Northern Path Family Farm

04/16/17:  We are pleased to announce that we are now taking orders for custom-built top bar hives as part of our woodshop product offerings.  We had great success with initial construction of the two that will be used on our farm that we made the decision to offer this as a product for our bee-keeping customers.  The horizontal top bar hive is a very practical, low-maintenance method for keeping bees naturally.  If you are interested in learning more on top bar hive beekeeping I encourage you to check out the works of people like Les Crowder and Phil Chandler who have pioneered this unique system of caring for bees in a comparatively non-invasive manner.  Contact us if you are interested in having us build a custom-built top bar hive for your own farm or homestead! 

06/25/18:  A swarm is upon us!  Wow, this was an experience.  One of our hives decided to swarm this past weekend and we were lucky enough to be in the right place a the right time to catch it!  This is an awesome phenomenon in nature that not many people have the opportunity to observe, simply due to the fact that more often than not the swarm will take place high in a tree, well out of sight for the casual observer.  This one however alighted on a box elder branch not more than 7 feet off the ground!  This is a beekeeper's 'dream swarm', the kind that is spotted easily, and low enough to make the catching a simple task.  The process was straight-forward; prepare an empty hive box with just a few frames so as to allow room to drop the swarm in.  We cut the branch just a few inches above the swarm and gently set them in the box.  From there, simply put the lid on and allow them time to become accustomed to their new residence! Swarming is a natural occurence and is the bee's method of propagating themselves.  For us beekeeper's it is a bonus as we now have another colony to add to our beeyard here on the farm! 

Aside from bounty of fruit and the livestock management, we've undertaken a few new projects this year.  We designed and built a new style of portable chicken tractors that are much lighter and easier to pull around the pasture compared to our original design.  Most of the materials were salvaged from items we had around the farm.  We're also in the middle of demolishing one of the outbuildings, an old chicken coop dating back to the 1930's.  The foundation has been falling apart and we decided to tear it down so that we could replace it with a new, multi-functional structure that we will be working to construct in the months to come.  ​

Please mark your calendar for our last customer pick-up date for this season's last batch of broiler chickens.  Sunday September 4th from 11:00am-5:00pm will be your chance to purchase the Midwest's best pastured raised, beyond-organic chicken.  

Also don't forget that we have doubled our turkey run this year from 15 last year to 30 this year.  As of this writing we've got 1/3 of those spoken for so please don't hesitate to contact us to claim yours ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Our on-farm customer pick-up day for this year's turkeys will take place on Sunday November 20th from 11:00-5:00pm.

08/13/17:  Summer fun on the farm...that's been the theme lately.  We were pleased to host some long time friends this past weekend for a day on the farm which included a a hay ride tour and a fantastic barbecue in the evening.  Nothing beats spending a beautiful summer day with good friends and good food!  The hay ride just happend to pass underneath a Granny Smith apple tree where the kids had a chance to reach up and pick a sample.  Mmmmm...mmmm...good!

07/11/15:  This was by far our best year for cherries.  Last year we saw very minimal fruiting, but this year with all the rain that we've had coupled with moderate temps we got our best yield yet.  The branches of all of our apple trees are also beginning to arc downward due to the weight from all of the apples that should make a great harvest. We've also reaped a huge harvest of various root crops from our hugel mound #3 that we established late fall last year.  Shown here is a hefty pick of some purple top white globe of our favorite long-term storables that we'll enjoy through fall and winter.   

3/9/17:  It has been a roller coaster ride of weather these past few weeks.  A mild winter is always welcome, but these back and forth sways of warm ups to deep freeze are getting old!  We were spared any significant damage during yesterday's 'gales from hell' windstorm, save for a few downed branches.  As I type this it is 4:30am and I can hear the drone of the generator out back...lost power yesterday evening and DTE can't give us a best guess as to when it will be restored.


Other than that, we're getting lots of work done to prepare for the spring activities.  We just completed a new portable hay feeder of our own design.  We're bringing on 5 Katahdin sheep next Saturday and will rotationally graze these guys through our orchard during the summer using electro-net fencing.  This hay feeder will make it easy to transport supplemental hay and minerals when we shift them to a new paddock.

12/15/16:  Latest project complete!  And just in time too with the first arctic temps of the year upon us!   After tearing down the old coop this summer (scroll down for pics), we needed to build an over-wintering coop for our layer hens.  This structure is a dual-purpose building which will not only provide a warm sanctuary for our layer flock during the coldest months of the year, but it will also serve as a greenhouse to help us get an early start on our vegetables and tree seeds come March.   It took us a few weekends to build and you can see that our feathered beauties are quite at home in their new digs.  Keep laying those delicious eggs, girls!! 

