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!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gnarly Carrots

My carrots won't be winning any prizes at the county fair. They're all gnarly and twisted, and I probably should have harvested them a month or two ago.

I've never successfully grown carrots from seeds. Every year, some little critter eats the tender shoots as they emerge from the ground, and the whole project is lost before it's begun. This year I started carrots in 4" pots indoors sometime in February. As the weather warmed, the little pots of seedlings moved to the greenhouse. Finally the carrots were transplanted in bunches to raised beds, where they were interplanted between the tomatoes as companion plants.

Perhaps I should have thinned the crop to avoid the gnarly mass of carrots that I'm pulling up this week. Truthfully, I don't mind. I'm happy to have carrots for soups and stews. I trim the tops, wash the carrots and store them in the root cellar. So far I've harvested about 15 pounds of gnarly carrots, and there is plenty more in the gardens. All is well.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Harvesting Hops

Our curiosity in growing hops at Red Bucket Farm is new. We began brewing beer in late 2011, which led to an interest in growing hops this summer.

We started brewing by purchasing an equipment kit (ale pail, carboy, siphon, capping device, etc) and an ingredient kit (grains, malt, yeast, hops). By following the directions and paying attention to detail, it's not too difficult to make very drinkable beverages. Brewing beer from kits is similar to making brownies from a boxed mix. It's easy and fun, but eventually you might want to try a recipe of your own. Growing hops made sense to us and seemed like part of the brewing adventure.

Hops are a perennial vine that flower in the late summer. They can grow twenty feet tall in one season and need sturdy structure. Pictured in the photo above are two of our three hops towers just after planting in July. We established three varieties---Cascade, Willamette, and Nugget---each in their own raised bed with a 12 foot tower. As the vines grew, we encouraged the strongest to attach to twine and clipped out the weak vines. Hops grow best in full sunshine.

At the end of the summer, all three of our hops plants produced flowers from which beer gets its aroma, flavor and distinctive bitterness. We carefully cut down the twine supporting the vines and pulled the flowers gently off the vine.

The flowers were dried in a 120 degree oven and then weighed for use. Our resident brew master refrigerated the flowers overnight and cooked up a wort the next day. It's percolating in the basement now.

We're pleasantly surprised that the vines were productive in their first year of growth. The plants will die back to the ground over winter. Next summer should produce a much bigger crop as the vines become more established.

Hops also have antiseptic qualities. I read that they're good for chicken health, so perhaps we'll have enough to share with the flock next summer. Meanwhile, Al the Cat (above) is having a small taste. Cheers!