New Year, New Garden

It’s tax time again. It’s enough to take the wind out of the sails of even the most positive person. I’m all for rendering unto Caesar and all that, but as I was telling friends this weekend, I feel like I’m rendering also to Hadrian, Constantine and a dynasty worth of Ptolemies. I guess there’s no use crying about it too loud or too long. It doesn’t make a bit of difference.

It softens the blow considerably to be out in the garden with the children and Fixer, getting ready for the year. We cleaned out the strawberry patch, which was looking considerably worse for wear after last winter, and planted garlic. Fixer started pulling out sod for our relocated root garden and laid out the irrigation for the tomato patch.

After the haircut we gave the plum tree in February, it’s unlikely we will have any plums this year while the tree recovers. Frankly, that’s ok with me. We’ve been overrun the last couple of years and it will be nice to be able to focus my attention on the peaches this summer.  Those have been pruned up nicely the last two summers, so if we can stay up with the thinning, we should have some very nice fruit to eat fresh and to put up for the winter.

Last weekend, Fixer also gave the grapes a nice haircut, so I’m looking for a fantastic grape harvest this year.  The hops have recovered smashingly from what I predicted was a fatal irrigation failure last fall, so Fixer should be brewing like a champ once that harvest is in.

We planted a little over 100 lavender babies later than we planned last fall, so we allowed some weeds to grow up around the babies to shelter them from the harsh winter weather.  I’m pleased to report that it was an effective tactic and nearly all survived.

Probably the best part of the weekend occurred not many minutes ago when Lilliputian experienced her first run thru the sprinklers. It’s unforgivingly earlier for that kind of activity, but she had her little tongue poked out and her finger in the water, so when the sprinkler head rotated, she just stood there and smiled…until it soaked thru her Osh Koshs. So we shucked her out of them like an ear of corn and she went right back in for another round.  Classic.

The soap kitchen has been kind of quiet these last couple of weeks. Our line of soaps are now in stock at Balsamroot Boutique, a fantastic new shop in Cashmere, Washington specializing in high quality handcrafted goodies from the area.  The owner, Sherry, has been making fantastic jewelry for a number of years and selling at boutiques, farmer’s markets and art shows around the area. The brick and mortar  store opened last week.

I’m working on a line of candles which should be listed on our Etsy shop shortly. I also have massage candles and wax melts currently in research and development (doesn’t that sound important?)

The last thing that I’ve got cooking is a jewelweed salve and probably a soap to go along with it.  Jewelweed is used as an anti-pruiritic for poison ivy, bug bites and other skin irritations. The FDA won’t let cosmetic manufacturers claim those kinds of treatments, so I’m not, but I’ve got a bit of an irritation going on myself, so a friend sent me some  from her personal stash. I’ve currently got it packed in a mason jar infusing in olive oil for my next project.

The ornamental plums are about to bloom. I’m not 100% sure, but spring may be my favorite season. What’s going on in your garden?


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.

Weeds. Oh my God, the weeds

Have you ever made one of those gross navigational errors that in retrospect look sooooo obvious? It looks like we may have made one. Stepping over the dollar to get to the dime, I think.  Originally, the lavender planting seemed pretty reasonable. Four hundred plants, weed barrier, irrigation on timers. But hey, guess what? Weed barrier is really expensive. Like painfully, really, super expensive.  Even though the time it will likely save is pretty valuable, too. So we get this genius idea that if we stay on top of it, the weeds will be manageable and we can do without it.  So here I am, with a hula hoe, dealing with weeds by hand. You know, all old school.  And it stinks.  Three of our rows are over the leach bed for our septic system, which means when we tilled it, there were rocks. Lots of them.  So I find myself with an abundance of weeds in an abundance of rocks. Literally, a tough row to hoe.  Isn’t that funny?

I don’t think so either. Photos to come.

Soap, Dirt and Rain

Wow, I just can’t seem to get back into my blogging groove. I’m trying to achieve some kind of balance in getting Bucklepenny off the ground and to have some kind of controlled roll out, but this is just taking on a life of it’s own.  I thought we were just about done plant this year’s babies, but we ended up buying another 400 plants, so I’ll be shuffling around on my knees in the dirt for a little longer.  Many of the initial 400 plants are doing really well and in fact we have a few spikes in bloom already. One of the varieties we selected has already shown itself to be a little weaker than the others. Hooray for test plots.

I’ve also been soaping as much as I can.  Last Thursday was a terrific day. I got a new job and came home to a pile of soaping supplies waiting on the porch when I got home. A big bucket of sustainably sources palm oil (because palm-free soaping was an epic fail), lots of new fragrance oils and two new 10″ silicon molds form Brambleberry.  You can get them here. That order and a trip thru Kenna’s masterbatching e-book resulted in 3 batches of soap that were practically perfect in every way.


