Wednesday, March 30, 2011

back to the basics

I spent about 10 minutes this morning kneading my bread dough thinking about what I had just said to my husband.  It all started with me idealizing about making all of our own bread all the time, so when I declared to him this morning,  "Don't buy any more bread, I'm going to make all of our own bread from now on."" if you're at the store just buy Bob's Red Mill, whole wheat flour, rye flour, and unbleached white flour, please."  He looked at me sideways and said, "Are you sure?"  He knows I have good intentions, but lately I've turned my routine upside down, learning to make soap, reading, studying, and practising making it.  I haven't made bread in several weeks, we've been buying Dave's bread, which is very good, but expensive. 

I am making a commitment to bake bread consistently, not sometimes when I feel like it, but everyday until I get 10 loaves in the freezer.  Then I'll just make it 2 or 3 times per week and make 4 loaves at a time.  I decided as a homesteading wife I wanted to make this a priority.  Plus this next month I want to learn to make crackers and bagels, which I've always wanted to try and never have.  The biggest thing with making bread is to get into a routine.  I always make sourdough bread, and have gotten my starter back going strong again over the last few days.  Last night I added about 4 cups of flour and enough warm water to make a good dough, and added my cup of sourdough starter, by this morning it was bubbling away.

This morning I removed a cup of the starter, and created another batch for tomorrows baking.  To the  3 1/2 cups of starter I added, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/4 cup of sweetener (preferably honey, and molasses)I also use sugar sometimes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 1/2 to 3 cups of flour added in slowly(I use whole wheat, and some rye)  I add these all together, knead for 10 minutes and then put in greased bread pans, let them rise for 2 or 3 hours, then bake.  Sometimes I make the loaves free form, they're just longer and flatter.

It feels good to have my day started with bread and rolls rising, chicken stock simmering on the woodstove, animals all fed, and tucked inside to wait out the rain and wind we're having today.  The dishes are done, the laundry is going, and I'm taking a few minutes to write, before I start my next batch of soap.

Fast forward now to dinner; chicken vegetable soup with lentils and rice, fresh bread, and a seasonal cabbage and root vegetable salad.  Homemade honey mustard dressing, with salt and cayenne for spicing the soup.  The good news, we will have enough soup for tomorrows lunch and an after school meal. 

One of my goals is to get back to the basics of being a homemaker, and keeping our homestead  humming with good smells from the kitchen, homemade bread, soups, stews, pasta's and salads.  To have a Spring cleaned home, filled with cleanliness, harmony, organization and peace.   To have the animals, clean, dry and well fed.  And to have my gardens growing to their maximum for food production.  I'm planning to plant more root crops before April 3rd, then the moon begins to wax or grow again, and it's time to plant above ground crops.  You can see how this whole planting by the moon rhythm works.  It reminds you to get the crops in regularly, and your successive planting just happens effortlessly. 

I have also been wanting to talk more about the herbs in my life.  I grow mint, both peppermint and spearmint, the spearmint is usually the one I dry for making tea throughout the year. I grow and dry thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, basil, and lemon balm.  I also freeze the herbs in pesto sauces. In addition to these I have a good collection of dried herbs I can't grow, ones I've gathered from here and there, mostly PCC, our local Co Op. Various herbs for health and healing. I have gone through phases of regularly using herbs, mostly in herb teas, I just brew the loose leaf herbs in pint and quart jars just like loose leaf tea, then strain into a teacup.  Remember the scripture in the bible where He says' I give you the leaves for the healing of the Nations. Well I believe there is healing in the herbs.

I am going back to the basics of regularly making herbal teas, they are both delicious and nutritious.  We all had some herb tea tonight after dinner, even the kids love herb tea.  Tonight I made mint, licorice, nettle, ginger, lemon and honey.  Jason has a minor cold, so I added golden seal and wild cherry bark to his, both are to aid his body in healing.   

