Iron Oak Farm

Feeding Orioles

Iron Oak FarmThe Baltimore Oriole is one of my favorite songbirds. The brilliant orange color is like a flash of sunlight in the sky. Not only are orioles beautiful to look at, they have a lovely twirling song.

Attracting orioles to your yard is fun and easy. We draw orioles in five different ways.

Oriole 18 

Olriole 2

Oriole 10 

1. Oranges
Orioles love oranges. An orange sliced in half, suspended on a nail will keep orioles coming back for more.

Oriole 16 

2. Grape Jelly
Grape jelly is probably the best way to attract orioles. Our orioles always eat the jelly first. I get the convenient squeeze bottles and I just squirt a bit into the dish.

Oriole 6 

3. An Oriole Feeder
Orioles are attracted to the color orange. Many feed stores and garden supply stores sell feeders designed to attract orioles.

You can also purchase oriole food. It’s usually a powder or a concentrate liquid that you mix with water; usually a 1 to 4 ratio. Store-bought oriole food is orange flavored and has added calcium to ensure strong eggshells and healthy chicks. Refrigerate extra syrup.

Oriole 18 

You can also make your own nectar. This recipe will work for hummingbird feeders as well.

Oriole Nectar

1 cup sugar
4 cups water

Boil on the stove top for a few minutes. Let cool and pour into the feeder. Refrigerate extra.

Be sure to keep your feeder clean by washing it at least every week. Change out the syrup every few days, especially during hot weather so it doesn’t spoil.

Oriole 7 

4. Water Source
Orioles love to take baths and ruffle their feathers around in the water. We have a small stream that runs through our yard that the orioles love to splash in. A bird bath would do the same trick.

Oriole 3 

5. Suet Cakes
I found orange flavored suet cakes at a feed store and our orioles went crazy for them. You can also provide regular suet. They won’t devour them like the orange flavored ones, but they will take a taste or two.

Oriole 11 

Jelly and Orange Feeder

A simple open side box structure can provide a convenient feeding station for your orioles.

I made a small house out of scrap wood and drove two long nails through the bottom board; one to hold a halved orange and the other to hold a plastic dish in place for jelly. I painted the roof orange to tell the orioles that food was here!

My mom saw how effective my house was and asked for her own for her birthday. We made hers a little more elaborate.

Oriole 13 

I painted the roof with orange slices and orange blossoms.

Oriole 15 

My husband is a blacksmith so he made some fancy twisted perches ...

Oriole 14 

... and places to drive a half orange on either side.

Oriole 12 

We also cut a hold in the bottom board to fit a small cat dish to fill with jelly.

Here is the plans for my first, more simple Oriole Feeding Station design. By all means add all the frills you like! 

5-inch-by-3/4-inch-by-6-feet treated pine board
1 1/4-inch brad nails
2 - 2-inch nails
2 galvanized screws or eye hook for hanging
Screw driver
2 feet wire
Small plastic dish
Orange acrylic paint
Paint brush

Cut the board into five pieces according to the diagram below.

Olriole 9

Nail the two sides to the top of the floor board driving the nails from the bottom into the ends of the sides. Line up the roof so that the 4 1/4-inch piece fits into the longer piece so the roof is symmetrical. Nail down. Drive two of the longer nails into the floor board, one to hold a halved orange, the other to keep the plastic dish in place. Carefully push the nail through the bottom of the dish. Fix eyehooks or screws to the ends of the roof and attach the wire to hang. Paint the roof orange to advertise that “Oriole food is here!”

Feeding Tips

Oriole 1 

If you’re in northern climates like us, you can start to hang your oriole feeders as early as late April. This will attract migrating orioles coming up from the south.

Keep your feeders filled consistently. If the orioles find the feeder empty, they often move on in search of other food and won’t come back.

Squirrel deterrent

We have a cute little gray squirrel that loves to lap up the grape jelly in our Oriole Feeder. And while I don’t mind feeding the squirrels, I have to save the jelly for our orioles. There are many different cones and various contraptions on the market designed to keep squirrels off of bird feeders.