Here is a beautiful batch of Trinity Soap with Yuzu fragrance. I’m very pleased with the textured top, the color and oh, boy does it smell good. Yuzu is an Asian citrus that smells very similar, I think, to grapefruit.

milk and honey with Hera

The one on the right is called Trinity Land of Milk and Honey, a nice little soap scented with Oatmeal, Milk and Honey and colored with a titch of titanium dioxide and Brazilian purple clay.  The one on the left is Hera’s Garden Trinity.  It’s colored with micas and scented with orange and lavender essential oils.  These soaps will be available on my Etsy shop in about 4 weeks.

We had some rain, but not too much. And the iris’ are blooming.  I love those great big bearded iris’. Bean’s middle name is Iris, so they make me think of her and that just makes me smile.

iris 2013

Work continues on our logo design. Business opportunities are presenting themselves. Friends are popping out of the woodwork to offer leads and business advice. I particularly  want to single out my friends over at Balsamroot Ranch, where they make lovely, rustic handmade jewelry.  You can check our Sherry’s treasure’s on her web page here.  Her daughter also makes very cool steampunk inspired jewelry. You can also visit them at the Wenatchee Farmer’s Market.

We plowed in another section of lavender field, so I guess we have a lavender field now instead of a lavender patch.  Watch us grow.

Planting plants

I just knew I should have taken my camera with me out to check on the lavender babies this evening. They sure are coming along. We’ve got 25 rows in now, with somewhere close to 400 plants in the ground before I ran out of irrigated rows.  There are another 120 plants on the front porch waiting to be tucked in, but Fixer has some trenching to do before then.  Ugh.

While I was out I discovered that watching those plants take off is a lot like watching my daughters grow. Lots of planning before you bring them home, plenty of preparation and reading while you wait on them to arrive. Some trepidation while they grow and a little fear when you tuck them in by themselves for the first time.  But the real comparison is the joy and satisfaction as they start to grow and flower.  I have to admit that I was surprised by the little tingling thrill I got when I stepped out for the first time in three or four days to check progress.

A couple of varieties are sending up spikes and one variety even has a few buds ready to open. It’s kind of hilarious. Our first cutting of lavender is about 4 stems.  I feel like I should cut them and save them for always.

Elsewhere in the garden, our potatoes are going like gang busters. We planted a row of Yukon Gold and a row of Adirondack Blue. They should come ready in September I think.  Also in the ground today are peppers, cukes, garlic, melon, onions, tomatoes.  Our peach trees were pruned aggressively this spring and are now showing a stunning number of buds. We need to consult our orchard expert to find out if and how to thin the buds for bigger fruit.  I think I’m going to be canning a pile this summer.  Ditto for the plum tree. She looks pretty satisfied with herself, too.

The kiwi vine we nearly killed last summer has recovered and is moving toward the espalier wires.  Our vining friends the wisteria, clematis and grapes are all boogying right up their respective trellises, too.  I just can’t seem to get my act together to plant my asparagus, which is a shame because they take several years to establish.  Raspberries are another challenging plant for us.  They still look pretty sorry after a couple of years of disregard and a brutal pruning last year.

I’ve ordered a couple of books on intensive vegetable gardening from Amazon. It’s probably too late for this season to really have a careful plan, but maybe for next year.  Wish us luck!

Now we’re cooking

No pictures today, but we’re moving now, by golly.  Twelve rows of babies are in the ground, Nine went in yesterday before the wind kicked up and put me out of business. The rest went in today between work and dinner.  I think  I’m going to run out of irrigated rows before I run out of plants and Fixer is out of town.  Erg.  I’m also a little worried about drainage. I’m really surprised how the soil varies across the field within a space of about 15 feet.  Lavender needs plenty of drainage, but large swaths of the rows I planted today had pretty thick soil. I wanted to take a picture, but I’m single momming it so I just couldn’t manage baby, toddler, dirt and camera all at once.  Sorry.  Hopefully I’ll get some pics up tomorrow. I’ve also been soaping a little bit and made a nice little chicken wire picture frame deal so I can post pictures of the soaps that are on the curing rack.  More photos to come.  

Where’s my cheese? or The Cleaned Closet Blues

It turns out that having someone else clean out your closets is more challenging than I expected.  Helping Big Red go thru my stuff was kinda painful. It’s a little like watching an episode of Hoarders, but closer. Let me be clear, I didn’t have dead cats in my living room under piles of newspaper or anything, but I did get slapped in the mouth by several unfinished projects.

I couldn’t really bring myself to get rid of quite the volume I’d hoped for, but at least everything is all sorted and stacked neatly and waiting for the label maker.  All I can say is Hooray! for right angles.

IMG_5416 Here’s a sample of how it turned out.

Then a couple of days went by and Red and I had the following text message exchange

Me: Thanks so much for cleaning out my closets. I really appreciate it. Now, what the f?!k have you done with all my socks?

Red: Socks? I didn’t do anything with your socks. That was Mom.

Me: What about my little blue bowls?

Red: ….


So anyway, now I can move around in my closets, I can see stuff and odds of making some candles have improved considerably since I can now see where my supplies are stored.

And FYI, I never did find those little blue salad bowls.  They’re probably with my missing jeans.