Thursday, July 23, 2009

chicken a star

Today one of our chickens is starring in a movie! Mr. Snugglesworth, a barred rock, has a starring role in a film trailer that will promote the state of Michigan. The promo will show before movies at the Traverse City Film Festival.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sweet press

Check it out -- we made the paper!


Hey it rained.  Now I can go back to weeding instead of watering.  Oh farm, your variety never bores me.  This rain will cause things to shoot up super fast.  We completely sold out of vegetables at the last farmer's market.  Next week we'll have peas in addition to beets, chard, kale, arugula, cilantro, radishes, turnips and mustard greens.  July 4th we are hosting a potluck at the farm.  Come on by -- we are making sausage.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Going dry

Well it's been a hot start to summer.  We haven't had rain in about 10 days with none forecasted.  We've been watering a lot, which is a bit tedious but absolutely vital.  With the heat many of our leafy greens are bolting (going to seed).  Tomorrow we'll be selling at the Traverse City farmer's market for the first time to offoad our extra arugula.  We hosted a solstice dinner which went off without a hitch, though we were nearly overrun by one of the biblical plagues.  Can you guess which one?  I've actually had a harder time uploading the pictures than growing the damn vegetables, so you'll all have to wait for images of the dinner.  Everything in the garden is growing super fast.  Peas are flowering and the fava beans are about to bean up.  Yesterday we planted all the cucumbers.  Way to many.  We'll have pickles for sure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


What a wonderful weekend at the farm.  Gauri and Laura were up to visit.  We had a huge harvest from the garden -- kale, spinach, spicy salad mix, turnips, braising greens, and tons of radishes.  Abra's dad dropped off this totally awesome puke green 1970 Ford pickup for us to use for the summer.  You can see the road through the rust holes in the floor.  Awesome.  We all worked this weekend hauling rocks and setting them into a rock wall for our herb bed.   We've also finally been able to plant the tomatoes (10 rows!) and soon the peppers will go in.  Late, I know.  We are keeping the plants covered at night -- we hope that a little bit of extra nighttime warmth will jumpstart their growth.  Already I am doing the mental addition... "It's June 16th today and these squash need 100 days to mature, so that means they'll be ready by September 25.  That's two days before the first average frost, so we should be okay..."
This weekend we are hosting our first dinner.  Abra put together a great five course meal featuring some local rabbit.  We orginally had hoped to use the chickens, but fortunately for them, they aren't quite plump enough yet.  Too much running around and not enough confinement I guess.
For anyone interested, we are planning a July 4th potluck at the farm.  Then into Northport for fireworks.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama's organic garden

I thought the Obama's putting in an organic garden at the Whitehouse was super inspiring.  Not the pesticide industry and all their blind foloowers.  They wrote a letter complaining about being ignored:

not a joke.

Jack Frost

It's been cold.  Unseasonably cold.  I'd complain, but that isn't what farming is all about.  It isn't supposed to frost in June.  But it did.  I realize as I write this that all of you who questioned the feasibility of  farming up here in this frigid wilderness are having your doubts confirmed.  But it normally isn't this cold.  Also, we are prepared.  The veggies in our cold frames are doing wonderfully.  We've covered up the rest of our rows with long sheets of spun polyester called floating-row covers.  They rest lightly atop the plants at night and keep the ground warm.  Things that aren't covered up are killed.  Things under the blanket keep on keepin' on.  It's a pretty good system, but stressful.  I'd rather things were warmer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Market tomorrow

We planted beans today.  It was the first nice day after a couple of much needed rainy ones.  Tomorrow at the Suttons Bay Farmer's Market we'll have radishes, ramps, salad greens, turnips and soap.  Tomatoes and pepper plants can probably go outside in a couple of days, just as soon as I get up the courage to risk them overnight in the cold. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Hey everyone -- after numerous requests and slowly coming to grips with the reality that this networking phenomenon is unavoidable, we are now on facebook.  Come be friends with the Bare Knuckle Farm.  No word yet on twitter.  I remain skeptical. I'm also doubtful about these newfangled phones with the why-fi and so-called horseless carriage.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Northport is a small town.  You can drive all the way through without stopping -- just the occasional yield sign.  You don't always see that many people on the streets and there aren't that many shops.  You might think this is a tiny little community.  It's small, that's for sure, but it certainly boasts the most thriving sense of community I had ever seen.  For Memorial Day there was a rememberance of war veterans at the local cemetary.  It seemed like the whole town showed up.  It was like the carnival was in town.  We had to part far out in a field and walk in, there were so many cars.  The community band played Souza marches and the choir sang those good old patriotic tunes.  There was a reading of the Gettysburg address and a series of speeches and benedictions.  They played taps and lowered the flag.  Afterward we all walked around and looked at the gravestones, marking the burial sites of Northport pioneer farming families. 
Back on the farm we just started seeds for squash and cucumbers and zucchini.  I'm working on plowing up more field space to plant a cover crop of clover and rye grass.  The plan is to let it all grow tall, then mow it and gather up the clippings.  These are super sources of nitrogen that we can let compost over the year and next year will be awesome decayed organic matter to put back into our soil.  We are also busy strewing straw atop the paths between vegetable rows.  This straw will help keep weeds down, as well as help keep the soil cool and protected from the drying sun and wind.  Our soil is pretty sandy, so we need some way to keep moisture in the soil.  A little straw blanket is just the trick.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Things outside

