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Soap Conference 2014

I’ve made it. I’ve arrived in Tucson for the 2014 Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild Conference.  It’s very exciting to have a community of likeminded artisans to mingle and network with.  I’m looking forward to some fantastic professional training and also to be able to take the HSCG certification tests. Tomorrow evening I’ll be able to take my basic certification test and (assuming I pass) on Wednesday I’ll be able to take the advanced certification test.

We spent yesterday afternoon in the lavender, weeding.  Because, you know, weeds never stop.  I also noticed that several varieties have buds already, which means our first harvest just isn’t that far off.

Last week Fixer and our nurseryman disced up the next section of field for our next phase of planting.  There’s still trenching to be done so the next section of irrigation can go in.  I haven’t made a thorough assessment of winter kill yet. It looks pretty good in some areas of the field, but some varieties look like they’ve experienced some damage. Growers all over the country are reporting significant plant loss and I’m very grateful that we weren’t similarly touched.

Fancy Farm Girl Display

Fancy Farm Girl Display

I also recently participated in my first market event, The Fancy Farmgirl Vintage Fair.  It was a very cool event and I’m really looking forward to doing it again. I learned some great things about merchandising and had a fantastic time talking to people.  I also met some lovely vendors, including another soaper.  I’m making it a project to meet as many of my online acquaintances face to face as possible.

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While I was at the market, I bought this very neat repurposed chicken feeder that was planted with strawberries.  We plumbed it into the drip lines on the front porch and when I checked it last night, the berries are starting to ripen. Can you believe it? It’s not even June yet and berries!

 

Jewelweed Infusion

Jewelweed Infusion

Last month I made a lovely infusion of jewelweed and olive oil, courtesy of my lovely friend Beth. Jewelweed doesn’t grow in my part of the country, so Beth was kind enough to mail me some of her stash. Jewelweed is thought to ease itching from poison ivy and similar irritants. I’ve been having a little bit of a rash, so I made an infusion and then used the infusion in my soap recipe. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet because the soap is still curing, but it will be an interesting experiment to see how it works.

Lemon Verbena Candles

Well, that’s it. Another magical day in paradise is in the can. (Like a film can, not a toilet) Spring is definitely here.  The Little Girls and I spent the day in Wenatchee. Bean wanted a kite and since she’s been fashioning kites from notebook paper in preschool all week, I figured it was time to get her the real deal. So we stopped into Go Bent Bikes and Kites and picked one up.  It’s kind of a bummer that we have all that space in the lavender field just crying out to fly kites, but power lines are on two sides. So the next best thing is to go fly it on the irrigation ditch road thru the field across the road where we can get safely away from the lines.

 

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Another thing that’s been going on recently is that I’ve started playing tag again. I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right. It looks just like it sounds.  But Bean likes it, so I play. An immediate consequence is that we spend a fair bit of time flopped on the grass giggling which gives me cause to stare up at the beautiful blue sky with the blossoms from the ornamental plums up against it. Which leads me to my camera and some springy photos.  And the dirt booger on the sensor of my digital camera.  So I’ll have to spend some time cruising the internet looking for a how to on cleaning the sensor.  I miss the days when you could just clean your lens and be done with it.

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I also got to spend a small part of the afternoon on Saturday pouring soy candles.  Lemon Verbena soy candles. Heaven. Just Heaven. I love that smell. Maybe that’s what I’ll call them.  Just Heaven Verbena candles. Yeah.  That sounds like a winner.  I ended up with some travel size, tumbler size and an apothecary size.  The apothecary candle is mine. I don’t think I’ll be sharing that one.  Or selling it for that matter.

The product testing for the tarts and massage candles continues.  While the fragrance amount in the tarts was just right for candles, it just wasn’t smelly enough for the tarts. That’s an easy fix, I think. As for the first try at the massage candle, it smelled fantastic (cocoa butter) and would make a terrific lotion bar, but just didn’t have quite enough slip for a good massage oil, according to an aesthetician I asked to test it out. That’s going to be an interesting challenge. How do I get enough slip to make a nice massage oil, but enough hard oils to keep the candle from being liquid all the time?

I also heard another good use for beautiful soap this week. The salon owner in town said she was using one of my oatmeal, milk and honey bars to fragrance her RV.

Sunday afternoon was soap day. Four batches made, so I proclaim success! Lemon verbena to match the candles, yellow with poppy seeds and a pretty textured top.  Lavender Orange, scented with essential oils and poppy seeds added for texture. It’s also my first batch with my cylinder molds.  Also a pale pink and green apricot freesia batch and finally peppermint, pink grapefruit and sweet orange essential oils.  Those batches should make their debut at the Fancy Farmgirl Vintage Market in May.

Rainbow over Rock Island

Rainbow over Rock Island

Weed control in the raised beds

Weed control in the raised beds

We’ve decided to ease our weeding chores this year, both in the lavender and in the vegetable garden. We have weed barrier remaining from last summer, so Fixer laid it down in the raised beds for the Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

If it seems like there isn’t much talk about lavender these days, you’re right. We’re stalled right now waiting to burn a giant brush pile that’s right in the middle of the next stage of lavender planting. Burning didn’t happen this weekend, so we’re hoping for midweek burn so we can disc up the rest of the sod and get going.

