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!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Greenhouse Shadecloth

In my life as a Wisconsin gardener, much of my thought process is about how to get bushes, vines, trees, chickens and bees to survive the bitter cold winter. But this year, I'm learning how to get those same bushes, vines, trees, chickens and bees to survive an extraordinarily blistering summer. And although it's been hot outside, it's been even hotter in the greenhouse.

Daytime temperatures in the greenhouse are frequently more than 100 degrees. Inside, we're growing eggplant and peppers in large containers. These two veggies theoretically love the heat, and I thought they would enjoy the protection of the greenhouse. I was surprised to discover that the leaves of the eggplant bushes were bleaching and dropping. Once it dawned on me that it was just too sunny in there, I draped an old sheet over the top of the greenhouse. Within a couple days, the leaves began to turn green again.

We ordered a "shadecloth kit" and installed it inside the greenhouse. It's not perfect, but it certainly makes the greenhouse more tolerable in the heat. The eggplants are recovering and shooting out more blossoms and fruit. I imagine that I'll remove the shade cloth in a few weeks and store it until next year. I've also added a fan to the greenhouse. It's important to keep the air moving, which seems to keep the whiteflies under control.

Whether it's too hot or too cold, we always enjoy eating whatever fresh food we manage to grow.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Apiary Meltdown

We experienced a disaster in the bee yard at Red Bucket Farm. Due to extreme heat in the first week of July (over 100 degrees for three consecutive days), we discovered that all the combs in the red hive had melted off the top bars and dropped to the floor of the hive, crushing hundreds or thousands of bees. This was our newest hive and it had been doing fabulously, building a dozen combs, laying eggs, tending brood, bringing in nectar and pollen.

Last weekend (July 14) we cleaned out the melted mess from the floor of the hive. The combs had not melted off the top bars. In fact, there was still an inch or two of comb attached to each top bar, but the bulk of the comb had dropped in the heat. I remember a day in the extreme heat (when I was preoccupied with trying to keep the chickens alive) that there were suddenly a large number of bees on the outside of that hive. At the time I assumed it was normal bearding behavior in the heat, but in retrospect I believe the returning forager bees clustered outside because of the disaster inside.

We also discovered bees building comb in the roof of that hive. This was new comb without honey or brood, so we suspect they began building there after the meltdown. I have to admire their work ethic and resourcefulness.

After cleaning up the disaster, we shook the bees out of the rooftop and back into the hive body, then replaced all the top bars and let the bees get back to work. We're rebuilding the rooftop to repair the warp and prevent them from accessing the space. We also built an arbor-like structure over the bee yard and sewed awnings to provide some shade from the summer sun. The awnings can be removed in the fall when the sunshine will be beneficial to the hives.

We're concerned that it's rather late in the summer for that hive to rebuild enough that it will be strong for winter survival. This morning we took two top bars from an adjacent healthy hive to share with the struggling colony. The borrowed combs were full of honey, brood and bees. Perhaps this will jump-start the red hive for a chance at survival. If the queen was lost in the disaster, they may be able to groom a new one.  We're also providing supplemental cups of honey.

There is some good news. One of the hives is quite strong. We harvested 20 cups of honey which we can use to feed the weaker hive. Maybe there will even be some honey for us to enjoy. It's been a fascinating journey. There is nothing like an emergency to teach us about bee life.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Heat Exhausted Hens

It's been a brutally hot week here in the upper Midwest, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for days. My four hens have done reasonably well in the heat by scratching wallows in the dirt and staying in the shade.

Last night the heat was unrelenting, still over 90 degrees at 10 pm. We placed a fan outside the hen house, hoping that a little breeze would provide some relief. Squill (the Speckled Sussex) was panting so fast and loudly that she may not have gotten any rest.  

This morning (a mere 80 degrees at 7:30 am) Squill was showing distress. She was panting loud and fast, stopping only to open her beak wide and gulp for air. By 10 am I couldn't risk it anymore. I brought the girls inside and settled them on the cool tile floor of the basement bathroom. They have food, water, and a couple of garden trugs with hay. They're resting quietly in relative darkness. Let's hope the poor things survive the summer.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Herding Dog

Lately, I've been trying to blog with information that might prove useful to other urban farmers, but today's blog is strictly a stupid pet story.

Most evenings about an hour before dark, we head out to the backyard in the hope of getting a little work accomplished after the heat of the day. While we're tending the gardens, we let the hens out of the chicken yard to wander around, pecking grubs and bugs from the ground. Our dog, Beta, has learned to follow the chickens without harassing them too much. She seems to enjoy the hens and our evening family time.

Beta is half German Shepherd. She came to us several years ago from a shelter organization. She had clearly been abused in her life before us. She was afraid of everything, choosing to hide in the safety of her crate most of the day. Over the years, she's become a good family pet, but she overcompensates for her fears by being unnecessarily protective and overly aggressive. Nevertheless, she is kind to the chickens.

The other evening, one of us began to shoo the hens back into their fenced chicken yard. As soon as we began, Beta carefully circled to the far side of the chickens and gently corralled them into their pen. We were amazed, so we let them back out and tried it again. As soon as we began to shoo them, Beta calmly passed beyond the farthest hen and efficiently herded them into their pen. We tried this new routine four times, and each opportunity Beta became more confident and efficient, never ruffling the hens.

Most of us think of German Shepherds as drug-sniffing police dogs, but at some point in their history they must have been sheep herding animals. I guess some of those instincts remain. It's a good pet trick for an unusual farm dog.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cooling the Hens

In the month of June, we had thirteen days over 90 degrees, which is more than we usually experience in an entire summer. Additionally, we've had less than an inch of rain. Unfortunately, the extended forecast indicates no relief.

So how do we keep the girls cool? It's important to provide shade for chickens. My girls follow the shade around the chicken yard as the sun moves through the day. They scratch a depression in the dirt and cover themselves with dust, wallowing in the coolness of the soil. They have an area behind the coop with a low covered roof so they can always find protection from the sun and predators.

Water is especially important during a heat wave. We provide three open drinking bowls and refill at least twice daily. Daisy the Delaware has discovered that she enjoys standing in the large water bowl. It's comical, but she won't allow photographs. We decided to take the hint, and we placed a garden trug in the chicken yard with an inch or so of water. They seem to enjoy hanging out at the beach, drinking water and wading to cool their ankles. (Really? Chickens have ankles?) 

Our best discovery this summer has been to water the chicken yard. We're not the kind of folks to waste water on grass, but the ground is terribly parched, cracked and hard as concrete. Spraying water over part of the chicken yard gives some relief for the hens, allowing them to scratch and peck for bugs. It may even reduce the air temperature just a tiny bit due to the evaporation.

It's normal for egg production to decrease in extremely hot weather. As long as the girls survive the heat wave, we'll be happy farmers.