We have so much stuff coming up.  Radishes, Turnips, arugula, chard, spinach, onions, leeks, carrots, claytonia, potatoes, mustard greens, amish deer tongue lettuce, sage, kholrabi, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, basil, parsley, cilantro.  The ducks and geese are outside and every morning we herd them into a movable fenced in pen where they can eat all the fresh grass they want.  Our goose with the weak knees seems totally recovered.  The chickens are also outside now and much happier.  Last night we dug 75 pounds of ramps and sold them to restaurants in chicago.  Abra is delivering them whilst in Chicago this weekend for a wedding.  Tomorrow we are off to the suttons bay farmer's market -- where we'll sell radishes, stir-fry greens, flowering cherry boughs, ramps, soap and some seedlings.
All in all, things are looking very good.  Jess has a concert as part of the Northport Chior on Memorial Day at the cemetary.  Brix and Susie are coming up late tonight for the weekend. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Two nights ago the ducks and geese had their first night outside.  We built a little coop and installed a heat lamp to keep them warm at night.  They seem much happier and we seem much cleaner now that they are out of the bathtub.  Last night was to be their second night but it was a blustery day and at 9 pm the power went out.  We decided to bring them in for the night.  So out we trooped and with much goose screaming we managed to pull them out of their coop and put them into an old wooden trunk.  We brought them inside and set them up near the warm wood stove.  They settled right down.  Then the power went back on.  Of course.  Today they are back outside.  50 bales of straw arrived and we planted potatoes this morning. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


There are at least two porcupines that live near our cottage.  These large nocturnal spiny beasts waddle, grunt, and are unbothered by flashlights our pounding on the glass windows.  They are also in love.  A few nights ago Abra, Erik, Jess and I all witnessed extended porcupine foreplay.  The larger male pursuing his lover, slowly, awkwardly.  This all culminated with him standing up and well, it was like a nature documentary, right outside our window.  Read about the whole and unusual process of porcupine mating here:

We are going to move the ducks and geese out of the bathtub today and into their coop.  They'll have a heat light for the next couple of weeks though to fend off the cold.  And it has been cold.  We had a hard freeze the last two nights.  Killed a lot of our radish seedlings and arugula.  But we have plenty of time to replant.  Not so lucky for all the cherry farmers in the area - many of the cherries are in full bloom right now -- the stage where they are most vulnerable to frost.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

chicks asleep


Abra and Erik are set to arrive tomorrow.  Our Bare Knuckle Family is growing.  It's ofggy and wet today but is suppoed to be beautiful tomorrow.  Not that it is ugly today.  The trilliums are up and the fog through the woods gives the forest and ethereal feel.  The slight breeze from the water blows wisps of mist around the big towering catherdral like beech trees, their tops too high to be seen clearly.  A wet day is a great day to start seeds for transplants.  This morning we planted 1000 seeds of kale and mustard and arugula.  Later we might repot some of our peppers and tomatoes into larger pots.  Our birds are doing well, although one of the geese is a little weak legged.  It could be a niacin deficiency, although his food should have enough.  It could also just be genetic.  We plan to feed him some brewers yeast which is chock full of niacin and other good things.  The chicks love to pearch on our outstretched arms.  Just the black Plymouth Rocks though.  The Rhode Island Reds are more skittish.  Yesterday we met some fellow young farmers.  They're practically our neighbors, just a 15 minute drive away. (That's really close by rural standards.)  You can check out their operation at .  They've got a huge hoop house tons of leafy greens.  Their first tomato is set to ripen this week. 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Birds arrive

