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!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Difficult Seed Germination

This morning I placed three jelly jars into my refrigerator. Usually my canning jars contain homemade jam, jelly, or even pesto. But this morning my jars contain a mixture of compost and seeds. Don't worry---I labeled carefully!

Some seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate and require extra care. For example, basil and parsley require long germination times and warm root zones. I generally start to germinate them around Christmas for planting in the spring.

Today's project involves lavender, purple coneflower, and purple prairie clover---all attractive to native pollinators. These three seed varieties require a period of cold prior to germination. I could place them in the ground outside and wait for winter to do its work, but since these varieties are fussy, I decided to germinate them indoors. The seeds will "winter" in the refrigerator for a month or so. Then I'll place the soil-and-seed mixture into small pots where they will germinate under lights and be warmed by a seedling mat beneath their roots. Hopefully, all this tender loving care will produce a few viable plants.

What else is in my fridge? Mason bees. Yup. They live there all winter. But that's another blog post for another day. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Squirrels v. Orchard

Ach du Lieber! The squirrels have invaded our orchard, causing more destruction than any previous year. We're attributing it to a lack of natural predators. Where are the hawks and foxes when we need them?

Our "Reliance" peach tree tends to produce ripe fruit in mid to late July. The squirrels aren't wasting any time taking three bites out of every peach and then dropping them to the ground. In self defense, we have picked nearly every piece of fruit off that tree. The peaches are currently on the large shelves of our plant stand, where they can continue to ripen indoors for a week or two before canning and freezing. Our other peach tree, "Contender" variety, will produce ripe fruit in a month. So far, the squirrels are allowing that fruit to grow.

Similarly, our "Colette" variety pear tree is very attractive to squirrels and so we've harvested that fruit as well. Orchard expert and author Michael Phillips recommends refrigerating pears for a few weeks, and then bringing them out slowly to ripen before use. The brew master at my house says we'll be juicing some of the pears for making perry (a fermented adult beverage using half pear juice and half apple juice).

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A/C for chickens

Today I am so grateful for air conditioning. The weather is oppressively humid and hot. What can I do to help my chickens get through the next few days?

This is my makeshift air cooler. The gallon milk jug is solid ice, and I've placed it in a bucket (red, of course) of water. It's up on blocks which will absorb a bit of condensation as it melts. I have two more jugs of ice in the freezer to rotate as necessary.

We also have a fan in the coop. The girls don't appreciate the air blowing directly at them, so the fan is wired up at shoulder height and aimed into the hen house. Sorry that the photo is foggy, but the dew point is so high that I couldn't get the camera lens to clear.

In addition, I'll be hosing down the chicken yard every few hours and providing plenty of fresh water. To be honest, I worry more about the girls in the heat than I do in the sub-zero temperatures of January!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Netting the Berries

There are three Robin nests and one Cardinal nest on my little urban farm. Last month, those pesky little buggers considered it their responsibility to peck one hole in every strawberry. Now it's the blueberries they love. 

Garden centers sell bird netting designed to protect crops. We've never purchased that kind of netting, but friends recently gave us one large net because they disliked how the netting entrapped little critters, causing panic and torture.

I buy netting at the discount fabric store. There are two kinds of netting: soft netting designed for dance costumes and sturdy netting designed for craft projects. I cut the sturdy stuff into 3 yard lengths and lay it directly over the strawberry plants, tucking in at the edges of the raised beds. This netting lasts for a few seasons before needing to be replaced.

This year we've designed a simple structure of PVC pipe to suspend the netting over the blueberry bushes. The ends are clothes-pinned to the chicken wire fences. One day I noticed a male Cardinal flapping about under one net, but he escaped at the open end and did not return. Success!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Colorful Beets

In my opinion, the first rule of gardening is grow what you like to eat. And since I love beets, I'm growing three different varieties this summer: Burpee's Golden, Albino, and Cylindra.

I start beet seeds in four inch pots, sowing several seeds in each container. When the seedlings are a couple inches tall, I transfer the entire bunch outdoors into a raised bed. When I harvest, I pull out one clump of beets at a time. I have more beet seedlings in the greenhouse ready to move outside as space allows. I know this isn't the "normal" way of sowing beets, but it seems to work for me.

Peeling raw beets is challenging especially if they are small. I prefer to boil them until they're soft, and then the skins slip off easily with finger pressure. The photo above shows Albino and Golden beets just after peeling.

Last night we enjoyed Cylindra beets, which are deep red-purple, served simply with butter and salt (shown above). We also prepared the stems and leafy greens, sauteed lightly in olive oil and dressed with balsamic vinegar.