Growing Lavender From Seed

Iron Oak FarmLavender is notoriously difficult to germinate from seed. But with a few simple steps you can successfully start your own lavender sets and plant a garden’s worth of this fragrant and beautiful herb.


Lavender Bouquet

Lavender seeds 

Step 1. Start Early
Lavender is slow to germinate and takes a few extra steps to get the germination process going. Be prepared to get your seeds planted indoors about three to four months before your predicted planting time for your zone/area. Sometimes this time frame occurs before the garden supply stores start getting in their seed packets and seed starting pots. Gather supplies now for next year.

water dirt

Step 2: Planting
This year we used peat pots to germinate our lavender. They are convenient because the whole pot can be planted in the ground without disturbing the root system. Use a potting soil designed for starting seeds. This mix has a nice blend of peat and vermiculite to retain moisture and keep the soil light.

We fill our pots with soil and then water to set the soil in place. Watering before planting helps to keep small seeds like lavender from being buried too deeply as the dry soil fills with water and settles.

Lavender seeds are very tiny so sprinkle a pinch of seeds in the center of the pot and just lightly fluff the dirt to get the seeds covered and moist.

seed labels

Label the seeds appropriately.

This year we are growing:
French Purple Ribbon by Botanical Interests
English Tall by Botanical Interests
Hidcote Dwarf by Botanical Interests
And a perennial Lavender by Hart Seeds

pots covered

Step 3. Cover the Pots
Place the pots in a waterproof dish or seed tray. If your seed tray comes with a clear plastic cover then place that on top. If not, slide the whole tray into a garbage bag. You want to seal in the moisture until the seeds germinate.

seeds in fridge

Step 4: Make Room in the Fridge
Lavender seeds need a dormancy period of cool temperatures to germinate. The fridge is a perfect place for this to occur. Place the tray in the fridge for three to six weeks. You won’t need to water them because the bag will keep the pots from drying out.


Mark the calendar when the tray is due to come out.

seeds starting

Once the dormancy period is over, remove the seeds from the plastic bag and place in a warm area.

Once the seeds germinate, place them on a sunny, south facing window or under a grow light.

lavender germinate

These seedlings were in the fridge for four weeks and germinated within three days of coming out. They are now getting their second set of leaves.

Crochet Rag Rug

Iron Oak FarmTo make this rug, you will need to have some basic sewing skills and basic crochet skills under your belt.

You will need to know how to make a slip knot, how to crochet a chain and how to work a single crochet stitch.

The finished oval rug is 20 inches by 40 inches.

rag rug

Scrap fabrics
Rotary tool (optional)
Cutting mat (optional)
Sewing machine (or serger)
Jumbo crochet hook (around 19mm)


To begin, collect fabrics for your rug. You can purchase new fabric for your rug, or you can use old clothes, sheets, leftover fabric from past projects, etc. Denim makes a sturdy rag rug, so save those old jeans! Thrift stores are a great place to find material. Check the bedding and curtain areas and look for half-off days.

Natural fabrics seem to make the best rugs; cotton, linen, wool and flannel work well. I like to keep similar fabrics together to make a rug. This keeps the crochet pattern somewhat uniform.

cutting fabric 

Start by cutting the fabric into 3-inch lengths. To make things go quickly, I fold the fabric onto itself several times and cut through the layers with a rotary cutting tool on a rubber mat. You can use scissors to accomplish this as well.

Cut the fabric so that you’re getting the most out of the length of the piece. You don’t have to worry about measuring just yet, just try to cut the longest pieces available for the piece of fabric.

For my rug, I had a collection of pastel fabrics from old quilting projects and two white flat sheets to work with. I am remodeling a spare bedroom and wanted the fabric to correlate with the color scheme of the room.

Pink fabric 

I wanted the different colors to be distributed throughout the rug. To do this I first cut all my pink lengths, then yellow, green, blue, violet, etc.