Here are a few of my herbs lined up on a shelf in the kitchen.  I have these small jars to store them, and then a larger container that is kept cool and dark for longer term storage, I then just refill the smaller jars when they need filling.   The many health benefits of herbs is something I've found interesting, and studied for years. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

of birds and bees

I've been out in the garden working this last week, right along with the honeybees.  Everything is growing, and all the perennials are coming up, the fruit trees are budding, and the vegetable seeds are just starting to come up.  Spring has sprung here in the Northwest.  The song of the Robin fills the air in the mornings and evenings.  Their song is my favorite of all the birds we have here.  The melody and harmony, and the solo's they sing...  I love waking to their song and working alongside them in the garden. Spring is their time of year, they mate in March and have their young in mid/late spring.  We have watched nests of babies grow and fly away, most likely to be back next year.   The frogs have also begun their evening chorus, we have Spring music from nature to enjoy.

The weeding of the flower and vegetable beds is a tedious job, done better by me than anyone else.  I can identify seedlings and young plants that no one else in our family could identify, so I gladly do it.  The peonies I bought about 20 years ago, and have moved with me everywhere I've gone.  They are meaningful to me and one of my favorites.  I had 10 large peony plants and divided all of them last year, and I gave them their own rows to multiply in (in the vegetable garden so I can take good care of them).  So the entrance to my garden has beautiful flowers in one large bed, along with flowers and edibles along the perimeter of the garden. 

Past the big rock where the contemplative monkey sits, and through the path, my gardens are on the left.  It has concrete posts, and is having a wooden entry gate being built.  We (my husband) are also planning to build several wooden trellises, along with some gates and benches to be built over time.  Each project takes time, and function often comes before beauty.  In the garden our first order of events was to deer proof it with good strong, tall fencing.  Once this was accomplished I had a palate to design with vegetable, herbs, fruits and berries.  

the scent of soap

This is what my kitchen table looks like.  3 of the batches of soap I made this last week, in addition to the lavender batch.  I made lemon grass soap and poured a few in a floral pattern, along with some big family sized bars.  I also poured a batch of mint, and the brown soap is cinnamon oatmeal.  This one I may save for early Fall.  I made it simply because I had cinnamon essential oil, I also played around with a little swirling to see how it looked.  I like the lemon grass and lavender for this time of year. 

My whole house smells like a soap factory, it is one of the wonderful benefits of making soap, the house smells so good, not overpowering just delicious, we're all enjoying it.  I took these pictures and now have to clear off the table so we can eat dinner tonight.   

baby kittens and bunnies

Monday, March 21, 2011


Handmade Lavender soap
 made with the oils of coconut, olive, and palm.

If you've been following along  here you know I've had my challenges with soap making over the last few weeks.  Now after studying the various ways of making soap, I have come to realize that there are a wide variety of soap recipes out there, and you can use many different types of fats and oils.  I would use what you have on hand or is near by.  You can render tallow, use olive oil, canola oil, castor oil, coconut oil and palm oil,  you can order oils and soap making supplies online for a reasonable price. 

I can see the value of soap making, and recognize the skill involved in hand crafting it, and I especially understand the importance of gathering the right tools and ingredients.  The recipe I used last Friday night when I made this soap is a recipe from the store I buy my soap making supplies from called Zenith.  I am looking forward to this soap curing and drying, and then being able to try some.  I'll put labels on to give to family and good friends, and also plan to keep enough from every batch I make, so we can always have a wide variety of soap for our own home use.  With time and experience I also hope to label and sell some of my handmade soap through etsy.   

The supplies I've gathered here are; a digital scale (very important), a hand held blender, oils (I have coconut, olive and palm oil), lye, and containers to mix the lye and water.  There are containers to weigh and melt the oils, wooden boxes and freezer paper for molds, essential oil to scent, you want to over scent as the soap will lose about half it's scent during curing and drying.  You will also need 2 thermometers (stainless steel, no aluminum), a pair of gloves, mask, and goggles for using while mixing the lye and water.  A place on the internet called Miller's Soap is where I've gone to learn about soap making lately, they have a wealth of information for the beginner, which is what I am.  If you'd like to see my learning posts about soap making you can find the chapters on the right side and click on soap making, it goes from me learning to render tallow, to basic soap, handmilling, and trials and errors along the way. 
I always gather all my supplies in one place, and reread instructions, and double check all amounts before I start.  Soap makers I think want to try lots of different smells, it's part of the fun.  I'm looking forward to trying different scents in my soaps, and plan to stay as natural as I can.  This week I'll be making lemon grass, oatmeal cinnamon, and I also have peppermint, these are all essential oils.

