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, August 21, 2015

Epic Tomatoes

Over the winter, I read Craig LeHoullier's new book, Epic Tomatoes (2015, Storey Publishing). I was dubious that I could read an entire book about nothing but tomatoes, but Craig's book is compelling and inspiring; it influenced me to grow a much wider variety of tomatoes than ever before. His focus is on "heirloom" or open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids. I've learned that if I'm willing to compromise on appearance and shipping/storage qualities, I'm likely to gain in fantastic and unique flavors.

Here is a photo of a variety called Purple Cherokee. The flesh is sweet, juicy and it is indeed purple-ish in color. Notice that this tomato is huge---one pound and four ounces. There are so many varieties of tomatoes to grow. It's ridiculously limiting to buy the few varieties that your garden center provides. We urge you to plan ahead for next year and try something new.

Now I'm back to the canning, freezing and processing that consumes my day. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ruthless and Strategic

Dee and Cathy have watched Red Bucket Farm grow over the last several years. They are dear friends who have shared many meals with us; they have also laughed and cried with us. So I'm not offended when they refer to my last blog as "the best rant on the internet" or when they describe me as a "ruthless and strategic" urban farmer.

Ruthless and strategic refers to the fact that I don't get emotionally attached to a bush or a tree or even a chicken. For example, we have been attempting to grow gooseberries for years. After two attempts in different locations and about six years invested, we have finally arrived at a crop large enough to produce one fruit pie. And guess what? Even though it was delicious, I'm pulling out those thorny bushes---way too much trouble and space for too little food. It's just a matter of practicality.

Reactions to my last blog (May 29, 2015, The Cost of Gardening) varied widely. Many were stunned and silent, and one person accused me of being hostile. Interestingly, the folks who agreed with me felt the need to do so privately. A friend who operates a small business understood entirely---so many people expect a discount large enough to obliterate his profit. But the most telling response came from a lifelong farmer, a pig expert who I know at my church. When I told him about the cost-of-gardening blog and the responses to it, he laughed out loud and said, "Now you understand the economics of agriculture."

Ruthless and strategic? Yes, indeed.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Cost of Gardening

When I mention to acquaintances that I'm an urban farmer, they seem to have visions of pastoral beauty---tomatoes dangling lusciously from the vine, bees buzzing around the lavender, vegetable beds neatly weeded, homemade lemonade on the picnic table. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? And oh, by the way, if you have a surplus of tomatoes, I'll be happy to take some off your hands, they mention casually.

Let's get this straight. Tomatoes do not just happen. Any serious urban farmer works year-round to make it happen. We order seeds in January and begin sowing indoors immediately. We carefully watch the spring weather, cultivating beds, adding compost, and finding the right time to transfer seedlings to the greenhouse for hardening, and ultimately to the beds. Then we watch for bugs and disease, using labor-intensive methods to organically solve problems. Finally, we enjoy the harvest. If we've done our work properly and the weather has been generous, there will be enough to freeze, can and preserve for use all winter long, perhaps even into the next season.

Several years ago, before I was a gardener, my friend Diana gave me one, gigantic sweet onion. It was the size of a softball. I cradled the onion in my hands and planned carefully how to use it in a meal, because I knew the onion came from her garden.

Gardening is like quilting. It's a labor of love. I don't give a quilt to anybody who does not truly understand and appreciate the hours it took to create. Quilters refer to gift recipients as "quilt worthy."

Gardening is not free. At Red Bucket Farm, we have thousands of dollars invested in raised beds, compost bins, bee hives, rain barrels, terracing (both wood and brick), fencing, sheds, coops, greenhouses, trellises, and arbors. We consider this our retirement investment plan. Plants also cost plenty, even when purchased bare root in the spring. Fruit trees run about $25 each, and that's when they are a tiny stick in the ground. It takes years for a tree to become fruitful. Chickens are not free, nor is chicken food.

I don't mean to be ungenerous, but urban farming is my job. Asking for the fruits of my labor is like asking for my paycheck. I'm happy to share with my friends, those lovely folks who pray for me and check on me regularly to make sure that I'm doing okay. I'm also happy to sell a few eggs when the flock is producing abundantly. But please---think twice before making assumptions. Are you veggie worthy?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Chicks 2015

Spring chicks are a happy event at Red Bucket Farm. Some years we obtain chicks from a local hatchery so that we can drive over and pick them up. This year we opted for more unusual breeds, so we ordered from My Pet Chicken. Our chicks hatched on April 6 and arrived by USPS on April 8.

Baby chicks are packaged carefully with a gel heat pack, but it's a difficult trip. All of our little ones were alive upon arrival, but we lost one within 24 hours. It was disappointing but not unexpected. The plumage (really it's fluff) of little chicks doesn't necessarily reflect their mature colors, so it can be difficult to ascertain which breed is which. We think the one that died immediately was a Partridge Plymouth Rock.

The new chicks are now three weeks old. They live in their brooder box in the basement. A heat lamp keeps them nice and warm. We refill water and food regularly, and check for vent blockage to make sure all systems are operating properly. (That's a nice way of saying that we check for poopy butts.)

This particular flock has seemed more flighty than previous flocks. We suspect that our choice of breeds may be playing into this. We decided to try Light Brown Leghorn, Exchequer Leghorn, Buff Chantecler, Silver Cuckoo Marans and Ancona as new breeds. Some of these breeds have a reputation for nervousness and flightiness.

Late last night I removed their water and stepped to the sink to refill. The girls were scrambling around in their brooder box in their usual panicky manner. Suddenly I heard a loud squawk and returned to find one little chick laying on her side, evidently paralyzed. She died in a minute. It's a mystery to us. Did she have a heart attack or aneurysm? Can a flighty chick die of a panic attack? We think the victim was either the Exchequer Leghorn or the Ancona.

We always order extra chicks so our flock will be strong enough to survive winter. Perhaps we'll try the new breeds again next, or maybe we'll just stick with the hardy heritage breeds. Stay tuned.