Pink stack 

Within the pink color scheme I alternated the patterns.

Multi color fabrics 

I did the same with the other colors.

Multi stack 

Then I alternated the colors, mixing pink, yellow, green, etc. in a rainbow pattern to get my finished stack of colored fabric. This gave me a good distribution of all the colors throughout the rug.

Because I had so much white, I decided to alternate a color piece with a white each time.

sew end to endYour rug does not have to be this calculated. Some of the most beautiful rugs are very spontaneous. Try different patterns and see what you like.

Begin sewing your pieces of fabric together end to end, right sides together. I am blessed to have a serger which gives me a nice, neat, finished edge, and cuts the two fabrics evenly as it goes. But a serger isn’t necessary. A sewing machine does nicely. Leave a ¼ inch seam with each join.




 ball of fabric

It’s amazing how quickly the fabric adds up, within two evenings I had 186 yards of fabric joined together.


I wound it onto my yarn skeiner to count the yards.

serging the edge   serging

From this point you have some options. You can begin crocheting your rug right away. I’ve done this in the past and it makes a nice rug. But I like to wash my rugs in the washing machine. Because cotton fabric is prone to fraying, all those unfinished edges will let loose and knot on themselves in the washer, so I choose to finish my edge.

Again, the serger works great for this, but a sewing machine would work as well. I fold the fabric in half and serge the open edge.

If you have a sewing machine, sew along the side as close to the open edge as you can get. A zig zag would work even better. You’ll still get some fraying but the stitch will provide a stopping point.

Once your fabric is all finished it’s ready to start crocheting.

slip knot 

Begin by tying a slip knot.


Chain 20 stitches. (There are 30 shown here because later I took it out, as the rug was getting too long for the space I wanted to place it.)

Turn and go back through the second hole from the hook.

Stitch 3 single crochet stitches in this stitch.


Single crochet to the other end.

Stitch 3 single crochet stitches in the last stitch.

Single crochet to where the rug begins turning around the end oval.

Single crochet in that first stitch, then crochet two in the next stitch, then one in the next. Repeat this till you round the corner then single crochet to the other side. Stop where the oval begins to curve. Repeat the stitch 1 then 2 pattern until you round the corner and repeat this until the rug is finished.

finished rug 

Depending on the material you're using, you might have to adjust the increase or decrease of stitches. If the rug starts to bowl up on itself, add more stitches (in an even manner); if it starts to wave, then decrease stitches in an even manner.

To finish, pull the tail of fabric through the last stitch and tug it to tighten.

A Morning With a Goat Keeper

Iron Oak FarmI begin my day with coffee. A hot steaming cup with goat milk. I’m not a morning person but coffee helps. My first chore of the day is to get the fire going in the wood-burning furnace. I wrap my robe around me and slip outside in my slippers to gather an armful of wood from the pile. One of the benefits of living in the country is you can wear your pajamas outside and no one sees you.

With an armful of wood I make my way down the steep wooden steps to the basement. I’m greeted with the musty smell of all old basements mixed with ash from the furnace cleanout. I open the creaky metal door to the furnace and crumple a handful of junk mail that we save for fire starting. On top of this I stack kindling. I strike a match and for a second my nose burns like the onset of a sneeze as the first fizz of fire lights the match. The paper soon ignites and the fire makes its way to the kindling. I add a few logs and watch for a few moments to make sure it takes. Then I press the valve shut and close the door.

Goats waiting for foodAfter another cup of coffee, the house is warming up and I get dressed in my barn clothes. I head to the back bathroom where two 5-gallon buckets sit outside the old farmhouse tub. I set one under the faucet and turn the water to warm and let it fill. When one is full, I remove it and set the second under the tap to fill. While the second is filling I gather the milking supplies. I fill a small pail with warm water a splash of Castile soap and throw in a clean white washcloth. I hang this over my arm. I also gather the clean milk bucket, and the strip cup. I slip on my wool barn coat, my barn boots and hat with ear flaps. It’s my favorite hat and I’ll cry if I ever lose it.