 Making the paper liners for the wooden box molds the first time is trickier than it looks. I have a book with
pictures and instructions, and I managed to follow along and get it right...eventually. It is really quite a simple matter of reading a measuring tape or ruler, as long as you can do that you're fine. 
 Freezer paper is shiny side out, towards the soap.
 Measuring out the oils.
 Taking the temperature of the lye/water solution, it needs to be around 100 degrees at the same time as the oils temperature.  Sometimes you have to place the container into a warm or cold water bath in the sink to equalize the temperatures.  When they are both at 100 it's time to act right away, and slowly pour the lye into the oils, mixing all the while.  When all the lye water is poured and stirred into the oils, this is when the hand held mixer comes in and blends them together quickly and thoroughly.  At the trace stage is when I add the essiential oil, and then stir in slowly, some essential oils will cause the soap to go to trace too fast.  So best to stir and not use the hand held mixer at this point. 

 Once mixed pour into molds lined with freezer paper shiny side out.
 This is the book I bought from Zenith about Basic Soap Making, it has lots of easy to follow pictures.
 22 bars of Lavender soap lined up drying, next time I will add more soap to the top of the wooden mold so the bars are taller, and I will cut them a little thicker next time.  I plan to build a soap cutter, made out of wood with a wire for exact cutting.  Another thing I learned this time around is that rather than using a peeler to bevel the edges, I am going to use a very small planer for straighter smoother lines.  While the soaps are drying over the next 4 weeks, I'll be planning my labels, and making some more.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The garden begins ~ planting seeds and Spring Equinox

Yesterday was Spring Equinox, and the halfway point between Winter and Summer.  It was a full moon last night, and the closest the moon has been to earth  in 18 years.  I worked outside in the garden until dark, and then throughout the evening watched the moon, around 11 pm it was really glowing, Did you see how big it was?  They say it will look 30 percent bigger than normal.  Our golden retriever Summer stayed in the moon glow and didn't want to come inside the bottom of the barn to sleep like normal.  She stayed out all night on the cabin porch and soaked up the moon, I don't blame her, it was gorgeous.

I've been planting by the moon for the last couple of years, and like the rhythm of it.  What is planting by the moon you ask?  Well it simply means I plant above ground crops when the moon is waxing (getting bigger), and below ground crops when the moon is waning (getting smaller).  This was the last day of a waxing moon in the full moon cycle, so I pulled out my seeds and worked on getting as many early season above ground seeds planted, and in the ground.  Most were planted in flats and are sitting on a warm heating pad in a bright window.  Outside in the garden I worked on an area to plant peas and hardy greens.  I turned over the area with a shovel, amended it with several wheel barrel loads of compost, then mixed it thoroughly with the shovel again, pitch forked it till fluffy, made the rows, planted the seeds, then covered  them up lightly and patted all snug. 

Outdoors I planted 3 different types of peas (a pea trellis will be installed soon), and 5 different types of greens.  2 varieties of mesclun blends, red romaine lettuce, perennial sorrel, and red leaved spicy mustard greens.  In the flats I planted 3 different types of broccoli, 3 types of tomato, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, cauliflower,  3 types of cabbage, and even am trying to grow Litchi tomatoes, they sounded good in their description in Baker Creek Heirloom seeds catalog.  It's still too early to start pumpkins, squash, corn and cucumbers.
I will be spending the next couple weeks outdoors planting early season root crops, like potatoes, onions, radishes, and carrots.  The most important focus this week will be pruning everything from fruit trees to blueberry bushes, raspberry plants, gooseberries, and currents, along with kiwi and grape vines.  The following week my goal is to weed and compost around the fruit trees and berry bushes, and give all a wheel barrel load of compost around their base.  This is the best organic approach in raising fruit trees and berry bushes, along with mulch in the summer to keep them healthy and fruitful.  I try to plan my fruit tree pruning when I know there will be at least 2 clear days with no rain.  Ideally you don't want to prune in the rain, only when it's dry to help prevent disease. 