So the weekend is now at an end. So I’m going to have a beer and a steak for dinner and brace myself for the week. I hope yours is fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear March

This morning, my friend Kate said. “Dear March, December called and she wants her snow back.” I laughed and laughed and then I thought, you know, she’s right.  It hasn’t been a very seasonally usual winter around here. Not much real snow until here lately and now it’s not hanging around, it’s just making things miserable. Planting time is coming on, so I’d really like to see the last of this kind of weather. How about those lovely May showers? Can we get some of those?

Fixer is working on his seed starts and garden planning. Since the tomatoes did so well last summer in the established garden patch by the house, we’re going to leave them right there and plant a few more rows. I didn’t realize how much tomato sauce and diced tomatoes we use in a year, so it seems like every year we plant more and can more.  I’ve been reduced to rationing the tomato sauce from last summer because there’s no way we’re going to make it until July for the new crop. One mistake I made last year was not considering harvest times. I ended up heavy on the late season Black Prince tomatoes so I had green tomatoes on the vine still when the weather turned. It was OK in the end when I found a fantastic green tomato chutney recipe, but still seemed a bit of a waste.  So this year, I’ll be looking for some earlier season varieties too. The Black Prince was a Russian heirloom variety, so it was supposed to do better in cooler weather and was a crazy streaky green/pink/gray-black.  It looked cool, tasted good and had the odd effect of turning tomato sauce a little grayish. I might do it again just to stretch out the growing season again.  More on gardening later.

If you want to read more about the real deal of producing almost all of what you eat, check out this blog, Matron of Husbandry. I really enjoy it. Photos, occasional recipes, lots of discussion about seasonal chores on a homestead.  I find it fascinating and I hope you will too.

In other news, there are some new business opportunities brewing for Bucklepenny. We’re investigating a chance to have a booth at my very first flea market. It’s going to be a one day affair, but it could be the start of something big. I’m pretty excited. It’s a juried event, so I’m waiting to hear back from the jury about weather I’ll be accepted or not.  I’ll post more information when I have it.

We’re working on more products, so check out the Etsy shop regularly to see what’s new.  We are also in discussions about placing our products in another shop. I’ll post a link when we’ve settled details.

New offeringsWe’ll be posting a line of natural soaps, which means that they won’t have cosmetic micas or the nifty fragrance oils, but they will be colored with natural botanicals and scented with essential oils.   Also our tea cup candles made with soy wax and hemp wicks, and soap dish gift sets.  I’ve also got a couple of other products in development.  If you have any special requests you’d like to see me offer, please email me at heather@bucklepenny.com. I’m always glad to try something new and different.

 

Alien Brain and Other Soaping Headaches

Some days when I’m soaping, it’s all I can do to keep the gremlins at bay.  I often CPOP my soap (cold process oven process), which means that I put my soap molds in the oven at low temperature to force gel.  Typically, the oven is set at the lowest temp, the mold is placed in the oven when you put your soap to bed and then shut off 20 minutes to an hour later. Then you leave your soap for about 24 hours before unmolding.

Lately, I’d been having…uneven…results.  Lots of ash, which I don’t really mind but it was getting a little thick.  And then I would see this ripply top and occasionally bubbles on the sides. IMG_4730So I researched and hunted and talked to my friends on the soap forums. Finally! A name for it.  “Alien Brain”. The fantastic thing about identifying a problem, is that once you put a name on it, you can find a solution.  A little research and I found this helpful post on SoapQueen. And that nasty business with the bubbles and bumps turned in to this lovely  three color Lavender Patchouli blend:IMG_4806

Bubbles: gone. Ash: gone. Me: Happy.

So fast forward to this morning, when my soaping projects just started hitting on all cylinders.  This morning I tested alfalfa powder as a natural colorant.  Natural colorants aren’t typically as vivid as micas or other colorants, but they have a lovely muted tone. I added the alfalfa at trace and got this light yellow/green soap before insulation. I also threw in a sample of Frankincense and Fir fragrance oil for laughs.

Alfalfa powder test

Alfalfa powder test

Oatstraw Test

Oatstraw Test

The oatstraw test was a little darker than the alfalfa powder.  I soaked the powder in a small amount of the oil which I added also added at trace.

Since things were moving along so swimmingly, I banged out three additional batches: A two color white tea and ginger with mica swirl, baby bedtime with pink brazilian clay and plumeria with purple brazilian clay and mica pencil line.

You can buy my finished soaps at my Etsy shop.