By now the water buckets are full. I tap the lids on lightly and carry them out to the wagon or the sled if it’s snowy. I call our dog Oliver through the doorway and we all go out to the barn.

The smell of the barn greets me with a number of excited maaas of all tonations. The barn smells like comforting animal mustiness, green hay, sweet molasses and pine.

Alpine goat in the hay

Angora GoatsOut in the barn I set the milking supplies on the small table next to the stanchion. I grab the cutters and snip the bailing twine from a fresh bale of hay that we baled this past summer. The bale pops a bit as the hay expands from it’s cinched twine. This bale goes to the dairy goats. I carry it half at a time and fill the two mangers at each end of the dairy area.

A second bale goes to the Angora goats. I pour the water into three water troughs from the 5-gallon buckets and watch the steam rise slowly in the cold air.

I scoop out an amount of grain from the galvanized can and dump it into the bucket that hangs from the front of the stanchion. The goats know the sound of the can and know that the grain is coming. I grab a Dixie cup from the supply shelf and pour a bit of iodine in the paper cup.

I open the gate and let Esther out. She’s our big alpine and she gives the most milk. She knows just what to do and jumps on the stanchion. She buries her head in the grain bucket and I get to work. With the clean warm rag I wipe down her udders. Wiping each teat and turning the rag after the first wipe down. I squirt the first draws into the strip cup and check for lumps or abnormalities. Everything looks fine.

Alpine on stanchionI milk her and delight in the pleasant swish swish rhythm of her milk as I work my hands around her teats. I rest my head against her side and listen to her breath. She’s warm and I can hear the gurgle of her rumen next to my head. She should have babies in her by now if our buck has done his job.

Milking is a peaceful chore. It’s very soothing and intimate. You bond with an animal you milk and it’s a special relationship. She willingly gives you the milk she should keep for her babies and I count that as a blessing.

The rising sun breaks through the cracks in the barn siding and sparkles of dust float like fairies in the stripes of sunlight. A stray chicken coohs in the corner of the barn and pecks at some spilled grain. And the milking goes on. The muscle memory in my hands and the automatic motions are like an active meditation.

When Esther’s teats are limp and empty, I dip her in iodine to keep her teats clean until the wax cap can form again, sealing off the opening. Esther gets returned to her stall and the whole process is repeated with Nan and Gretta our two Nubians.

Nubian Goats 

Goat milkI fit the full metal milk can with its lid and gather the empty water buckets, strip cup, soiled wash cloth and pail. It all gets carried back to the house.

I set the dirty things in the laundry tub and carry the milk to the kitchen. I wash my hands and fit a clean, half-gallon glass mason jar with our large metal funnel. I place a cloth filter in the funnel and press the strainer cap into the opening. The milk gets poured through. It’s creamy and frothy.

When the milk is strained I place it in our freezer to cool quickly for an hour. This helps keep the sweetness of the milk. I then sterilize the milk pail so it will be ready to use again. The wash pail gets rinsed and I throw the washcloth in a small hamper for barn rags. I will wash these separately.

After the milk chills for an hour, I label the side of the jar with a wax pencil with the date and indicate if it’s the a.m. or p.m. milking. It gets placed in the fridge. The whole process will be repeated in 12 hours.

Milking supplies 

Farms have a rhythm. A continuance, that molds your day as the keeper. It is a special life and one that I’m blessed to lead.

Storing Seeds

Squash Seedling

For the most part, the garden is planted. There’s a few more things I might tuck in here or there, but if I don’t get around to it, I feel satisfied with the finished plantings. Now that the garden is done, it’s time for me to take a look at the seeds we have left over. I like to experiment with different varieties each year. For example, this is our first year growing Pak Choi. I’m excited to add it to stir fries but I don’t see us eating a ton of it. So I planted a few plants and have a bunch of seeds left over.  