We drove to the post office yesterday morning to pick up our poultry.  50 chickens, 8 ducks and 6 geese.  They are all happily pecking away in our bathroom.  They had heat lamps and water and food.  For the first couple of weeks they need temperatures in the 90s, so our bathroom is pretty tropical right now. The birds are very alert and active.  The ducks and geese are living in a separate pen because they fling too much water around and make big messes and run over the chickens.  We've probably spent at least three hours just watching them cavort.  
Yesterday we also installed an electric fence around the farm.  It was surprisingly easy, but we still need to run electricity out to it before it is ready.  It should provide the deer with a disincentive to sample our vegetables.
Tonight there is a all-you can eat smelt dinner fundraiser in the community and we are super excited. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Vanessa asks, "What service do service berries provide?"   A good question, that can be answered seriously.  Service berries are one of the earliest flowering and fruiting trees of the summer.  The fruits are small reddish maroon berries that look a bit like blueberries that are edible to both birds and people.  They make great jam and are often picked with their little woody stems and all, like mulberries.  A folk legend suggests that the name comes from the belief that when the trees flowered the ground was thawed enough to bury corpses that died over the winter.  The more likely reason is that the tree is a close relation to the European Sorbus berry. Serviceberries are also called juneberries. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

tree planting

300 pepper plants popped up yesterday.  This is very exciting since peppers are a little fickle seed.  They need lots of heat and just the right amount of moisture.  I guess we provided the right stuff.  Also I received a cold call yesterday from a local restaurant called Radish, that wants any vegetables we can sell them.  From what we've found up here, demand for local vegetables far outstrips supply.  The pressure is on to grow it -- selling might be easy.  Today we are going to plant some longer term investments: trees.  We'll put in 5 hazelnuts, 5 serviceberries and 3 american chestnuts.  The chestnuts are a present from my grandpa.  He's always been famous as a bit a of pessimist, but really, what's more optimistic and future thinking that trying to help resurrect a nearly extinct tree?  Too bad I can't get the camera to upload pictures -- yesterday I spent part of the day atop a tractor disking the field.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trip to town

Today Jess and I went into Traverse City for some supplies.  It being a cold cloudy day, it felt good to be away from the farm.  In Traverse we acquired valuable items like a heat lamp for the soon to arrive chicks, some Carbon-Fluorescent lights to reduce our electricity bill, 100 pounds of potatoes to plant, some chicken and duck feed, 1 mile of wire and and charger for an electric fence.  We were all sure we wouldn't need a fence the first year, but every day there are more deer prints in the field and the stories abound of whole gardens consumed in a single delicious night.  We also learned that baby ducks cannot eat most baby chicken food.  The medicine in the chicken feed kills the ducks.  We bought un-antibiotic laden feed so the ducks will be all right.  Of course we also stopped into Right Brain Brewery for the best beer in the state --- and got free samples.  We also visited my old friends at the Michigan Land Use Institute where I was mistaken for a pirate!
Now it it back home to Northport where Jess has Knitting club. 

Yesterday we planted 2000 onions and 500 tomato seeds.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coming up

Lots of things are coming up: spinach, kale, arugula, claytonia, chard, sage.  Other things are in the ground: radishes, peas, fava beans, onions, carrots, turnips, parsley, cilantro.  Over the weekend Scooter and Anna and Shasta came up and helped us set up our cold frames.  Cold frames are like little mini greenhouses that rest on the ground and provide some protection from the cold and elements for young plants.  We build six of them, 9 feet long by 4.5 feet. It was a lot of work and a little bit of cursing and a few bent nails but they are all together and looking great. Our plants should be protected from the cold winds that sometimes blow in off the lake. 
Our chickens and ducks and geese have been delayed for a week, which is disappointing, as we are a little lonesome up here. Still, the community is wonderful.  It has been a huge treat to meet all the people here.  I don't like to generalize (well actually, I love to generalize) but the helpfulness of little towns certainly surpasses my high expectations. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hurry up and wait

Immediately upon arrival I drove the Ryder truck into the mud, leaving the tires spinning. I was happy at least that I was in the driveway to our new home and it was only a short walk to unload everything. But in the warming spring air, the soil became softer and muddier thoughout the day. After the move-in was complete, we went back out to try to unstuck the truck from the muck. No luck. We tried pushing, rocking and pulling it. We put boards under the tires. We had people stand in the back to get some extra weight over the tires. At one point we set up a winch and tried winching it out with chains and gears. Just spinning tires. I was frustrated and a little worried -- Brix and Susie needed to drive thr truck back the next day. Brix advised me to take a breath and not worry about it for the rest of the day, "We'll get to it tomorrow. Let's relax and then go down to the beach."
"But what if it's still stuck tomorrow and you can't get back in time for work?" I protested.
"Well, then I guess I'll be late for work, no big deal."
Brix's calm reassurance won the day and I enjoyed the rest of the day, but was still worried in the back of my mind.
The next morning we got up and went to try the truck. Over the night the ground had frozen up and on the first try the truck backed right up and out the driveway.
Lessons: Sometimes it pays to just wait. Some problems really do solve themselves. Don't get too stressed out about things I can't change right now.
All good things to remember on the farm.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Leeks in a new home