All in a days work

I’m really excited to unmold all of these batches tomorrow.   And that’s the source of another of my problems. I discovered last week that just because I can get the soap out of the mold, doesn’t mean I should.  Last week, after my Friday soaping bender, I made Fixer promise not to let me unmold for a least 24 hours. Boy that extra 6 hours sure makes a difference.  Where I previously had left small pieces of soap stuck to the sides of the mold, now my loaves were coming cleanly away from the sides.  A nice soap planer can fix a multitude of soapy sins, but isn’t it just better not to have the problem in the first place?

One thing that this blog is making increasingly clear is that I need to spend some quality time with my camera and really improve my product photography.  I’ll be sure to share what I learn.

Soaping goes to the next level

In addition to Charter Members of the US Lavender Growers Association and the Indie Business Network, we are a member of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild.  This May, I’m leaving Fixer and the Littles and heading to Arizona for the annual HSCG conference.  Color me thrilled.  And while I’m there,  I’m gonna get certified.  Yep. That’s right.  Certified.  The Guild offers 3 levels of soap maker certifications.  And for your trouble, you get to post a dandy badge on your website and promotional materials that assures your clients and customers that you are a proficient saponifier.  Sooooo, my plan is to take the Basic and Advanced certifications at the Conference.  Part of the Advanced certification is the submission and evaluation of a sample bar of basic, multi-oil soap.  To that end, I have cooked up a basic, no artificial anything loaf of my trinity soap for my sample submission.  The soap will be evaluated on documentation, packaging and lather as well as the written portion of the tests.

advanced test soap

In the future, my long term plan is to complete the Master Soap Maker certification, but that project looks like a doctoral dissertation, so we will just have to see how life plays out.  But a girl has to have a goal, right?

This soap will be available for sale at my Etsy shop.

Hey Good Looking

Well, hi there! I bet you thought we’d gone. Nope, I’m back.  I just realized that it’s been literally months since we’ve updated.  It was a busy summer, that’s for sure.  Five days after my last post, I quit my job of ten years and left to head up the quality assurance department for an organic herb farm.  And hasn’t that been a steep learning curve.   The switch from manufacturing frozen veggies to medicinal herbs has been eye opening.

In the meantime, we caved in the face of weed pressure and ordered a pallet of super heavy duty weed barrier.  By the end of the summer, we had planted close to 600 plants.  The early season babies grew wonderfully. The late season babies will be fairly lucky to have survived the winter. As recently as January, many of the plants were still pliable and looking pretty ready to come out of dormancy.  Then about a week ago, Central Washington suffered a significant cold snap. Although it hasn’t been nearly as bad as the winter weather afflicting the rest of the country, it was plenty cold for us and gave me cause to worry a little bit about plant survival. After a few inches of snow to go with the cold,  a strangely warm wind kicked up and there went the snow.

Planting season is now looming and with it, the arrival of our plants for this year. Phase 2 of lavender expansion was initially expected to be another set of 600 plants. Our grower decided that this year was the year that he would buy a mechanical transplanter, so instead of ordering 600 plants, we ordered 2000.  Standby for photos of planting.

Also this winter we purchased a small still for our own use in distilling small amounts of lavender oil. We successfully produced about 10 mL of oil, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider typical yields for lavender distillation.   Plus, it was really exciting to produce it.

I’ve also been soaping up a storm and resurrecting my neglected Etsy store.  My current offerings are in draft form, so you can’t check it out yet, but soon…

Here’s a few pictures of our labors.

Midsummer Babies

Midsummer Plants

November babies

November babies

three loaf arabian night wip arabian night white tea and amber

Coconut Lemongrass Feb 2014 White Tea and Amber Feb 2014 Energy Feb 2014 Black Raspberry Vanilla Feb 2014 Duc D'Anjou Feb 2014 Yuzu Feb 2014 Knock Out Feb 2014 Black Lavender Amber Feb 2014

 

You can buy any of these soaps and other at my Etsy shop.

First Distillation

First Distillation

 

Alkanet infusion and lavender

I’m changing jobs this week. After over a decade at the same place, I thought I’d take a break in between. Soaping hasn’t been happening as much as I’d planned, but here’s what I’ve been up to:

lavender and alkanetHere is my baby grand recipe colored with alkanet infused olive oil and scented with lavender essential oil. The soap has almond and avocado oil, shea, castor, coconut and palm.  Strangely, this recipe is especially popular with the men in the neighborhood.

White tea and gingerWhite tea and ginger. I thought this one was going to go wrong while I was making it, but those always seem to be the batches that come out the nicest.  This is my trinity blend colored with mica.

days workLavender rebatch with fuschia shaved on top, yuzu with gold mica and a tiny test batch of baby powder fragrance oil and an in the pot swirl.

Fixer and Bean spent some time on the tractor working on the irrigation system so we can start our next planting phase. I’ve been saying that for awhile, but work doesn’t seem to be moving at the pace we hoped. Bean had a good time on the tractor anyway.Troy and Bean on the tractor

More planting to come tomorrow I think. Also an order of weed barrier is on the way. We underestimated the pervasive power of lambs quarter and russian thistle.  I’d like to point out that when you have a carefully considered plan of attack, you deviate from it at your own peril.