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, November 30, 2012

I think I can

Do you remember the classic children's book called The Little Engine That Could? It was a story about a Little Blue Engine who was determined to pull a train of toys and food over the mountain to help children on the other side. And her mantra was "I think I can, I think I can....."

My two pullets, Thelma and Louise, have adopted this as their new mantra. Every day, Thelma and Louise climb into two adjacent nest boxes, where they sit and try very hard to accomplish something wonderful. The older hens stand nearby, cooing encouragement in soft voices. So far there are no results, but these girls are nearly mature and ready to lay. I believe in a short time, they will have something fabulous to announce to all the neighbors.

I think I can, I think I can.....

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hoop House

Gardening in hoop houses is an affordable way to extend the growing season. It's the end of November and I'm still bringing in fresh bunching onions (scallions) and Swiss chard. This has been such a successful addition to my urban farm. With a little creativity, anybody can build one. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chickens Mid-molt

Several people have inquired, so here is a quick update on my molting hens. The girls are doing okay, or at least they're not completely miserable. It is normal for them to molt at this time of year. It doesn't make much sense to me, as the nights are quite cold and I wish they were all fully feathered, but this is considered normal. Egg production began tapering off quickly in October. I haven't retrieved an egg since November 3. The same three hens that formerly gave 15-20 eggs per week are now on hiatus while their feathers grow in. It takes all their energy to accomplish this. In the photo above, you can see tiny quills poking through Crocus's head and neck. They resemble white needles against her darker feathers.

Daisy's tail feathers are growing in now and I think she is approaching the end of her molt. Each hen begins and ends the molt at her own pace. Squill, who preferred to not be photographed today, still has bare skin patches on her neck and shoulders.

Meanwhile, we've winterized the coop by covering it with sheet plastic and plexiglass. The girls have plenty of space to stay out of the wind and precipitation, yet they have the freedom to wander outside when it's sunny and warm. They have open water in their heated water dish, and we've increased their protein intake with sunflower seeds as treats.

We're hoping for eggs again after the holidays. Meanwhile, we try to keep the girls clean, dry and well-fed. This is Mother Nature's way of giving the hens a vacation from many months of hard work. And this year I gave them holiday lights on their fence to keep them cheerful.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Winterizing Beehives

A few weeks ago we began winterizing our beehives. We started by wrapping the bee yard with heavy plastic. The arbor-like structure around the bee yard is multi-purpose. In the summer we hang awnings to provide shade for the hives; in the winter we wrap the lower sections to provide a wind break.

Next, we wrap each top bar hive individually. We make an insulation blanket out of large plastic bags filled with 4" fiberglass insulation. We wrap the blankets carefully around the hive box and cover it with tar paper. It's cinched down with nylon web straps. We also secure the box to the ground with more nylon straps and hurricane anchors. It seems excessive in the calm of November, but we might be glad for it during a January blizzard.

Each of our top bar hives has six entrance holes on the small east-facing end of the hive. As the weather gets cooler and the bees less active, it's a good idea to close up some of the entrances to reduce cold air flow.

Evidently, the bees in my blue hive thought I was too slow in closing up entrances. They decided to solve this problem themselves by filling in all three top entrance holes with propolis, their own special bee glue.

The three lower entrance holes on that hive are partially closed. They left a little room to exit and enter. I guess I won't mess with their system since they seem to have it worked out. I'll be curious to see if they open all six holes in the spring. And if they don't, should I do anything about it?

We're optimistic about our hives this winter. In spite of various summer challenges, all three hives seem to have plenty of honey stored and they appear healthy and strong. Now we wait out the winter and hope for the best.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Talkin' Turkey

Years ago, my mother-in-law would roast wild game for Thanksgiving dinner. Each year was a little different---wild goose, turkey, or pheasant---depending on what my father-in-law had successfully hunted that fall. I suspect this is how our forbears celebrated Thanksgiving, serving whatever had been harvested.

Each year, millions of turkeys are raised in industrial conditions for consumption at the holidays. The birds have been bred for extra large breasts, so large that they may not even be able to stand up. They are grown quickly in very crowded conditions, and fed genetically modified corn and soy products. Not surprisingly, they don't taste anything like wild game or pasture raised birds.

Last year we decided to support a local turkey farmer. We placed an order for a pastured raised heritage breed turkey, and I drove 20 miles to the small market to pick up the bird. I seem to recall that it cost five or six dollars a pound, so even a small turkey was a hefty $50. The flavor was pretty fabulous.

This year we're hosting a larger crowd and we simply can't afford to purchase a heritage breed turkey large enough for the family. But I also couldn't bring myself to buy an industrial bird. We found a compromise at the local grocery store---a frozen turkey grown by an organic farm cooperative. It's not quite as local as last year's bird, but at $3.99 a pound, I can afford it and still support a farmer in my state.

Before you buy a Thanksgiving turkey, I urge you to ponder all your options. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Naked Chickens

I'm trying to remain optimistic. Every day I wander out to the chicken coop and check the nest boxes for eggs, but it's to no avail. My flock is betwixt and between. The pullets haven't started laying yet, and the experienced hens are molting.

It's almost painful to watch. Feathers drop out in large clumps. Daisy the Delaware is half naked, her pink skin obviously chilled in the cool fall weather. She has no tail feathers left and there are large bare patches on her sides.

As pin feathers begin grow in, Daisy limps around the chicken yard without any energy, clearly stressed by the process. We've been supplementing with sunflower seeds for extra protein, and we make sure the girls are clean, dry and protected from wind and rain. And we wait. Poor things.