08/22/15:  The summer is just flying by!  We're enjoying a continual harvest of a variety of delicious goodies from the garden (anyone need any tomatoes?...please???).  Our corn, pumpkins, and sorghum are all doing very well.  We've been busy these past few weeks with another construction project.  We're building an 8'x12' tool shed to house all of our garden/nursery tools.  The project is almost complete and we hope to have some finished pics posted soon.    

As part of our long term design of the property, our plan is to install a variety of water features in the way of contour swales and farm ponds.  Areas where we can hold water in the landscape for as long as possible, as opposed to having it runoff quickly, will serve to increase diversity in habitat and attract more wildlife.  Contour swales will serve the function of slowing the right angle-to-contour flow of water during rain events, thereby allowing water to soak into the landscape where it will be more efficiently taken up by trees and plants.  Here we are digging our first small farm pond using a rented mini-excavator.  It made fairly quick work to construct an approximate 4,000 gallon pond.  

03/31/17:  Is it really the last day of March!  The weather has been cool and soon as we get some warm temps we're sure to see some fast growth of pasture grasses and budding of trees.  Our 5 Katahdin sheep have settled nicely into their new home here on our farm.  We have high expectations of these guys during their stay.  We will graze them within our orchard on a paddock rotation basis whereby they will essentially be 'pulsed' through the orchard lanes to do the work of managing grass height.  In doing so we are not required to bring in outside inputs of feed as they will obtain everything they need from our lush pastures, and in the end provide our family with a meat yield.  The Katahdin breed is a hair sheep which, unlike wool sheep, they do not need to be sheared but instead shed their hair as a dog or goat would.  Considered a very hardy breed requiring minimal maintenance, the Katahdin is an exceptional breed to have working for you on the homestead.  

02/11/16:  Greetings everyone!  The winter has been relatively mild this year which has translated to a significant savings in firewood over the last couple of months.  Our hope is that we can carry over some of what we have seasoned and stacked into the next winter heating season.  

Our focus during these past few weeks has been to propagate hundreds of tree seeds of which we will plant out in the silvopasture this coming spring.  We collected literally thousands of different tree seeds this past fall in a variety of locations and have kept them cold-stratifying in the refrigerator.  We currently have over 500 trees sprouted and growing vigorously under grow lights.  The majority of these are comprised of both honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).  These are both terrific nitrogen-fixing trees that will provide a forage yield for our future livestock in addition to some of the highest rated Btu firewood.  Locust wood is also a very rot resistant wood which makes for a great material for outdoor construction uses.  We intend to have many of these trees available to our customers so please let us know if you're interested in adding one of these multi-functional trees to your landscape.  

10/23/16:  We've rounded the corner heading into the cooler part of fall. We enjoyed a beautiful abundant harvest this year of both English walnuts and hickories.  A lot of work to shell, but the flavor is soooo worth it.

We also had great success with our first year sunchoke patch.  Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, produce an edible tuber somewhat akin to potatoes.  The plant grows upwards of 15 feet tall and yields a beautiful flower that is a great nectar provider for honeybees.  

12/06/15:  We took advantage of the mild weather this past weekend to get a head start on our silvopasture layout.  We spent the morning running an A-frame level across the landscape which helped us to identify and mark contour lines.  The A-frame level is a rudimentary tool that can be built using scrap lumber and if used carefully can yield accurate readings of the topography of the landscape.  After staking out a hundred or so flags it was interesting to see the form of the landscape that previously was not so apparent to the naked eye.   For the next phase of the project we will do a mass planting of a variety of mast and fruit bearing trees to include chestnut, red oak, walnut, mulberry, black & honey locust.  This is a long term project that will take years to develop and we’ll continue to post periodic updates on our progress. 

Here's an interesting comparison between a 'wild' and 'cultivated' variety of fruit.  On the left is a wild prickly gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) which is growing along our fenceline.  Compare this to the photo on the right, which is a Pixwell Gooseberry (Ribes pixwell), a cultivated variety that was introduced in 1932 out of a breeding program in North Dakota.  So the question first glance which one would you be enticed to pick...and eat?!!  It's obvious through selective breeding that the mace-looking spikes were bred out of the fruit to make a more appealing, consumer-friendly variety with the Pixwell (rest assured the wild variety is just as edible and those spikes cause no internal damage!)  This is just one of many examples of how modern cultivated varieties (or 'cultivars') have been developed from their wild cousins.  