The Smallest Livestock ~ Bees

This year my bees are doing incredibly well, so far, so good, this has not been the case every year, I have lost my share too.  I would venture to say all beekeepers have lost hives if they've been raising them for any length of time. Yesterday I fed both my hives with sugar syrup, I began feeding sugar syrup back in the middle of February even though it was early, when I gave it to them they seemed hungry, and drank it up, I've made 3 batches so far.    Over the winter on real nice days I will peek under the cover to make sure the bees are all dry, humming away, and will smell the sweetness of honey that comes from a healthy hive, if it didn't smell sweet like this, I would be checking them closer.  I wipe off snow throughout the winter from the top, so it doesn't drip down over the hive, and the entrance so they have a breathing hole. 

In early December I added an insulating pillow case filled with wood shavings to the top box to absorb moisture and insulate the hive.  Bees make moisture in the winter, and this needs to be absorbed somehow, or the condensation can drop back down on them like freezing rain and will chill them, good ventilation is important, and will prevent condensation.  We are not in a cold enough climate here in the NW to have to wrap in tar paper, according to the bee expert at our local bee store.  Every other winter I have wrapped the hives in a wall of straw bales around 3 sides, with a plywood roof, covered in plastic to keep the rain and wind off.  This year I didn't do any of it, and they are stronger than ever.  I did medicate with Fumigilan B in the Fall, however this Spring I will not, and instead put menthol crystals on the top bars.  I will try to allow nature to guide in a more natural approach, and will be watching them closely, and seeing how they are doing.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in beekeeping is to treat the bees like mini livestock.  They need to be fussed over and cared for just like chickens, and rabbits.  I will walk by them everyday just to look at the entrance, and see any activity.  I'm now aware of what they need at different times of the year, I say now because in the beginning I wasn't in tune with them, to be attentive enough.  I now watch to be sure they have enough food in the Fall, and late winter, they also need to be fed in June sometimes, they can starve to death in June if the weather gets cold and wet. I lost almost every bee the second year I had bees in June, when the weather turned.  I watch the hive for dead bees at the front, and put food out right away if I see any.  By July I don't have to worry about them starving, but I will have to check inside the hive every week to 10 days to make sure they're not planning to swarm, and that there are no new queen cells being built, I make sure they have a good laying queen, watch the brood pattern, and add supers for extra room before they need it.  I have learned lessons about all these things.

Yesterday I took a few pictures to show what my hives look like when I peek inside this time of year.  I added two jars of sugar syrup to each hive, the bees hungrily lick it up, and within a short time of giving a the colony a drink of sugar syrup they are flying and real active, if the weather's warmer than 45 degrees that is.  The sugar syrup stimulates activity, and gives food for growth.  I'm looking forward to the fruit tree blossoms and dandelions this Spring, the bees get pollen and nectar from both.  The hives really come alive during nectar flows, our main nectar flow in the NW is blackberry blossoms, so most honey we harvest has blackberry as the main nectar, along with wildfowers. 
The beehive journal blog has a good reference for feeding sugar syrup and the ratio's, basically I remember
2 to 1 sugar and water in the Fall, and 1 to 1 ratio for the Spring.  In the Spring it's thinner, so 1 to 1 means, one cup water, one cup sugar, in the Fall it's thicker.  I usually mix a whole 10 lb bag at once.  I heat the water first, and then add the sugar to just boiled water, taken off the burner, then mix it thoroughly, let it cool, and pour it into jars.  I feed on the top of the hive with a holder that can hold 4 jars of sugar syrup.  You don't want to make too much of the syrup, as it can go bad, and possibly mildew if the weather is wet and cold before it gets used. 