We have arrived at our new home and the leeks now have a view of Lake Michigan.  As you can see, it's a wavy and windy day.  Rumor is that Ann Arbor got smacked with 6 inches of snow.  Us northerners missed all that and there is not really any snow here.  Yesterday Jess and I planted spinach and swiss chard and arugula and kale and a bunch of herbs.  Hopefully they can go outside soon.  It's still pretty cold and we fired up the wood stove this morning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green Jobs

What is a green job?  There's plenty of talk about high-tech green -- windmills, LED traffic lights, Fuel-efficient car design.  Other jobs are more system oriented -- how to get public transit to operate better, or how to encourage people to better insulate their homes.  These are the glamor jobs of the green economy.  But they are expensive.  The are capital intensive and take a long time to pay off.    In Michigan you can read about "bipartisan legislation to offer another $200 million in tax breaks to encourage the development of advanced battery technology in Michigan. Granholm signed a law in January offering $335 million in refundable tax credits for developing, manufacturing and assembling the batteries at the heart of next-generation electric vehicles."

That's great and all.  But that's half a billion dollars for an industry that doesn't even exist yet and might not end up staying in Michigan.  Do we want a repeat of the last 100 years where Michigan led the nation in auto innovation, but then saw those jobs leave the state, and ultimately the country, leaving behind decidedly un-green rotting factories, industrial pollution and laid off workers?

I'm not looking for a state handout, but a bigger acknowledgment and awareness that farming is a green job.  We are doing more to help the local economy and the local environment that any battery factory.  We are keeping farmland fertile and beautiful.  We are feeding our neighbors healthful delicious food.  We are living in a small community and keeping our dollars here -- none of our profit goes to shareholders across the Atlantic.  And best of all, our job can't leave.  We are rooted in place.  A strong investment in long-term sustainable farming will continue to help the state in perpetuity.  People always need to eat. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tom Sawyer would be proud

Jess and I hosted a sign making party last night. We invited our
friends over and after lulling them into relaxation with wine and
cheese, put them to work drawing and painting signs for our
vegetables. You can see some of their handiwork on our website, under
the What we Grow link. Last night people created more than 40 signs.
There's still 40 more to go, but we made a ton of progress.

I just heard that the average American watches 5 hours of television
PER DAY! Sign making parties are a far cry more fun, productive and
interesting. Seeing everyone's unique artistic style has been really
fun. As our economy worsens and people start contemplating where to
cut back, my vote is for everyone to cancel their cable bill and start
re-engaging with their community.

Thanks Andrew, Matt, Anna, Susie, Sara, Sarah, Corinna, Vanessa,
Katie, Laura, Anya, and Jess.

Monday, March 2, 2009

First signs of life

It's only the first week on March, the snow won't be gone from
Northport for at least another month and we are still living in Ann
Arbor. But we've already started growing things. Jess and I seeded a
tray of leeks last week. We made little pots out of rolled up
newspaper, about the size of toilet paper rolls, and planted four leek
seeds in each. They started poking their heads up in search of light
a couple of days ago. Eliot Coleman, whose organic farming books
are indispensable, suggests just plopping each little tube of four
leeks in the ground, one every foot or so. The leeks grow in little
clumps, already bunched for harvesting, and it is really easy to weed
around them.

Now they are living in our bedroom under a couple of fluorescent
lights. Last night I sang them to sleep with the aid of my banjo.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The meaning of it all

"I always had this dream of being a farmer when I was little."
"Why don't you dream that anymore?"
"I didn't know you could still be a farmer."

Most people aren't farmers. Not anymore. It's not a career that anyone is encouraged to pursue. But we are going to try. I believe that many people have a deep desire to be closer to the land, to grow their food and work outside. At Bare Knuckle Farm we are trying to create one small example. Young people want to farm, can farm, and will be the people who feed our friends and neighbors.

But since the average age of farmers in America is approaching 60 years old, there are fewer role-models out there. The farmers that are left are too often not so much farmers, but tractor drivers piloting their $100,000 machines across their 2,000 acres. This is our first year. We've read and studied and interned as much as we can, but we've never done this before. Not for ourselves. So this is our experiment. Here on our blog we'll keep you updated about what we've done; what is working and what's not.

We are going to grow good, honest vegetables. Come by and see us.