Pumpkin Seeds

We also saved seeds last year from varieties that are easy to handle like heirloom pumpkins, gourds and squashes. So instead of a small envelope of seeds, I had several pumpkins worth which in some cases, like with our Connecticut Filed pumpkins, yielded a Quart size baggie full of seeds. All last fall I had paper plates strewn about the house, on every horizontal surface with labeled paper plates with seeds drying. I would toss them and turn them every few days until the seeds were dry enough to store.

It seems that all over the country it was a funny year for gardeners. In Michigan, the cold crept into June and was followed by heavy rains that left our garden areas muddy and in some areas too wet to plant. In our case, with our shorter growing season, it became somewhat of a race to get the seeds in, wet or not, and hope for the best. Our pumpkin patch boasts over 1000 hand planted pumpkins, and most are coming up nicely, despite my worries that the ground would eventually dry up and turn to cement.

Some days I felt as though Mother Nature was playing some sort of joke. We were peppered with fast moving storms that would spring up out of nowhere. I would be out in the field with seed packets scattered about and a misty rain would sneak up on me and send me scurrying to gather the seed envelopes and cover them from the wetness.  

The dampness became a battle even in touching the seeds. In planting, poking the seed hole and covering the seeds our fingers would collect mud and dampness from the saturated soil. Then each time I reached inside the packet, the envelope got dirty, damp and disfigured. 

Taped Seed Packet

So to make the most of our hard work it’s important for me to take the time to store our seeds properly. Moisture and heat are the enemies of storing seeds. I gathered all the seeds that we had left, straightened the envelopes that were salvageable and taped the ends closed with blue painters tape. I like painters tape because it can be removed easily next year without doing damage to the paper envelope.   

Seed Envelope

For the seeds that we saved ourselves, I re-packaged them in clean paper envelopes with the date, variety, and any other notes I remembered about this seed.  

Cornstarch Pillow

Then the envelopes get packed into a storage container with a pillow of cornstarch to absorb moisture. I actually go this idea from an older Martha Stewart program. She used powered milk, but I find cornstarch works well too. You can also save silica gel packets that are often found with new shoes and place them in your seed box.   

Storing Seeds

I store our seed labels, a Sharpy marker, and extra enveloped with our seeds on a shelf in our supply room. If stored properly, your seeds will last for years.

Carrot and Ginger Salad

Carrot and Ginger on Salmon

Warm weather around our farm means outdoor eating! I love sitting at our picnic table watching the sun sink lower in the sky with a glass of wine and the goats grazing in the foreground.

As the spring weather warms I crave light and refreshing meals. Bright flavors, crisp veggies and tender salads are some of my favorites. We also eat a lot of fish in the summer. I love how fast a filet of fish cooks on the grill or sautéed in a pan, and I can quickly get back outside without spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Something about seafood conjures up images of the beach, clam bakes and days of nautical dreaming.

One of my favorite ways to eat fish, is to cook it simply, and top it with a really flavorful fruit or veggie salad.

This carrot and ginger salad is wonderful as a stand alone side dish or slaw, but also goes wonderfully with salmon, one of the best fish (in my opinion) for sweet accompaniments. The creamy citrus and ginger dressing and the crunchy apples and carrots are a wonderful contrast to the warm flaky fish.

You will need:

2 carrots
1 Granny Smith apple
4 green onions
1 orange segmented

The zest from the segmented orange (above)
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger root
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice from orange
½ tsp salt
Roasted sunflower seeds


With a vegetable peeler, peel the carrots into long ribbons.  

Chopped Apple

Core and chop the apple into match sticks.  

 Green Onion

Finely dice the green onions.  

 Orange Zest

Zest the orange (set zest aside in a bowl)

 Segmented Orange

then peel and segment the rest cutting the bulk of the fruit away from the tough fibrous parts. Squeeze the remaining juice from the fibrous sections into the same bowl with the zest.  

Mix the carrots, apples, onions and oranges in a bowl. 

