agitated, but my day's events called me away. By late afternoon, I noticed a cluster of bees on the foundation of my greenhouse. They were certainly clustered around a queen, and the day was quickly passing with storms predicted for night.

We jumped into action and scooped them into a shoe box. Homeless bees aren't aggressive, so it's not as scary as it sounds. Then we put the shoe box into the empty red hive along with two top bars of clean new comb (donated from the blue hive). I also gave them a jar of sugar water.

This morning they are still there. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they won't abscond.