Good cleaning is important to a healthy hive. I regularly swipe a stick on the bottom board to remove any dead bees, paying particular attention to the back corners. There shouldn't be a lot of dead bees, but I always find a few and sweep them out.  I plan to build a screened bottom board for both hives to put on during the nice Spring and Summer weather, they also help with preventing a build up of mites, and give air flow. I've put on mouse guards during winter, and make sure they are removable so I can clean.  I also make sure I have an entrance reducer on during most of the coldest days of winter, and will remove it for a day or two when it's nice weather and not too windy.  Basically I fuss over my bees like every other animal on this farm, everything requires tending to, and bees are no exception.   I'm still learning new lessons every year, out of 4 winters, I've lost my bees twice, there is a learning curve, just like everything new you try on a farm. I like to call my garden, an experimental garden, and my bees are no exception.  Each climate has it's own unique features that need to be taken into consideration.  I can only speak from my NW climate perspective concerning bees.

Spring Beekeeping Inspection is copied from the Beekeeping for Dummies cheat sheets,
you can go check them out, I include their link at the bottom of this page.  I'm not doing everything they recommend, however I have in the past.  I'm experimenting more with natural beekeeping as much as possible.  If it works I'll continue, and if not, I'll try something different.  I will write out more later about what I'm doing with natural methods. I do reverse the upper and lower deep hive bodies, and check the hive thoroughly, feed them sugar syrup, and put on menthol crystals.  I will do the screened bottom board and check for mites, and treat them if I find they need it.  Sometimes people medicate when they don't even need to, which is what I'm trying to be careful not to do.  If the hives are healthy I want to focus on keeping them going as naturally as possible.

Spring Beekeeping Inspection

Spring is a busy time for bees and beekeepers. Your spring beekeeping inspection is the first of the season. It’s time to start bee colonies or bring your colonies “back to life.” Here’s your spring inspection chores list:
  • As winter crawls to an end, pick the first mild sunny day with little or no wind to inspect your bees (50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer).
  • Observe the hive entrance. Are many dead bees around the entrance? A few dead bees are normal, but finding more casualties than that may indicate a problem.
  • Is there brown spotting on the hive? These are bee feces, which indicate the presence of nosema disease. Even if you don’t see the brown spotting, your first spring inspection is time to medicate your bees with Fumigilin-B (antibiotic) by adding it to the first two gallons of sugar syrup you feed them.
  • Lightly smoke and open the hive. Do you see the cluster of bees? Can you hear the cluster?
  • Remove a frame or two from the center of the top deep-hive body. Do you see any brood? Look for eggs (eggs mean you have a queen). If you see no eggs or brood, consider ordering a new queen from your supplier.
  • Does the colony have honey? If not, or if they’re getting low, immediately begin feeding syrup to the bees.
  • Feed your colony a pollen substitute to boost brood production.
  • Use a screened bottom board or the sugar roll method to determine Varroa mite population. Medicate if needed.
  • Place a packet of menthol crystals on top of the brood nest to control tracheal mites. Putting this on a small sheet of aluminum foil will prevent the bees from covering the packet with propolis.
  • Dust the frame’s top bars with a mixture of Terramycin (antibiotic) and powdered sugar to prevent foulbrood.
  • Reverse the deep hive bodies to better distribute the brood pattern. Use this opportunity to clean the bottom board.
  • Later in the spring, add a queen excluder and honey supers (all medication must be off the hive at this time).  If you'd like to read more:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Taking Stock ~ an emergency supply list

Today as I was spring cleaning, my thoughts kept going to the people of Japan, and what they must be going through.  I have prayed for these polite, kind people, for their safety, comfort, and healing. They have gone through so much tragedy and heartache over the last 5 days.  I keep wondering what would happen if we had an earthquake of that magnitude.  We live about 20 miles inland, so don't have to worry about a tsunami, but the whole West coast is vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunami's, and we have family along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.

I remember the panicky feeling of the last 3 (big ones that you can feel) earthquakes that I've gone through here in the Northwest.  We are part of the Pacific Rim, ring of fire, where earthquakes happen with some regularity...always when you least expect it. We all know we're due for one, the last big one we had here was 10 years ago,  it wasn't a real bad earthquake, but we all remember it.  We don't have tv to see all the images of Japan, but we can see them on the internet, and read about it all.

