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, April 25, 2013

Building Raised Beds

A friend recently asked for advice regarding how to plow his garden beds. I was a little stunned by the question since plowing isn't ever required at Red Bucket Farm. My friend has a large garden in his urban backyard that he plants in traditional rows, and each spring he needs to cultivate the whole plot before planting.

Here at Red Bucket Farm, we use raised garden beds exclusively. Although the initial investment is more expensive and laborious, it's well worth the effort. Raised beds allow the gardener to create rich, fertile soil that remains loose and easily cultivated by hand. Watering is confined exactly where needed. A properly mulched raised bed rarely requires weeding. And no boots ever touch the soil, completely eliminating soil compaction.

Last weekend we added one new raised bed. First, we built a wood frame and placed it in position. Dimensions for raised beds vary, but we have found that four feet across the bed is maximum width, otherwise it's just too difficult to reach the middle. Three feet across is more comfortable, but standard lumber dimensions makes four feet an economical use of lumber. This bed is 4 x 8. We allow enough space between beds to access with a wheel barrow and mow the lawn.

After the frame is in position, it's time to remove the sod and set it aside on a tarp. Then dig down the depth of one shovel, loosening the soil and set that aside. Replace the pieces of sod at the bottom of the trench, grassy side facing down. Those pieces will decompose naturally, too deep to sprout. The loose soil is placed on top of the torn sod. Next we add various soil enhancements---sifted compost, peat moss, horticultural perlite or vermiculite, sometimes coir, occasionally Turface. The whole blend is mixed together by hand. Voila! Ready for planting.

Each spring we supplement the soil with additional sifted compost. We always use poultry netting (aka chicken wire) around our raised beds to keep out Attila the Bunny, who clearly loves our urban farm.

Even the hillside is terraced into beds. Notice the brick footpaths between the terraces. It's very important to keep big feet out of the beds!

Gardening in raised beds is so efficient that many gardeners discover they can raise as much (or more) food in a small raised bed than in their previous row-style gardening. It's simple to plant intensively in raised beds and less trouble to maintain. Raised beds are also easy to hoop in the spring and fall for extending the seasons. Try it---you won't regret building raised garden beds!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chick Update

The baby chicks at Red Bucket Farm are nine days old. This is a mellow flock of chicks. They eat, sleep and poop regularly and without drama. We've experienced no pasty butts (when dried feces blocks the vent which can quickly lead to death), no weakness or wobbliness, no aggression, no drama at all. It's very soothing to sit and watch them. I'm sure it lowers blood pressure!

Little chicks grow so quickly it seems you can practically watch them change. Pin feathers began appearing at their wing tips in only a few days. In the photo above, notice Andromeda's tiny comb beginning to form as well as the black and white stripes of her adult coloration (Barred Rock). Do you see her teeny little tail feathers?

Although we intended to keep the brooder in the garage this spring, current weather conditions have been too cold to allow that. For now, the brooder is in the basement. We hope to transfer them to the garage in a couple of weeks, before they begin to kick up their usual dust. The brooder box is heated by two heat lamps. Heat lamps have ceramic bases (rather than plastic) to allow for higher wattage bulbs. We recently decreased wattage because the girls are growing enough feathers to keep them warm.

Our brooder box has a sturdy cat-proof cover made of an old window frame and hardware cloth. Better safe than sorry!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spring Chicks

Our shipment of spring chicks arrived at Red Bucket Farm this morning via USPS. These girls hatched late Monday or early Tuesday, and were shipped out Tuesday morning. Allow me to introduce the new babies:

This is Venus. She is a Buff Orpington. This breed grows to be rather large, fluffy and almost butterscotch in color. They have a reputation for friendliness and gentleness. Venus will be a good (not great) layer of brown eggs, and she'll be excellent for keeping her friends warm through the cold winter months. She was a last-minute substitution, because the Black Australorp that we ordered didn't hatch on time for shipment. This breed is popular among backyard chicken enthusiasts.

