Archive | February 2013

Lavender Variety Selection and Soap Making Win for the President’s Day Weekend.

We’ve worked out our first plot arrangement now and selected our first varieties. I’ve picked a variety of sizes and types to see what’s going to do the best for us.  Fixer and I like to hedge our bets so we’re planning on some intermedia varieties as well as angustifolia.  I’ve picked some larger plants that I expect to grow in more of a hedge-type habit and hopefully they will be sturdy enough to form a bit of a windbreak for some of the smaller plants.  Some of the varieties are recommended for oil, some for buds, some for sachets or culinary applications.

Lavender can take up to two or three years to mature and yield well which means that I’ve got some waiting time ahead of me. The plants themselves generally have a productive life of about 10 years. Accordingly, the plan is to plant in flights so that we don’t end up replacing all the plants at the same time.

I hope that after this first flight of a bit less than 600 plants in April, we can continue to plant additional starts periodically throughout the spring and possibly again in September. I learned a hard lesson a couple of years ago about procrastination and growing.  Even if the weather is good, lavender doesn’t do well if you wait until late October to get a plant in the ground.  Lavender is sturdy, but not that sturdy.  Lesson learned.

The idea is that by planting early in the spring, the plants will have enough time to establish a strong root system while the weather is relatively mild.

It appears that we may be sourcing our starts from another grower who is local to us. You can’t beat reduced shipping charges, right? I visited Trinidad Lavender on Saturday and spent some time talking with Scott.  Check out his website here.

Check back for more details on variety selection and the particular varieties we’ve selected.

Getting ready for planting, we had another tree pruning, weed gathering, brush pile bonfire with the neighborhood. The fact is I think we’re surrounded by a bunch of firebugs.  I tell you, I’ve gathered nary a branch. I come out from feeding the baby and the whole crew is standing around a big ball of fire drinking beer and making fun of each other, which is fine with me, but I’m beginning to suspect they think I’m dead wood for not dragging brush with them. Could be true…but it’s also too cold to have the Lilliputian hanging around outside. I guess I owe them all a nice dinner.

Burning bush

On another note, I found myself with a magic, child-free day today when I have President’s Day off and my lovely daycare provider is open.  So what’s a girl to do with a magic extra day to herself? Go grocery shopping? I think not. I made soap.  Squeeee!

Sunday’s batch of pear fragrance soap was a train wreck, with bad color, poor separation and seizing.  Ugh. Even after CPOP in the oven, it got worse instead of better. Lesson learned: buy your fragrance oil from reputable sources with lots of customer support.  Thanks to my trusty friends at Soaper’s Retreat, I retreated, regrouped and this morning bent that darn fragrance oil to my will.  More water, slower mixing, lower temperature, more olive oil and less coconut. Here’s what I got,  nine bars of lovely, single color, mica sprinkled pear smelling goodness.

Pear with gold mica

Encouraged, and still with several child-free hours before me, I decided to blend a different recipe.  This one used shea butter, brazilian purple clay, apricot freesia frangrance and some castor oil, with a little mica on top for sparkle.

purple clay and mica

The batter was a little looser than I hoped, so the texture on the top wasn’t exactly what I wanted but I got to try a funnel pour, it wasn’t grainy like that mess from Sunday evening and it has the pretty mica so I think overall the weekend soaping is a win. It’s hard to see the different colors in this photo, but I’m hopeful since the base recipe is my test bar from Soap in my Mouth. I can’t wait to cut it.  Soaps are expected to be available on the Bucklepenny Etsy shop at the end of March.

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Bucklepenny in Progress: Here Comes the Purple Wave, or Lavender Going In

Well, spring is coming and with it the first of our lavender plants are expected to go into the ground.  Actually, I think it may be here. I bet we’ve got one more big frost coming and then the wind will start signaling that Spring is here. We’ve been plotting a lavender hobby farm since we bought the place, but our planting plans were not so much torpedoed as rearranged last year when we discovered that the Lilliputian was on the way.  Can you imagine being 8 months pregnant, bent over in the field trying to dig 900 planting holes? No? Me neither.  So we decided to press “pause” in our plans, lay our egg and go at it again this spring.  You just can’t have too much planning time, I don’t think.

So I spent the winter reading and researching and having Fixer Guy draw me little pictures of irrigation manifolds and property boundaries.  Here’s how the plan looks so far:  800-900 lavender plants, attendant soaker lines and landscape fabric.  Varieties still TBD, but a mix of high oil yielding varieties, varieties suitable for floral or crafting projects, early and late bloomers and possibly some varieties that have multiple blooming periods.

I expect that we’ll be able to start getting the little monsters in the ground some time in April.  If all goes well and the plants are thriving, we would still have time for another round later in the summer.  My feeling is that the lavender in the yard has done well in our climate with little or no care for the year that the house was unoccupied and did even better with the small attention that we gave them since we’ve been in the house.

Worst case? The neighbors have something much prettier to look at than what’s there now.  We plan to purchase our starts from Victor’s Lavender. Victor’s plants come highly recommended by other growers, many of whom grow for retail rather than wholesale customers.  He also does consulting, if lavender cultivation is something you’re interested in doing.

