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, June 25, 2013

Thinning the Peach Crop

Last year our mature peach tree produced a minimal crop due to unfavorable weather conditions. Summer arrived in March forcing a premature bloom. Winter returned in April and froze many of the blossoms. The rest of the summer was plagued with drought. We were pleased that our fruit trees survived such a tumultuous growing season.

This year is quite the opposite. The temperatures have been seasonally appropriate and our fruit trees bloomed beautifully in April. Pollination must have been adequate because the peach tree is loaded with an abundance of walnut-sized fruits. There are so many little peaches forming on the tree that we expect branches will break under the weight of the fruit or the whole tree will simply keel over.

Experts advise thinning the crop. Heavy fruit like peaches should grow no closer than every four inches, about the width of an adult hand. Thin branches can't hold more than one peach. At harvest time, it will be far more satisfying to bring in a bushel of 100 large peaches rather than a bushel of 500 tiny peaches. It's important to be realistic about how much fruit one tree can produce.

So we thinned the crop. Using our awesome orchard ladder, we removed hundreds of tiny green peaches. It seems like a shame, but in another month or so I think we'll be glad we did it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Orchard Ladder

This spring we invested in an orchard ladder. It was a safety measure---too often I have watched my husband teetering a the top of an eight foot step ladder with bricks or 2x4 lumber tucked precariously beneath one or two ladder legs in an effort to balance the thing. These were situations in which I would dial 9-1- and wait for disaster. Fortunately it never occurred, but when we discovered orchard ladders, this purchase quickly became a priority.

An orchard ladder is a tripod. The ladder side is wide at the bottom and narrows gradually to the top. The third leg hinges widely---perfect for working on a slope or hillside, and ideal for getting right into the middle of fruit trees without causing branch or fruit damage. (This week we're picking sour pie cherries and thinning peaches.) The ladder is also useful for managing our 12 foot tall hops towers. Working at the top of this ladder feels stable and safe.

Purchasing an orchard ladder takes a little determination. They are not readily available at hardware stores or  farm retailers. Our new 12 foot aluminum orchard ladder is made by Tallman. The local Tallman distributor operates a cherry orchard about 30 miles away and sells a few extra ladders out of his barn.

As our fruit trees continue to grow, we look forward to many years with our orchard ladder.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chick Update

The spring chicks at Red Bucket Farm are growing quickly. They hatched April 8 and arrived here on the farm April 10. Their earliest weeks were spent entirely beneath the heat lamp in the brooder box. By the end of April, the chicks spent their daytime hours outside in the day pen.

You can see in the photos that the chicks are don't look much like babies anymore. They have fuller bodies and complete tail feathers. Their combs are starting to become more obvious but their voices are still little peeps. Vocal sounds, combs and wattles are the last obvious things to fully mature before they begin laying eggs, around four to six months of age.

Earlier this month the chicks moved into the main chicken yard during the daytime. They are separated from the biddies by a wire fence, which allows them time to grow accustomed to each other. In another month, the chicks should arrive at their adult size and we'll blend the two flocks into one. Meanwhile, the little ones still spend night time in the brooder box in the garage to keep them safe from predators. It's a bit of a circus to transfer them each morning and evening, but that's part of the fun.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Irregular Eggs

I went out to gather eggs this noon and look what I found! The green egg is from Crocus the Easter Egger; the tan egg is from Squill the Speckled Sussex; and the large brown egg is from Thelma the Delaware-Buckeye hybrid. But who in the world laid the tiny egg? It's about the size of a walnut. I might think it came from a bantam hen, except that I don't have bantams. The dark brown shell is the same as Thelma's eggs. Can she have laid an egg-and-a-half today? Is that even possible? She's been working hard lately, clearly making up for my older hens who lay only twice a week. Strange....

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Greenhouse Transition

Our little greenhouse is a hard-working element at Red Bucket Farm. In March we began raising seedlings inside the greenhouse. We started with hardy herbs (rosemary, chives, lavender) and cool season veggies like peas, carrots, beets, and Brussels sprouts. In mid-April we added warm-weather veggies including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil. The shelving units were loaded with containers and flats of seedling pots. We used a water thermal inside to moderate cold night temperatures as well as a fan to keep the air circulating.

This week we transitioned the greenhouse from spring nursery to summer growth. I removed the water thermal and three of the four shelving units. We hung shade cloth over the southern exposure to limit the sunshine, which gets overpowering in the summer. One shelving unit remains for ongoing seedling projects.

I potted the eggplant and peppers into their summer containers and gave them each a tomato cage for support. Although the space appears relatively empty now, it will soon be crowded with foliage and veggies. A tall tower-style fan remains in one corner of the greenhouse all year.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Coop Tour Fun

On Saturday, we volunteered as one of a dozen host sites for the Mad City Chicken Coop Tour. Visitors began arriving just after 9 am and continued in a steady stream all morning. Although the tour was scheduled to end at 1 pm, we chatted with guests until 2:00.

We met so many wonderful chicken enthusiasts, all of them curious and ready to learn. We shared our chicken-keeping philosophy---why we chose a walk-in style coop and elevated hen house, and the importance of hardware cloth over chicken wire. We talked about chicken breeds, egg color, heated water dishes, supplemental lighting, insulation, ventilation, winter protection, hawks and owls and coyotes. Oh, my! Many of our guests also asked about our top bar beehives, raised garden beds, hops towers, hillside terraces, home orchard and greenhouse.

In return, visitors were happy to share their own expertise with us. We learned that lemon balm is just as invasive as mint. One person shared a recipe for making skin balm from beeswax, almond oil and essential oil. Another new friend offered to share a bit of SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) or "mother culture" for making kombucha.

We estimate that our visitors numbered between 60 and 70. A few guests came from the neighborhood, others from across Madison, Middleton, McFarland, Stoughton, Columbus, Walworth County, Milwaukee and even northern Illinois. Several folks expressed frustration at their restrictive local ordinances.

The only problem with volunteering as a host is that we didn't get to visit other coops. We managed a quick after-hours peek at one other host site where we discovered a wonderful and creative adaptive reuse of a child's play house.

It was a fabulous (and exhausting) day. The weather was beautiful, the chickens showed well, and the people were supportive and fun. If you haven't experienced a coop tour, give it a try!