4 years ago, I began to think seriously about self sufficiency, and what we'd need to do to live off the land as much as possible.  We've been working towards that goal steadily by building gardens, planting fruit trees and berry bushes, getting chickens and rabbits, and investing in a seed bank of heirloom seeds.  I've bought many vegetable seeds over the last couple years through Baker Creek Heirlooms, and Territorial Seed company.  I've also learned to collect some of my own seeds from year to year.  The chickens and rabbits would need food, they could forage for some of it, but not all, in an emergency I'm not sure we'd be able to get to town to get their bags of feed, or even if the feed store would have it in stock.  This is a dilemma I haven't figured out, other than to buy more bags of feed to store, rather than buy as we need it.  I have dogs and cats, and need to plan for a 3 month supply of food for them too.  Buying an extra bag of feed as often as I can, and rotating the feed, so it never gets too old is going to be my new plan.

Today as I worked, my mind kept going over things we'd need to survive for weeks or even months without power or running water.  I hope we don't have an emergency, but we should all prepare, and think about what we'd need.  A good goal is a 3-6 month supply of food and water, along with necessities like tp, female products, toothpaste, floss, soap, first aid supplies, and whatever else you want or need to have in reserves.  We probably have a 3 month supply of food that could carry us into summer, not that we'd be eating like we are now, but we could survive.

For heat and water here's what we have.  We have a woodstove and plenty of firewood, so we can cook and heat our home.   We have a dug well that can pull up water by hand with a bucket, it's a deep, concrete lined, underground gravel filtered well.  We could use this water for doing laundry, dishes, and watering the garden.  Our main 500 ft. well requires power for it to bring up water.  We also have metal roofs that can collect rainwater in tarps, if we needed to. We have a  30 gallon plastic barrel that we can use to store drinking water, and I will be filling that, we also have 10 glass gallon jars I am going to fill with drinking water.  We will look for more large gallon glass containers for water storage.

For food this is our leanest time of the year, in the Fall we have an abundance from the garden and fruit trees.  Currently in the pantry reserves we have glass gallon jars of beans, rice, lentils, wheat berries, oats, whole wheat flour, corn meal, baking soda, baking powder, canning supplies like salt and vinegar.  We also have peanut butter, olive oil, easy soups like miso soup, beef bouillons, puddings, noodles, dry milk, and canned foods, along with many other smaller food items I've gathered.  A couple years ago we invested in a hand powered grain mill from Lehman's, so we can grind wheat berries and grains into flour for bread.

I need to write up an emergency supply list.  Here's what I'm going to do; take stock of the pantry, look at what I'm low on, put aside water, check my first aid kit, and refresh what I need, buy extra animal feed, and every time I go to the store buy a few extra things to stash away.  I'll only buy things I regularly use, and will   buy more wheat berries, grains, peanut butter, sugar, salt, nuts, tea, coffee, canned fish, and more powdered milk (I don't normally use, but for an emergency it's good to have).  I will also begin my garden in earnest this weekend.  Starting many seeds inside, and planting peas, radishes and greens outside. 
Throwback at Trapper Creek's  blog has some great articles she's written about  preparing for self sufficiency you may want to check out too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

wooden soap boxes

My sweetheart husband just finished building my soap boxes.  He even stamped Appegarth Soap 2011 on all the boxes.  They took several hours to make, and he enjoyed building them for me. First he cut all the parts out, then glued and nailed them all together with a nail gun, then he put clamps on overnight to make them all tight while the glue dried.  He plans to put brass nails in all the corners like the one above, and I'll apply a mineral oil to preserve them on the outside.  Before making these I looked up online to see what size the boxes should be, and never could get a basic mold measurement.  So we just got out a few bars of soap with sizes we liked, measured them, and made our boxes in 2 different sizes. 

The 2 smaller ones are 12 x 41/2 inches,  and the 4 bigger ones are 24 x 41/2 inches.  These are all interior dimensions.  I figure I'll be able to get roughly 10 bars out of the small ones and around 20 bars out of the big ones.  I'll need to calculate the volume of soap I need to make to fill each one, so I make the proper size batch.  To start with, I'll make smaller size batches, since I'm still learning and don't want to botch a bigger sized batch.   I still need freezer paper to line them, and a handheld mixer, then will be ready to mix and pour my first batches.  This whole soap making process has really evolved for me over the last month, and I have learned a lot. We've had quite a few rainy days in a row, so this has been a good indoor project.  I have 4 essential oils to start with, Mint, Lavender, Cinnamon and Lemon grass.  I will be getting more scent variety in the days ahead. 

