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, June 26, 2012

Conserving Water

Parts of northern Wisconsin received so much rain last week that it has literally flooded, and we're sorry for their losses. But here in Dane County, we've received less than a half-inch of rain in the entire month of June. The ground is as hard as rock, and a recent attempt to dig a hole (for a hops structure) required the use of a pick ax. It's bad....so let's talk about proper watering techniques.

First of all, put away all those crazy sprinklers that throw water into the air, often resulting in water running down the driveway and sidewalk. This kind of watering is wasteful and we can't afford to waste a drop. Also, remember that the grass is not dead; it's merely dormant, and it will return whenever it rains. We don't water the lawn--we consider drought a hiatus from mowing.

I water my raised beds with a long rain wand either early in the morning or late at night. I hold the flowing water right to the ground, avoiding getting any water on foliage. Damp foliage leads to all kinds of diseases, and the roots need moisture, not the leaves. Soaker hoses would be very useful because they drip water slowly right at root level. It's better for root development to water deeply and less often, rather than spraying lightly and frequently.

Buy the best rain wand that you can afford. The cheap ones at the discount store will last you a season. Professional quality watering equipment will have brass fittings that can be replaced when worn.

We love our new rain barrel collection system, but without much rain, we still rely on hoses for much of our watering. We reserve the rain water and distilled water (collected from the basement dehumidifier) for use on the blueberry bushes. Rainwater is pH neutral, which is better for acid-loving blueberries.

It's far more time consuming to water by hand, but it conserves water while keeping you in touch with your gardens. Please water responsibly!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Blueberries & Netting

Cultivating a variety of fruiting plants takes time and patience. Strawberry vines will begin to produce in their second year, and raspberry canes in a year or two. Currants and gooseberries also take a few years to harvest a decent crop. But blueberries will really test one's patience, and when the crop finally begins to ripen, we're not about to let a single morsel fall prey to the birds.

Blueberries require extra care in most locations because they need acidic soil and plenty of sun. Amending the soil is standard procedure, but it can be tricky to find organic acidic soil amendment and fertilizer. Nevertheless, it's all worth the trouble. Blueberries are low in calories, high in antioxidants and oh so delicious.

Here at Red Bucket Farm we planted four blueberry bushes in 2009 and four more in 2011. We have five different varieties of blueberries which helps boost pollination. This is the first summer that we'll harvest more than a handful of berries.

We learned that it's beneficial to leave the ripening berries on the bush for a week or two. This improves flavor and nutrition but it leaves them susceptible to bird raids. So we opted to net each bush with nylon netting purchased at the fabric store. It looks a little silly, but will allow sunshine and rain to penetrate without weighing down the branches. Bunnies love to eat blueberry bushes especially in winter, so be sure to fence them carefully.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Currants are delicious, nutritious, and easy to grow. They are nearly impossible to find in the supermarket and also difficult to buy at the farmers market. They are so easy to grow that there is no reason to not have a few bushes.

Currants have been in America since colonial days, but they fell out of favor in the early 1900s because they were an alternate host for white pine blister rust. The plant disease wasn't a significant problem for the currants, but it caused serious trouble for certain pine trees. The federal government banned currants and spent much time, money and effort to eradicate them, especially east of the Mississippi River. Eventually, they figured out that the plant disease had other hosts, and that eliminating currant bushes wasn't making much of an impact. In 1966, the ban was lifted.

There are three kinds of currants---black, red and white. The red currant bushes grow about four feet tall and benefit from a little structural assistance to help prevent them flopping over. Red currants are tiny--slightly smaller than a pea--and they grow in long, dangling clusters. White currant bushes are sometimes referred to as pink or champagne. They have a similar growth pattern as the reds. Black currants are smaller, sturdier bushes about three feet tall, with slightly larger fruits that grow in clumps close to the branches. Perhaps there is a flavor difference between the different colored fruits, but you might need some experience to develop an appreciation for those differences.

Here at Red Bucket Farm we have ten currant bushes growing in a narrow side yard under partial shade. We water the new plants for their first year, and after that we don't tend them often. They produce fruit in early summer, which we make into jams and sauces. This year we made seven pints of red currant sauce (for pancakes, yogurt, ice cream), three cups of white currant jam and six cups of black currant jam. (When making currant jam, do NOT add pectin! Currants contain plenty of natural pectin and need no extra help. Ask me how I know this.....)

The only reason I can think that currants aren't more commonly grown is that it is tedious work to pick the little fruits off the vine, but the results are delicious. I recommend growing currants in your backyard garden!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Garden Terraces

For years we have struggled with the steep hillside at the back of our property. The previous owner had established a flower garden on the hill, but it had fallen into a neglected mass of invasive decorative grass and day lilies. It was much too wide to weed or cultivate. The steep hill made it difficult and sometimes dangerous to navigate. It was slippery and back-breaking. We called it the "jungle garden."

In the spring of 2009, we decided to begin terracing the hill as seen in the photo above. This section was built into two wide terraces which we planted with eight blueberry bushes.

Building terraces is labor-intensive and difficult, but once accomplished, the chores of gardening are far more manageable. In the photo above, you can see the middle section that was recently terraced in three steps. The lower two sections are planted with raspberries, while the upper section is for roses and flowers. There is a small walking path between the terraces.

This section of hill behind the greenhouse is still under construction. It will also be three narrow terraces. Unless you have very long arms, it's easier to reach to the center of each terrace if the width is about three feet.

The last section of the hill is not terraced, but the fall-bearing raspberries have taken hold nicely along with the rhubarb. We placed small pavers in a cruciform pattern to allow access for weeding and picking berries.  For now, I think we'll leave this section as it is.

We're happy that the project is nearly finished, and we look forward to many years of gardening on the hillside. Terracing is worth the effort.