08/22/16:  The season is absolutely flying by...or at least it seems that way probably due to the fact that this is our busiest year so far on the farm.  We're managing more livestock this season on the farm than we have in all prior years.  Let's see...we've run 100 broilers, 30 turkeys, 2 pigs, 18 layer hens, 4 goats, 1 cat (Dakota), and, oh yeah, let's also count Charlie the Barn Cat and Buddy the Bearded Dragon.  That's 157 hungry mouths to feed besides our own!  The daily chores are hard work, but it is the most gratifying work because everyday you see the fruits of your labor translate into healthy and happy animals.  Just look at the size of our pigs!  After three months these once little 30 lb feeders have exploded into 150 lb beasts!  They're on track to dress out at close to 300 lbs by the time we harvest them in November.  

Peaches and apricots were ablaze this was clear that our biodynamic treatments using neem oil, effective microbes, liquid fish, and sea kelp have significantly helped to ward off our nemesis the curculio!  Have you ever had so many peaches that you dare say that you got tired of them?  Well, we were just about at that threshold this year!  Thanks to friends and family who helped reap the harvest!!

06/28/15:   We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our customers for making our 2015 Spring Broiler Sale a resounding success!  We appreciate all the support of our past customers as well as all the new faces that came by to purchase our pasture-raised, beyond-organic broiler chickens and farm fresh eggs.  It was a beautiful sunny spring day which made for ideal conditions to take a tour of the farm to see all the projects we've started and say hello to all the animals.  We look forward to seeing everyone again soon! 

We always like to share the neat photos we take of some of the cool critters that we find hanging out at the farm.  Here is a very healthy tree frog we observed hanging out in the garden.  He didn't even blink an eye when we approached for a close up view, most likely due to a belly full of delicious insects that he picked up in the garden.  Imagine that, he's working for us to control the insect population and we don't even have to pay him! 

Of the many insects we have the pleasure of observing on the farm, probably one of the most unique specimens is the hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum).  Here is one hovering above the phlox garden where it will work each flower by repeatedly inserting its proboscis in search of some delicious nectar.  

04/08/17:  We've been having fun with the heavy equipment here on the farm! We used a chipper this past weekend to chip some of the downed branches that made a mess of our farm during some of the wind storms in the last few weeks.  We also selectively cut back some of the Russian olive that is concentrated in the back 5 acres of the farm.  Russian olive, being in the Elaeagnus family, is a nitrogen-fixing plant that naturally stores nitrogen in its plant body.  The woodchips from this plant will make an excellent fertilizer amendment in the way of a mulch layer which we'll apply around our newly established orchard trees.  

We are starting an intern program, and one of the first candidates to come by the farm for an interview was the gentlemen below.  Although he seemed to be very creative and a hard worker, he didn't have a lot to say!!  Ha ha! Seriously folks, although the farm operations are keeping us beyond busy, we still find time to carve out a little bit of fun now and again.  A recent trip to Chicago afforded us the opportunity to see the Blue Man Group!  By far one of the best live shows ever!  An absolute blast of a good time!  Highly recommended!  Take care everyone!!

Aidan and I took advantage of some of the mild February weather to get a jump start on our yearly task of inoculating 20 new logs with shiitake mushroom spawn for our growing cultivation project.   We will typically set out to do this in mid-March, but with the warm temps it was a good decision to get this all-day project done and out of the way so we can turn our attention to other important spring tasks.  

One of those is the uprooting of our 1-year old tree saplings that we planted from seed last spring which we will now transplant as bare-root stock in and around the orchard.  We learned firsthand that black walnut is not easy to dig up as it has an enormously long tap root that makes it next to impossible to dig up without damaging most of the surrounding feeder roots. 

Trees like these are better planted in the permanent spot you where will want them to grow as opposed to trying to transplant them from a nursery.  You can see this guy I'm holding has a tap root that is nearly double the length of the above ground central leader of the tree.  We've still have 25 honey locust and 50 wild pear to dig up and transplant.   

Just had to share this photo...found this nest of bunnies in amongst the pasture grasses.  Nestled snuggly and dreaming of nibbling on clover under a moonlit night! 

This past week we were also very pleasantly surprised to find that our Shiitake mushroom logs had fruited for the very first time!  These logs were the ones we inoculated with Shiitake spawn back in March of 2015!  It took roughly a year and a half for the mycelium to grow and colonize the logs, and when the time was right, it sent up its fruit body, which is the mushroom itself.  In addition to the logs we inoculated this past spring 2016, we will continue to scale up this exciting segment of our farm offerings with the intent to make available for sale to our customers in the next couple of seasons.   

We've also been working to hone our charcuterie skills of late.  The bacon you see here was home made here on the farm using a dry-cure method using only coarse sea salt!  After a couple of weeks of curing, we enjoyed the savory flavor of buttery, nutty, farmhouse bacon the way it was meant to be!  We're also working on a couple of prosciutto hams that won't be ready for 2 years!