Above you see Andromeda, a Barred Plymouth Rock. She refused to pose for the camera. Andromeda will grow to have white and black stripes and a large red comb. She'll be winter hardy and a good egg layer of brown eggs. She is our second Barred Rock.

This is Ursa, a hybrid egg layer sometimes known as Red Star or Golden Comet. Ursa has two faintly brown stripes down her back and will grow to be a basic red-brown color. This breed lays eggs with amazing regularity. Our last Red Star (Rosie) gave us more than 600 eggs in her lifetime, so the pressure is on for Ursa to perform as well.

What backyard flock is complete without an Easter Egger? This is Cassiopeia. She will begin laying green (or more rarely, blue) eggs in September. Feather colors vary for this breed, so we'll wait to see what she looks like as an adult. Easter Egger chicks have a broad stripe down the back, which makes them look a vaguely chipmunk-y.

Just a note to apologize for the lousy photography in this post. Chicks do not pose. They don't slow down. They poop on everything. So this is as good as it gets for now. More later!


Please excuse this temporary diversion from my urban farm blog.

My heart is heavy this week with the news that Bishop Bruce Burnside struck and killed a jogger in a drunk driving hit-and-run accident. It happened Sunday afternoon when he was traveling to a meeting at my mother's church in Sun Prairie. I am so sad for the family of the jogger, a woman my own age, who leaves behind a husband and three children. I can't imagine their grief and I won't allow myself to think that the victim could have been me or someone I know. Hit-and-run drunk driving is unforgivable!

Bruce Burnside is bishop of the South Central Synod of Wisconsin, a geographical division of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That makes him my bishop. I met him once in July 2000 when he presided over the funeral of my mother-in-law at St. Stephen's in Monona, long before he was bishop.

How can this horrible event have happened? Did the bishop have a history of drunk driving incidents? Has he been terribly depressed? Is he alcoholic? Do we expect too much of our church leaders--brilliant theologian, inspiring preacher, compassionate pastor, capable administrator, occasional politician? Have we as a synod appropriately supported Bruce before, during and after the prolonged illness and subsequent death of his late wife? Were there people who knew he was struggling and couldn't help? Why, oh why did this happen? 

All I know is that in one moment on Sunday afternoon we lost an innocent soul in an ungodly accident. At the same exact instant, the soul of a bishop hit rock bottom. There is no judicial consequence that can exceed what has already occurred in Bruce's heart, no book bigger than the one he knows too well.  And so like ancient King Solomon, I pray for wisdom and discernment. Hit-and-run drunk driving is unforgivable, and yet we are called to forgive. Not seven times. Not seventy times, but seventy times seven. It may take Lutherans in our area a while to recover, but ultimately we must forgive. Meanwhile, we pray for the souls of both victims, dead and alive. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Early Spring Planting

March was a long and frustrating month. Spring simply refused to come to Wisconsin. Average temperatures were at least ten degrees below normal while snow accumulation was above average. Although the moisture level has been good for the soil, gardening activities have been strictly limited to indoor seed starting.

This weekend, we finally caught a whiff of spring. On Saturday, the afternoon temperatures reached nearly 50 degrees under partly sunny skies. (Yes, this really is an improvement!) We took a couple hours to remove the tattered plastic hoop covers over two of our raised beds. It took an ice chipper to remove some ice and snow from the outside perimeter of the beds, but we were able to remove enough snow to accomplish the task.

Beneath the hoop covers, we found the soil in the raised beds to be warm and friable. Last fall's spinach was growing happily. I turned over the soil easily with my favorite hand cultivator and started transplanting seedlings immediately. I filled one 12' x 3' bed with carrots, beets and scallions (plus the volunteer spinach).

After carefully watering the new seedlings, we covered the bed with a fresh layer of plastic and tucked it in again. We can expect to harvest these cool weather crops through the end of May, when I'll replace these crops with summer vegetables.

I complained in my February 8 blog that the hoop covers were too much trouble to maintain throughout the winter. Nevertheless, the soil beneath the covers is so loose and warm that it might be worth the trouble after all.