Raw Lavender Patch

Raw Lavender Patch

Here’s a photo of our expected lavender plot. We have irrigation risers already in place down the length of the property but they need attention, so we plan to rehab them one at a time as we are ready to go on line irrigating our plants. I’ll let you know if that works out to be the right decision.

Our growing area is a funny shape, with a large irrigation ditch forming one boundary on the northwest side and two county roads forming the other 2 sides.  The house is set at an angle back from the road, so we have an irregular polygon to work with.  Since I fancy myself as an orderly sort of girl (Lies! Self-delusion!) I want to plan in straight rows off the road on the south side.  That should give us an easy straight line for irrigation systems to work off as well.

Next steps: firm up variety selections, soil testing and soil amendments

 

Searching for Mr. Good Soap

Well, the search for the perfect master soap recipe continues. My last test batch turned out OK, but not awesome.  White, hard, cured quickly.  It lathered OK, but it just wasn’t the hoped for thick fluffy lather.

A while back I was seized by the urge to try something new.  Craigslist put me in touch with a fellow selling a huge slug of soaping supplies, as well as all of the related recipes. The base recipe is a nice workable one, but one of the oils used is, oddly, Crisco.  Turns out it works well, foams well, performs well in the soap mold.  But Crisco just isn’t a very upscale ingredient, so I’m hunting for a suitable replacement.  At this point, I’m making little test batches of a bar or two.

Even though it’s midweek, I think I’m going to take a stab at a couple of new recipes. So here’s my plan:

Facial bar from olive oil, coconut oil, goat’s milk and a little avocado oil

Salt bar from my original Crisco recipe, just to see if I can

A hanger swirl loaf in a chocolate mousse recipe with some extra water from one of my soaping books using some of my handy dandy new colorants.

I don’t plan to scent anything just to see how the recipe perform on their own.  Hopefully I can avoid the accelerated trace I ran into with that Lavender Lifesaver batch this weekend. Really though, I’ll probably get all excited and want my soap to stink pretty and then I’ll lose control and well, you know…

Soap in my mouth: Or cool your jets, Turbo

Bright Sunshiney Day

Bright Sunshiney Day

This weekend was not the beehive of activity that I was hoping for, although to be fair, Fixer Guy got alot of stuff done around the place.  We staked out the first lavender planting, figured out where we’re going to put the driveway, he trimmed most of the trees (it looks great) and we (he) had a big bonfire with the neighbors around the pruned branches. Somebody’s going to have to go deal with all of those beer cans.

Neighborhood fire

I near caught my buns on fire trying to warm up.  The temperature sure drops fast in the evenings around here this time of year.

It was  beautiful this weekend with temps waaaay up in the 40s.   So even though I had a gassy little baby who wouldn’t nap, I decided I would make soap. Not that soap making has a direct relationship with good weather, but it does make me feel all productive. In hindsight, soaping with fussy baby  probably wasn’t the smartest choice…  Earlier this week, I got a package in the mail from Brambleberry that had some new colors and goodies that I was all excited to use.  And then another soaper on Soaper’s Retreat made a lavender lime soap that made me all sweaty and inspired, so really, I was compelled. Forced, really.

The plan was lavender lime soap with a hanger swirl topped by a Celine swirl.  I was going to use my new ultramarine violet oxide and a green oxide to color the soap.  That’s where the problem started.  The first rule of soaping or really any science project is to only change one variable at a time. I changed my recipe, used new colorants and at least one fragrance oil that I’ve not used before.  Since fragrance oils are famous for speeding trace in soap, I should have been more careful.  The net result was a split batch accelerating on me while I was working with two fragrances and two colors that I was having trouble blending.  I suspect that the most aggravating circumstance was the crying baby starting up just as I hit the point of no stopping so I mixed with lye solution that was too hot.  Whoops.

lye

Too hot lye solution

Oil and lye before blending

Oil and lye before blending

 

Green batter

Green batter

 

Purple batter

Purple batter

So things were just blasting right along until I got here. While I was working on the green half, I turned my back on the lavender half which had moved past trace and was starting to seize and I hadn’t even blended the essential oil in yet.  And then it was gray.  That’s right. Gray. My beautiful, supposed to be violet batter was gray.  And that’s when I panicked. Oh my God, what do I have around here that’s going to make this soap purple? I don’t have time to mix more oxide. Panic, panic, panic.  Alkanet infused oil in the pantry. Yeah, let’s grab the alkanet.  Alkanet is a funny thing. Depending on the pH of the soap you can get anything from KSU Wildcat purple to pale gray blue.  I haven’t figure out what’s going to get me to the consistently pale purple, so I just dumped some in. Shoot. Now it’s really gray.  My hanger swirl is now an impossibility. I can’t just waste all these materials. We’re committed now. OK, so let’s layer. And I start plopping it into the mold. (Please ignore the nasty grout in the background.  I hope to remodel eventually so we can be one of those posh lifestyle blogs.)

pouring

 

By this time, things are starting to look a little curdy. So I slapped the rest in and tried for my first Celine Swirl.

finished soapCould have been better. Also could have been much,much worse.  This is what I got when I cut it this morning

cut soap 021013 a

cut soap 021013

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it smells like a Lavender Lime Lifesaver.  So yay for me.  This should be available on my Etsy shop in a few weeks.