Tonight's menu leans toward Asian-style cooking. I've prepared a mix of golden and albino beets along with Oxheart carrots. They're marinating in a ginger-soy dressing, ready to serve in an hour or two. I love how beets are adaptable to various cooking styles.

Fun fact: beets make your pee turn awesome colors. I was just checking to see if anybody actually reads to the end. Happy cooking!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cultivated Elderberries

Elderberries are common in southern Wisconsin. These large bushes grow readily along bicycle and hiking paths, railroad tracks, field edges and highways. Their huge white flower clusters are unmistakable in mid-summer. As the season progresses, the flower clusters become tiny purple berries. Elderberries have been used medicinally for hundreds of years. They are especially helpful in reducing the length of the common cold.

Here at Red Bucket Farm, we've been cultivating elderberry bushes for a few years. We planted two varieties for better pollination, and we sited them carefully in a restricted terrace area. We hoped to disguise the water barrels and hay storage from view while still producing something useful. For a while it worked and we loved the elderberry elixir that we made from the juice.

This year we're learning the downside of cultivated elderberries: they simply do not cooperate! The bushes die back each fall and when they emerge in the spring they don't necessarily grow where they were intended. In their second season, the new stems were close to the intended location, but this year they are sprouting six or eight feet from the correct place. Unfortunately, our style of dense, urban planting does not allow for that kind of freedom. We'll remove these bushes and redesign the water barrel terrace. We still have one or two elderberry bushes way out back where they can happily meander the edge of the woods. But gardeners beware--elderberries like plenty of space to move around!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Spring Fruit

A photo survey of the orchard this morning reveals several kinds of baby fruits. Can you name them?

Photos from top to bottom: cherries, crabapples, peach, apricot, pear, currants, kiwi. How did you do?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mason Bees

We put the Mason Bees outdoors this morning. They have been in storage in the refrigerator for the winter, where they remain dormant but protected from sub-zero temperatures. (I have other strange things in my fridge, too---acorns, dormant onion plants and seed potatoes. Also hops and yeast, but we consider that quite normal.)

We expect the bees to be active in a few days. They will emerge from their cocoons and immediately begin pollinating. We try to time their emergence with the blooming of early fruit trees like apricot and crab apples. A few of our trees are almost at bloom stage, and the weather looks very promising this weekend.

Mason bees are solitary creatures that operate independently. There is no hive or honey, and they do not sting. They pollinate very efficiently, much more effectively than honey bees. They look a bit like a house fly. The females lay a single egg inside a straw-like tube, pack it with a bit of food and seal it with mud. She continues to alternate additional eggs and mud until she fills the tube.

We have several blocks of nesting tubes that we can rotate for cleaning purposes. I would caution against purchasing mason bees houses that look like tubes of bamboo bundled together. How does one clean those things?

At Red Bucket Farm, we have two Mason bees houses like the one pictured above. Both houses face east to catch the warmth of morning sunshine. The houses are sheltered from rain by the wide eaves of our house. They are situated close to our orchard trees so they don't have to travel far to accomplish their job.

Sadly, we lost all our honey bees over the winter, but that's a different post. See you outdoors!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Indoor Citrus

Mid-winter in Wisconsin can be dreary. As an urban farmer, I spend my winter perusing seed catalogs, planning next summer's veggie beds, mapping out crop rotation, and baking lots of pies and tarts with last summer's fruit harvest. 

Last winter I began indoor citrus. I purchased a bag of Meyer lemons from Trader Joe's in January 2015 and saved all the seeds from the lemons. (I also bought a bag of organic limes, only to discover they were seedless. Buyer beware!) I germinated the seeds in a small plastic bag with damp paper towels. It was easy. Then I transplanted the little seedlings into light soil and watched them take off.

To add variety to my indoor citrus grove, I purchased four trees from an online vendor---a Meyer Lemon, a Venous Orange, a Key Lime and a Mediterranean Olive tree. These trees were more mature than the seedlings I had started myself. The Meyer Lemon produced two blossoms and eventually two beautiful lemons. One of them we harvested over the weekend, which you see in the photo at the top of this blog post.

All the citrus seedlings grew rapidly over the summer. In November I transplanted them into slightly larger pots. It's been a challenging winter for my citrus trees. They have dropped nearly all their leaves and generally expressed their displeasure at my care. Nevertheless, these sturdy trees are producing tiny new shoots and leaves where the old ones fell off.

Watering citrus trees is tricky. They prefer dry soil, but not parched. It's taken me months of guessing to ascertain if I'm over- or under-watering. Finally, I purchased a moisture meter with a long probe to help me determine when to water.

This isn't an instant gratification project, but one taste of that sweet lemon juice (yes, Meyer Lemons are sweet, not sour) has motivated me to keep my citrus grove growing. It gives me hope in the winter months.