04/22/18:  Happy Earth Day!  The weather has finally shed its winter coat and thawed out the soil enough to allow us to plant out more trees to add to our fruit and nut orchard.  Yesterday we planted out (25) hazels, which brings us up to around 100 total planted thus far.  Hazels we've found do very well here in our soils.  I've already noticed that on a few of the 3-year old plants that they are bearing male catkins and female flowers (hazels are monoecious) for the first time ever!  That means that if all goes well they should set their first fruit this year.  In addition to the hazels we also transplanted from our nursery (18) 1-year saplings of English walnut.  These will take some years before they mature to the point of bearing fruit, but they will be well worth the wait.

We also successfully installed our first new package of bees into one of the existing top bar hives in our bee yard.  We will take delivery of 2 more packages in early May for a total of 3 hives that we'll nurture this season.  With the cold mornings we've had the bees have 'slept in' until the sun begins to warm their entrance, after which they actively head out to begin foraging for the early bearing pollen and nectar sources.  

Spring is by far our favorite time of year here on the farm.  It is so exciting to see all that we've planted over the last four years begin to break bud and bloom again.  Crossing our fingers in hopes of having the opportunity to taste our first hazelnuts and persimmons this year!  I have a feeling this may be the year!

10/25/15:  We spent this past weekend working to process this year's bountiful black walnut harvest.  Although the process is quite labor intensive, the result is well worth the effort.  We'll set aside a portion to plant this fall in our tree nursery and use the rest for own consumption.  We find the flavor of the black walnut far superior to the English walnut variety that is commonly found at grocery stores.  Of course, I'm sure it's the case that after all the work put into processing our own batch it leads to a little bias on our part.  In the end, nothing beats the aroma of fresh roasted black walnuts wafting through your kitchen on a cool fall day!   

04/08/16:  Spring has sprung...well, almost.  We had a decent warm-up at the start of spring and now were waiting out consecutive days of sub-freezing temps which has got us chomping at the bit to get outside and plant some trees!  We have kept very busy these past few weeks with our preparations for spring.  We received our first batch of 50 Rainbow Ranger broiler chicks which are currently enjoying the warmer temps in their indoor brooder pen (Dakota thought these were very interesting).  Our maple syrup tapping went very well.  We were able to boil down at least 5 quarts of delicious sweet syrup.  We've also just finished staking out 100 flags to mark where we'll undertake a mass planting of chestnut trees as soon as the ground warms up.  Last week we finished inoculating 20 more oak logs with our Shiitake mushroom plug spawn.  These won't produce until next spring but when they do we'll be well rewarded.  Be sure to look out for out spring newsletter which we'll publish shortly.  We look forward to seeing you all soon!  


Now that the sheep are here and settled, we're spending a lot of time in the woodshop where we're focusing our attention on building our new bee hives to accommodate two colonies that we will take delivery of in early May.  Although we have Langstroth equipment, we're opting to use the Kenyan horizontal top-bar hive design that is becoming more widely used thanks in part to the efforts of Phil Chandler, Les Crowder, Matt Reed and others who have had enormous success with the top bar beekeeping method. The photo below shows a custom assembly jig that we came up with to aid in more efficient construction of the hive body.  We're giving thought to eventually make our custom produced top-bar hives for sale to the public, so we're putting the forethought into building the equipment up front to help us with future builds.  

 Essentially the top-bar method replicates more closely a hive body design that bees would utilize in nature, such as a hollowed log.  The idea is that by using this more 'natural' method of beekeeping, the bees show a higher resilience to pests (ie, Varroa) and foul-brood diseases, which in the end eliminates the need for the beekeeper to use toxic medications to treat the bees.   Our intent is to run both styles in parallel, both the top-bar and Langstroth designs, and compare the performance of each hive throughout the season.  We will keep you posted on our results!

Beyond organic products guided by Permaculture ethics

We are seeing some significant progress with our orchard trees this year.  It has been just over two years since our initial mass planting of a variety of fruit and nut trees and all are doing exceptionally well.  In the beginning it seemed a bit daunting to put the work into planting thousands of trees and having to wait literally years before you can reap your first harvest of fruit.  With just two years behind us now since planting, the growth is giving us confidence that we can't be more than a couple years away from that first harvest.

The picture shown left above is a persimmon sapling that we planted out in April 2015.  The shot below is of the same tree taken August 18th 2017, or 2 years and 4 months later and it is well over 7 feet tall!  

Shown right is a black locust that we planted from seed in 2015!  This specimen has shown the most vigor compared to the other black locust that we've planted.  From seed to 8 ft. tall in just over 2 years time!

When is the best time to plant a tree?...30 years ago.  

The second best time?  NOW!!