I’ll try again later this week with another batch.  Last week’s mid week project was a two bar test batch using coconut, palm and olive oils with some shea butter.  It gave me a super hard, super white batch.  Just a little bit of soda ash. I think I’ll tweak it a little bit more to get a fluffier lather and a little more slip.  I have some liquid silk to play with too…Test batch 1

 

Spring chickens

So once we moved out of town and had some space around us, I thought it’s probably time to embrace the lifestyle. And by embrace the life style, I mean ease into it in the suburban refugee sense, which is often a pretty different thing than what the nice folks who’ve been living out here all along and (I suspect) are watching me with mild amusement are doing.

One too many readings of Sunset’s One-Block Feast  and suddenly a vegetable garden isn’t going to get the job done. Now I’m having bright ideas about livestock.  Common sense briefly took hold and I managed to talk The Fixer Guy into chickens, with the thought that we might move up to larger animals eventually. And by eventually , I mean never.  Ease in to it, I always say. I mean really, with two little kids, two full time jobs and a house that needs renovated? Cattle, are you serious?

Cue the research phase of the project. If there’s one thing I love, it’s researching these schemes of mine.  Really, it’s an excuse to buy books and read, which are probably my all time favorite time sinks. It kept me out of my mom’s hair for a number of years, and now it’s the number one cause of child neglect at my house, followed by soap making and occasionally knitting.

A couple of hours of Internet research led me here, where Karen posted pictures of here beautiful chicken house. Looks beautiful, has plenty of storage space, secure against vermin, which is important since we have coyotes occasionally. And also Jack Russells. And one giant killing machine of a cat.

Karen at theartofdoingstuff.com directed her readers here for her inspiration.  Plans for Heather Bullard’s chicken house are available for purchase  thru her blog, but because The Fixer Guy is also an AutoCAD junkie, he decided to draw up his own plans and thinks he can do better on material pricing as well.  And because my background in commercial food processing convinced me long ago that sanitary design has a place in home improvement projects (especially useful to indifferent housekeepers like me), there will be some modifications to the interior for easier cleaning.  We’re also gearing up for a bathroom remodel, so hopefully we won’t end up with nesting boxes in the can and a bathtub next to the roost.  Naturally, I will post updates as the projects progress.

Ahhh, the quiet

I bet you’re wondering where I’ve been.  Actually, based on the traffic to the blog, probably not.  The fact is, it’s been mighty project free around here for the last little bit.  Not much going on except I put up my two new soaps on my Etsy store.  The Peppermint Pick Me Up soap turned out nicely and the fragrance is really strong.  The abstract embed soap has a much subtler lavender fragrance.  So last weekend, Fixer says he wants some soap that stinks like fir needles.  Always happy to oblige and having some green clay I wanted to try out as a natural colorant, I decided to whip up a nice little test batch using coconut, olive and palm oils and cocoa butter.  Naturally, I was so absorbed in making the soap that I completely forgot to take any pictures. It’s just as well.  The soap will wash nicely and smell terrific, but I got this genius idea to test out a new ombre pour technique with the green clay.  Subtle, she said.  Classy, she said.  (She’s the lady that sold it to me).  Actually, it’s so subtle that you can’t see it in the top of the soap and the bottom looks like it mildewed.  Thank God it’s just for home use. Anyhow, it’s done and curing. We’ll see how it works out.

Fixer and I took the kids with us to Portland a couple of weeks ago to a trade show we had to attend for work.  Blessedly, the ‘rents were willing to come along and provide childcare for us while we were working.  G’pa Crick took Bean down the way to Lloyd’s Center Mall to the play area.  She conned him into letting her go wearing her night gown over her pants.  While there, she experienced a sudden need to take a trip to the potty, as little children do.  Evidently, while there she tried to wash her hands in the urinal.  Ghastly but hilarious.  Bean apparently didn’t understand what they were for and since G’pa Crick couldn’t figure out how to explain it without a demo, it remains a mystery to her.  At least she didn’t make a try for the mint.

On the way back, we stopped at Portland Homestead Supply Company, which is where I acquired the subtle green clay and the very nice fir needle oil.  Just in case any of you lovely people are planning a Christmas gift for me, that would be them place to go.  We originally stopped in to check out the cider presses (because one cider making event just wasn’t enough for us) and I became enthralled with all of their goodies.  Cheese making, candles, soap, canning.  Ooooh, I’m getting all sweaty just thinking about it.  Thank goodness Fixer is down there for business semi-regularly.

So company is just about here, coming over from Seattle, so I doubt there will be much to report this weekend.  I did invest in some mica and a little mini whisk last night as well as some mini batch making equipment, so I’m hoping to spend some time working on master batch recipes. Wish me luck!