This Spring, I'll be spending rainy days working on soap and spring cleaning my house, and on nice weather days, when we finally get a few dry days in a row, I'll be out planting my garden.  This is the time of year gardening takes over much of my time, especially April and May, I'll be out every chance I get.  June and beyond is weeding, watering, some successive planting, and harvesting.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


One day old kittens are so cute.

This is Zora, she had her kittens 12 hours after Tigger had hers.  Last year we got 2 kittens, and didn't know if they were boys or girls.  I checked to see if I could tell around Christmas time, and thought they both might be girls.  I knew they needed to get in quickly to get spayed.  Well one thing led to another, and it must have been 2 weeks later I saw our local wild tomcat (he's beautiful by the way) and wondered if possibly they had gone into heat.  I called around to a spay station to see when they'd be in the area, and was planning to get them both fixed.  Well before I could I noticed both their belly's swelling.  We haven't had a cat that had kittens for 11 years, and then only twice ever.  We never had any problem finding homes for them, and still know where a couple of them are. 

Here's Tigger nursing them too, both moms purr and close their eyes and knead each other on either side of the kittens as they nurse, it's one big happy family.   Tigger had her litter first,  late Friday night I went to check on them.  Kaley and I had made 2 nest boxes a couple weeks ago in preparation.  Hoping they would know to have them in the boxes that were nice and clean, with an old pillow and blanket so they'd be cozy.  Cats are pregnant for around 65 days.  So we knew by the look of their swelling bellies they were getting close. 

When I peeked in on them Friday night, both cats were in the box, Tigger had 5 kittens that were still wet, and both moms were purring and nursing and licking them.  I guess Zora was like the midwife, and wanted to be right in there too.  The next day she had 6 kittens all in the same box, not in the other box I had made up for her.  They are both incredible moms and taking such good care of them.  So now we have 11 kittens that are so cute, and will be fun for the kids to watch grow for 8 or 9 weeks.  We already have homes for 4 of them, with family and neighbors, and will have to find homes for the rest, they are all beautiful as you can see.   If you live local and want a good barn cat, these moms have been fed well, and are also great mousers.  They are our first line of defense in mouse control.  As soon as the kittens are weaned we will be taking both moms in to be spayed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Learning about Soap Making in Modern Times

I have continued reading and learning through books and the internet about soap-making,  yesterday I also got 3 of the 5 books I had on hold from the library.  One is "Soap and Candle Making for Dummies", which I started reading last night, then realized they don't even talk about making regular soap using lye.  They just talk about the melt and pour method, and buying soap, melting it and coloring and scenting it.  Not the book I was looking for.

The second is  "The complete Idiots guide to soap making".  I haven't begun reading it, but have purused it this morning, and it talks about all the processes, including hot and cold methods, and gives all the basic instructions for making soap. this one has a lot of useful information I can tell.  The third book that came in is "Making Scented Soap", it really goes into detail about all the different essential oils. 

The most informative website has been Kathy Miller's site  It has soap making recipes, her favorites recipes, how she makes, cures and packages her soap, plus what she's learned in 30 years of soap-making.  Experience teaches all the lessons, why not learn from someone who's been doing it for this many years.

Here are a few of the modern times soap making tips I've learned about.  In the old days the lard from pigs and tallow from beef was used on the farms for candle and soap-making by the women.  Now we can go online or to stores and buy things like palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, sunflower oil, and basically any vegetable oil that I want to put in the soap.  Any good vegetable oil can saponify.  So here's my new plan,  I'll start with these oils, palm, coconut, olive, castor, and cocoa butter.   I decided to make all vegetable soaps after reading more on soapmaking, about the many different oils, and how they affect things like; the feel on skin, moisturizing, cleansing ability, smell, and hardness when dry.  I also want to try additives like goats milk, honey, oatmeal and bran.

