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, January 31, 2014

Dead Bees

I'm sorry to report that the honeybees at Red Bucket Farm are all dead. It was not the polar vortex that secured their demise. I suspect the hive was dead before Christmas.

We last noticed bee activity in early December. Usually, we see some evidence of them over the winter. The housekeeping bees will toss dead bodies out into the snow, and little bits of bee poop will be obvious near the hive. But this year there has been no sign of life at all.

Due to various complications from the previous season, we entered the winter with only one populated hive. In the spring we will clean the dead hive and try to determine what killed them, but it's very likely this will remain a mystery.

I've ordered two 3-pound packages of bees (at $92 each!) to re-populate the hives in the spring. The packages will look similar to the photo above. We can use some of the comb and honey from last year to give the new girls a head start. If we're lucky and the weather is favorable, we can then divide one of the hives to populate our third hive box.

Meanwhile, I'm begging you to not use any lawn pesticides this spring. Urban bees fare better than rural bees because urban foraging opportunities are far more diverse than mono-culture farming methods provide. Nevertheless, lawn chemicals are completely toxic to bees. If a bee guardian can keep bees alive through the winter until the spring dandelions bloom, then all is well. Please remember,

dandelions = bee food

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Landscape Pesticide Registry

The deadline to register for the Landscape Pesticide Registry in Wisconsin is February 1. 

Go straight to the website for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at http://datcp.wi.gov.  Click on the Environment tab and then click on Landscape Pesticide Registry. It's easy to register your own address. Then you can register the addresses of any neighbors who use commercial lawn pesticide application. The lawn company is required to contact you (usually by telephone) and give 24 hours notice that they will apply pesticide. This gives you enough time to protect your garden crops, poultry, pets, bees, and children from the harmful effects of pesticide. 

Remember the deadline is quickly approaching. Don't delay. I've found this to be effective and helpful. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sub-Zero Hens, Again!

The hens at Red Bucket Farm are tolerating our current sub-zero temperatures rather well. The small ceramic heat emitters inside the hen house keep the sleeping area above zero degrees. The sun shines on the coop in the morning, and the girls roost together in the window. We've covered all the screens with plastic to keep out the wind, and we even covered their roof vent for now. With the addition of supplemental lighting in the early mornings, egg production is up---we had 19 eggs last week. I've been cooking them treats like oatmeal, millet or bulgur during the coldest weeks of winter. All is well!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lighted Plant Stands

A corner of my music room has been designated as indoor greenhouse. I nuture my tropical bonsai trees here all winter, but recently I've begun seeding for spring crops. The shelving unit (above left) is commercially designed with three shelves and adjustable lights so I can lower the lights over new seedlings. I have wrapped the unit with reflective bubble insulation to keep out drafts and hold in a little heat.

My second shelving unit is a cheap wooden unit from the home supply store. We upgraded the lighting a year ago to Flouro-Wing grow lights. These units are so bright that I shelter the room from the light with a room-dividing screen. Yes, I think the upgraded lights are more effective than regular shop lamps, but any light works so don't let this limit your gardening goals. I've wrapped this unit with insulation, too.

My onion and scallion seedlings are up but struggling. I've just sowed seeds for basil, parsley, spinach, kale, shallots, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and Swiss chard. 

And now I can hear the chickens squawking. Off I go......

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cranberry Vodka

Here is something to warm those cold January evenings: cranberry infused vodka.

Simmer 12 oz cranberries with 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and a little nutmeg until the sugar is dissolved and some of the cranberries are popped. Cool slightly and transfer to two quart jars or a half-gallon jar. Add 750 milliliters vodka. Store in a dark place for two weeks, turning the jar occasionally. Strain and serve.

How is this related to urban farming? I found the recipe in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Urban Farm magazine. For medicinal purposes only, of course!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cold Eggs

Of course you know that egg production is dependent mostly on daylight. As the days grow shorter at the winter solstice, egg production naturally decreases. When you factor in the autumn molting cycle of mature hens (and they don't lay eggs when they're molting), late December and early January are the slowest time of year for eggs. Remember, this has rather little to do with the cold temperatures.

The week of the solstice we were down to 11 eggs, so we actually had to purchase a dozen from the grocery store. A week ago we began supplemental lighting in the coop, adding a few compact florescent bulbs on a timer from 4 am to 8 am. This morning I gathered the three eggs you see above. The two molting hens seem to have recovered and look fully feathered. They should begin laying again soon. So we're on the upswing---spring is really coming!

By the way, this morning it's -2 degrees Fahrenheit in the coop, but the ceramic heaters in the hen house are holding it at a balmy +8 degrees. We purchased larger wattage heat emitters, but we're reluctant to make a big difference between the hen house and the real world. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sub-zero Chickens

Earlier this month we experienced three consecutive days of -20 degree Fahrenheit daytime temperatures. Although I believe chickens to be outdoor animals, that was just too cold for my hens to keep each other warm. So they came indoors to the basement bathroom for a few days. It was more than a circus!

A five pound hen generates about 10 watts of energy, so a flock of birds can usually warm each other, especially if they're in a barn with other farm animals. But our little flock of urban birds needed a bit of extra help.

This week we're heading into another polar plunge, but this time we're ready for it. We've installed two ceramic infrared heat emitters in the ceiling of the hen house. (We have no hope of keeping the entire coop warm because it's too large---6 x 8 feet and 7 feet high. But the raised hen house is only 3 x 6 feet and about 3 feet high.) These heat emitters do not emit any light. We've tried using red heat lamps, but it keeps our girls up and chattering all night long and sometimes drives them right out of the hen house. The ceramic heat emitters will keep the air temperature just marginally warmer than the outdoor temps. This is good enough for us, because we don't think it's entirely helpful to raise the temperature too much.

Ceramic heat emitters are designed for reptile pets. Many thanks to Ellen and David for pointing us in this direction!