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, May 28, 2013

Coop Tour

Mad City Chickens presents their annual Backyard Coop Tour on Saturday June 1, 2013 from 9 am to 1 pm. It's a casual opportunity for interested folks to take a peek into the yards of chicken wranglers across the city of Madison.

Here at Red Bucket Farm, we are one of six east side sites hosting visitors. There are six additional sites across the west side of town, including two in Middleton. Click on this link for a map to all twelve sites or go to www.madcitychickens.com and click on calendar of events.


Please be aware that hosts may be concerned about bio-security. As tour participants travel from one urban farm to another, it's possible to carry poultry disease on shoes. Some sites may ask guests to step on a disinfectant shoe mat. At our farm, we have plenty of space for guests to stand outside the chicken yard, and we'll offer an array of "chicken shoes" (mostly crocs) at the gate for folks wishing to wander inside the chicken yard and get a closer look at the details of the coop.

If you've ever been interested in keeping chickens, or if you already keep chickens but are curious how other chicken yards are situated and maintained, this is a good chance to show up and ask questions. See you Saturday!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Featured in Ultimate Coop Book

We're pleased to announce that our chicken coop at Red Bucket Farm has been selected to be featured in Tricia Cornell's upcoming book, The Ultimate Chicken Coop Book: Building Plans for Essential Coops and Tractors with 101 Inspirational Variations. Tricia's book features ten basic chicken coop designs including instructions and cut lists, plus a photo gallery of variations.

A few months ago the author posted on the local urban chicken listserv explaining her project and seeking submissions. I sent her a few photos and a quick description. After being accepted into the project, we cleaned, scrubbed, photographed, and recreated many sketches of the design. We also had a telephone interview with the author to discuss our coop research, design and building efforts. Tricia will have our sketches drafted into clear building plans. We think our coop will be the example of a walk-in coop.

We built our coop in May and June 2010. Our primary considerations were having a shelter that is predator-proof, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, healthy for the girls and yet relatively easy to maintain for this baby boomer chicken farmer. Tricia's book will detail all this and much more. The book is scheduled for publication next spring (2014) and you can pre-order your copy at www.amazon.com.

Pretty cool, right? I'm so proud of my husband---coop builder and designer!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Aphid Invasion

Aphids are tiny pale green insects that suck the life out of plants. They tend to congregate on the undersides of leaves, especially on tender new shoots at the ends of branches. I'm not sure that an aphid invasion will completely kill a plant, but they can weaken and damage in the spring as the plant is producing new growth. Look for curled leaf edges and light veining on the surface of the leaves.

This spring the aphids are working their magic on my currants and gooseberries. They aren't terribly picky about their host plant, so keep a close eye on herbs, young trees and bushes, and other tender shoots. Since I have a particular love of currant jam, I'm willing to do battle with the little buggers. Treating aphids isn't difficult, but requires determination and perseverance. I'm spraying them with Safer Insecticide Soap, but dish soap works too. I spray by hand, carefully turning over leaves and spraying the underside of the leaf as well as its stem. Eventually, the heat of the summer will discourage this pest.

In spite of the aphids, my currant and gooseberry bushes are robust and setting fruit. I just finished my last jar of 2012 currant jam, so I'm looking forward to harvesting this year's crop in about five or six weeks---in spite of the little buggers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Honeybee Orientation Flights

Early this afternoon, I noticed a group of bees outside the red hive taking orientation flights. These bees have recently hatched and so far they have worked exclusively inside the hive. Today they came outside for the first time, stretching their wings and practicing flight for foraging later. Orientation flights occur only three or four feet away from the hive, giving the bees a chance to learn their neighborhood and program their internal global positioning systems. This is an excellent sign that the hive is producing new babies, so their queen must be alive and well.

Of our three hives, this is the only hive to successfully survive the long winter. The blue hive was completely dead, so we harvested the honey, cleaned out the dead bees, and closed all the entrances. The green hive had a few surviving worker bees but no queen. We transferred the survivors to the healthy red hive, harvested honey, removed dead bodies, and closed all the entrances. We use the low-tech crush and strain method of honey harvesting, and we put by about 30 pounds of honey from the two hives.

As the red hive multiplies, we will transfer a few top bars of comb with eggs and larvae into one of the empty hives. This is known as making a split or splitting the hive. The bees should crown a new queen because any worker egg can be groomed into a queen. Beehives grow at an astonishing rate in the spring. We hope to have two or even three hives thriving in a few months.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tomatoes and Basil

I planted tomatoes and basil today. Spring is really here! Yay!

I started three varieties of tomato plants by seed in early March, first under growing lights in the basement, and more recently in the greenhouse. These plants had been growing in 4" pots. They were nearly root bound and had grown to an enthusiastic 24" tall. They were beginning to bloom---it was high time to move outdoors.

I removed the straw mulch from the beds, which I had laid in November before it snowed. I set the mulch aside on a tarp while I loosened the soil by hand with my Japanese gardening tool. Then I added a layer of sifted compost and got some help to pound in tall support stakes. Installing the stakes before planting helps avoid damaging roots later in the summer. The stakes seem huge now, but will support many pounds of fruit in due course.

It's a good idea to plant tomatoes deeply in the soil, even a little deeper than they were in their small containers. I alternated tomatoes and basil in the beds (they are companion plants) and gave them plenty of breathing room which will help avoid blight. Remember to rotate crops---tomatoes should not be planted in the same beds as last year.

Finally, I mulched again with a thick layer of straw and gave it a quick drink of water (we've had plenty of rain). Mulching helps keep the soil warm on chilly nights, holds in moisture on hot days, and keeps down the weeds. Of course, I was finished when I realized that I might have also planted some dill or parsley in these beds. Tomorrow.....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chicks in Day Coop

At Red Bucket Farm, we have a small portable structure we call the day coop. This little unit is especially useful for raising chicks, housing sick or injured hens, and as extra daytime shelter for the flock during the winter months.

Our day coop is 40"x 60" and 24" high. The wood frame is covered securely with hardware cloth. It has a hinged wood roof over an open floor. It keeps our birds relatively safe during the daytime from dogs and hawks, but it is not secure from nocturnal predators like coons and foxes.

Our spring chicks have been enjoying warm days outside in the day coop. The constellation girls (Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Ursa and Venus) are just over three weeks old. They are losing their baby fluff as their feathers fill in. On warm days, we transfer them outside for a few hours, but they always come back into the brooder box indoors at night.

The chicks are kept separately from the mature hens for a few months, until they are all approximately the same size. It's a bit tricky to incorporate new pullets into an established flock because the older hens can be aggressive towards the younger. For now we keep them at a distance. They can see each other across the lawn. Later in the summer, we'll start moving them together.

We had an unusual experience in our day coop this spring. The little coop had been inside the fenced chicken yard all winter and the hens would hang out there during the day. Somehow, a rabbit boldly built a nest inside the day coop. I found a little hole in the ground complete with six baby bunnies last week when I moved the day coop to clean the chicken yard. As I discovered the little critters, all of the hens came running to examine the squirming mass. They seemed as surprised as I was! Chickens are carnivores, so I quickly removed the bunnies to avoid a bloody slaughter. Evidently the day coop provides shelter for more than just my birds!