After learning more about soap-making, I am now planning to do large batches of soap, poured into molds made out of wood, Some will be large rectangular, and a couple long rectangular ones.  You line the wooden boxes with freezer paper, let the soap cure for 48 hours, take out of the mold (easily with freezer paper as a liner) then cut into bars, cure for 3 to 4 weeks, then it's ready to use.   I will also be making larger batches of soap, and at the trace point with add any natural colors, essential oils, or fragrances.  I also want to try swirling a couple colors together, and will get a paddle mixer.  A paddle mixer is a small hand held mixer you can make a smoothie with in a glass.  I see them at Goodwill all the time.  They were a real popular gift several years ago.  This is supposedy one of the revolutionary things in Kathi Miller's modern soapmaking techniques, it helps blend all the ingredients quickly, and she claims it has really helped her soap texture be nicer all the way around.

My husband Jarin  loves the fact that I'm making soap, so he said he'd make me some soap boxes today.  I showed him several designs this morning, along with measurements.  When he's done, I'll share a picture of them.  Tomorrow I'm hoping to make soap, and will document the new process.  I sure wish I would have found some of this information sooner.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Soap Making Part 3 ~ Handmilling

I am a beginning soap maker, so if you find this post, and are looking to make soap for the first time  You may want to go here to Kathy Miller's soap making page, she's been making soap for 30 years, and is the expert. I just found her site a couple days ago, and it's great.  This is my attempts to make soap from a book I have been learning from by Norma Coney.  I had some major challenges with my first few batches, and this is about my 4th and 5th attempts at small batch handmilling. 

If you want to learn along with me from some of the mistakes I've made, so you don't make them as well that's fine.  I just want to give a disclaimer here about my skill level... Newbie.  There is a learning curve to be sure in soap making.  You can read about all my soap making adventures in one spot, on the sidebar of this blog, there are chapters, just click on soap making, and you can see how I got to this point, and what I've learned along the way.

Weigh all your ingredients carefully, only as much water as the recipe calls for. 
The recipe I am using call for 12 ounces of grated basic soap, and 9 ounces of water.

 Blend the water well with the grated soap, so all of the pieces are covered, then set the pan onto the lowest stove top temp, and just leave it till you see a few bubbles on the top, then fold over carefully, this is not about stirring.   Heat for about 15 minutes, then fold over, then another 15 to 20 minutes, fold over, you may have to keep doing this for an hour.  I haven't tried a double boiler, but heard that recommended, so I may try that next time.

This is what the mixture looks like (below) after 35-40 minutes of melting, still kind of looks like mashed potatoes. I just went ahead and added my lavender oil and scooped it into the molds.  If you read my soap making post  about trials and errors, you will see that I never could get it to liquefy like it says in the book. 
I didn't have any special molds to use, but gathered these,
they are sardine cans, and plastic containers I found at Goodwill.

Not the prettiest bars of soap, but better than my last attempt that looked like tofu.

I made this batch on Tuesday, and had a little better success than Monday's attempts.  I am still not happy with the outcome.  I studied more on other soap forums, and learned from a few good sites.  I also went to the library on Tuesday looking for soap books, they didn't have any.  I came home, went online and put a hold on 5 books, one is Soap Making for Dummies, and the other books look good too.  They were all at different libraries, so I'll have to wait a few days for them to come in, and some were checked out so I have to wait my turn. 

Then yesterday I went back to the soap making supply store in Seattle and spent a couple hours looking at their books and supplies, and talking with the workers there who are very helpful.  I ended up coming out with a good basic soap making book, 4 large bottles of essential oils, a soap mold, and directions for making a couple wooden molds.  Plus I bought gallon jars of olive oil, palm oil and coconut oil.  I'm the type of person who kind of gets obsessed when I get into some new hobby, and want to learn everything I can, and get good at it.  My kids all know this about me, and inevitably learn along with me because they hear me talk about it everyday.  I will be trying some new recipes, and mold techniques soon. 

However today the sun has finally come out, the robins are singing, and my garden is calling to me.  I'm taking a break from soap making for a couple days, and will read and learn in the evenings after dark.  The next time I post about soap I hope I will have better results to share with you.