Grated Ginger

In the other bowl add the grated ginger, mayonnaise, honey, vinegar, and salt to the orange juice and zest. Whisk well.  

Toss the veggies with the dressing to coat evenly and top with roasted sunflower seeds.  

Carrot and Ginger Salad

Use as a side dish, or a topping for your favorite seafood. 

For more recipes, gardening and farming ideas visit our blog at Iron Oak Farm  

Making Goat Butter

Three Dairy GoatsThese are our three goats in milk at Iron Oak Farm. Esther our Alpine, Gretta and Nan our two Nubians. The Nubians produce about twice as much cream as our Alpine, but the Alpine produces twice the amount of milk total. So it’s a nice mix of useful milk that I’m learning to fill all of our dairy needs. We get about ¾ of a gallon from our girls in the morning milking and a little less than that at night. We are still bottle feeding the goats kids so we split our harvest with the babies. 

 Goat Butter MoldBesides drinking milk outright, (in our coffee, with dinner or homemade cookies), our biggest dairy demand is butter. I use a lot of butter in cooking, sautéing and baking, I mix it with olive oil to give pan fried foods a wonderful caramelized sear that you just can’t get with oil alone.

For so long, butter has been a bad word when it comes to healthy eating, But I believe that our butter is a healthy source of fat. And I’m not afraid to eat it in moderation. Just as grass fed beef is a healthier alternative to the commercially raised cows, our goats get grain while we milk them, but the rest of their time is spent out in green pasture grazing on lush grass, or munching on the hay that we bale ourselves from the same field.

Milking the GoatWe jumped into dairy goats before I realized that goat butter wasn’t going to be as easy to make as cow butter.

Goat milk, unlike cow milk, is naturally homogenized. Which means the cream doesn’t separate as easily to the top of the milk. Eventually the cream will rise to the top if the milk is left undisturbed for a few days, but the yield is small and it’s a tedious process that holds the milk up waiting to be skimmed.

In frustration, I searched the internet for a better solution and found that there was such a gizmo called a cream separator. The device uses centrifugal force to separate the cream droplets from the milk. Many of these machines go for $300 and up, but we found an inexpensive model on E-bay for about $75. There is a range of simple, hand crank models available with a little searching.

To make the goat butter I place the jars of milk in the clean sink and fill almost to the top of the lid rims with hot water from the tap. I let them sit in the warm bath for about 45 minutes or until the milk is about 85 to 90 degrees.

Cream SeperatorWe place two collection bowls under the cream separator spigots and begin turning the handle. It really whirls! The milk can be poured into the hopper and the cream comes out one spout and the skimmed milk comes out the other. When the milk is almost separated, I pour a bit of the skimmed milk back through, just to be sure we flushed all the cream out.

In our latest batch of 2 and ¾ gallons of milk we got almost a half gallon of cream.

Goat ButterI poured off a cup of cream to make sour cream and the rest we shook into butter. Shake the jar back and forth until you see the butter globules form. Once the butter takes shape I let the jar rest for a bit. The butter floats to the top and forms a mass which makes it easier to wash.

Using my fingers as a sieve, I pour the butter milk off the butter, the pillow of butter rests against my palm and the buttermilk runs between. You can save the buttermilk to use in baking, etc. 

 ButtermilkI wash the butter by adding cold water to the jar with the butter and shake it. The more milk you can remove the longer your butter will stay fresh. I do this several times until the water runs clear. The cold water will also help the butter firm slightly and take shape.

Wooden PaddlesThen I use our wooden butter paddles to drain the water from the butter. This helps the butter to become more solid like store bought. The paddles have tiny groves that smear though the butter and release the water droplets to run down the grooves. I knead the butter on a cutting board. I smear the butter between the two paddles and then tilt the cutting board to let the water drain out. You could also use two forks with a similar outcome.

Then I salt the butter to taste.   

Goat butter is always pure white because unlike cows, goats absorb all the carotene they eat. Carotene is what gives grass fed butter that golden hue.