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.

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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.

 

 

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.

yuzu

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.

Mother’s Day Weekend

I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days about community and friends and opportunities.  You know, really deep thoughts about gratitude and stuff.  In recent years friends have pointed me toward opportunities for new jobs, new homes, childcare, all kinds of things.  This year, my friends have been helping me with Bucklepenny.  Old friends are field testing products and buying soap. Neighbors are pointing me to new opportunities for sales outlets. New friends are sharing farm implements that we can’t yet afford. Even Bean and Liliputian are doing their part by providing moral support. And Fixer? Forget it.  He’s just my rock. Not only supporting this hobby, but literally doing all the heavy lifting for this cockamamie scheme I’ve cooked up. I feel really, incredibly blessed. 
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Remember this guy?

IMG_5696What a difference a week can make! It’s been incredibly hot here this week, popping up into the 90s several times.  We’ve been planting our veggie garden and the heat has just been scorching the starts in pots so it’s been a scramble.

IMG_5701The potatoes are fairly rocketing out of the ground. I can’t wait to see how big they get my harvest time in September.

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The lavender is doing well.  One variety has bloomed. Yeah, that’s right. Four whole stems from 64 plants, but I’m stoked since it’s the first season.  My plan was to get them in now so we could get a season of good growth in before winter and maybe have a small harvest next year.  Lavender takes probably three good years to grow to any real size.

coconut milk soap apricot freesiaI’ve been soaping a fair bit the lately, but not nearly what I want to be.  The top photo with the blue mica swirl is my first try at a coconut milk soap. It’s unscented and I got the recipe from Amanda at LovinSoap.com. You can find the recipe I used here.

The bottom soap is a lovely apricot freesia swirl. I’ll post when these soaps are available on Etsy.  I posted several new soaps to Etsy this week. You can find my shop here.

I also picked up a book this week on masterbatching from Kenna over at AmathiaSoapworks.com. Masterbatching is a means to speed up production prep.  Making soap a single batch at a time can be very time consuming while I wait for the solid oils to melt, add in my liquid oils and wait for that to cool and then do the same for my lye solution.  Masterbatching allows a soap maker to spend less time waiting and more time designing.  Yay for that!

I’m not quite ready for masterbatching since I’m in a period of reformulation.  Amanda has convinced me to remove palm oil from my oil repertoire because it’s not a sustainable oil and it’s production is evidently very hard on the orangutan population and who wants to be a part of that?  I do feel like I could probably have taken a more measured transition though, since all of my recipes contained palm. Every. Single. One. But I went cold turkey because I ran out of palm and didn’t have a local source anyway.

Last night’s project was coconut passionfruit papaya with poppy seed soap.  I’ll post more pictures later.

Today we rototill one last section of lavender field so we can plant the last 120 plants or so. Then I think we’ll call it a season.

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!