Sunday, November 25, 2012

Soapmaking Is Addictive!

Our Simple Goats Milk Soap, in the flat tray molds.
Soaps are frozen in the mold to get the lovely ivory colour
and to keep the milk proteins from scorching.
Farmer Man is calling me the 'Soapmaking Kitchen Witch'! I'm often in the kitchen, melting fats and oils, stirring big pots of goop, geared up in gloves and goggles before mixing lye, pouring out fresh soap into molds.  Our freezer is often crowded with goats milk in ice cubes trays, getting frozen for soap making.  Or, there are molds full of soap taking up space - waiting to be frozen, before being removed from the molds and cut.

I am officially hooked on soap making!  Much of my time is spent in not only making soap, but reading about the properties of various fats and oils, researching natural additives and essential oils, cruising websites and blogs concerning soap, looking at soap recipes and planning how to change them into goats milk recipes, and scrutinizing packaging and displays.  It's almost like a full-time job, without the pay check (so far)!  Of course, I also spend some time each day caring for my little goaties...and the other critters around here.  But I always seem to get back to soap.  I've subscribed to newsletters from soaping websites, I've got books here that I can pick up at any time.  We want, like the food we grow, to offer our customers a wonderful, natural product - without harmful chemicals (aside from the lye, which is potentially harmful only to me during the process of making soap).  I've been deepening my knowledge of essential oils for fragrance - no fake chemical fragrances for us!  I've been learning about the benefits of ground oatmeal, herbs and natural clays and so much more!

The original Hemp Soap, with the dark spot in the middle.
The picture doesn't show it's pale green colour.

I love all the soap I've made and tried, but my favorite so far is our hemp soap.  It's very gentle and moisturizing, lovely sudsy, and doubles as a shampoo very nicely!  I had decided to make it in a loaf mold, to distinguish it from our Simple Soap.  In the loaf mold, however, I got a funny spot in the middle, as you can see in the photo.  Now, to preserve the benefits of milk and to produce a lovely, pale color I freeze all our soap as soon as it is poured in the mold.  In cold process soap making, the molds are usually insulated to encourage heat to build up so that the soap goes through what's called a gel phase.  I'm trying to avoid that gel phase and the resulting heat; so much heat can be produced in the chemical reaction of lye with oils and fats that the milk can be scorched!  This would destroy some of the benefits to the skin of the milk as well as discolour the bars.  To this end, I mostly use flat tray molds, so that the heat doesn't build up and dissipates quickly in the freezer.  But, I didn't have enough tray molds and was trying to produce soap quickly, so I started making the hemp in a loaf mold.  Heat builds up in the middle, even in the freezer, and I get a spot in the middle that has gone through the gel phase.  Doesn't really effect the soap - it's still lovely but I didn't like the look.
The latest Hemp Soap, not frozen.  No centre spot,
but the colour is more yellow/beige.

So, I've tried different things: letting the oils cool longer before adding the lye/goats milk mix.  I've stirred the final soap longer and longer, hoping to release some of the heat before pouring it in the mold.  All, to no avail.  So, I decided to make a batch without putting it in the freezer, insulate the molds on the counter and let the stuff go through the gel phase!  Result: a bar with a different colour and texture, and no spot in the middle!  Now, I really shouldn't judge this new loaf of hemp soap.  It's just come out of the mold and needs to cure for a month or so, during which time it will change.  However, so far I don't like the colour as well - it's a bit more of a yellow/beige/green whereas my first bars were a pale, pale minty green.  The texture is a bit more coarse, it's not as smooth and creamy as the first batches.  And, of course, I haven't used it yet and won't for a number of weeks and that will be the ultimate test.  I'll draw my final conclusions when the soap comes in the shower with me!  Wow, that sounded so....scientific.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm Lovin' a Soap Saver!

On the right, my well-used soap saver!
We've been testing out our soaps the very first minute we can.  No long curing has been going on here!  Anytime I've made something new....we wait the minimum time, test it with a pH strip to make sure it's safe and then into the shower it goes!  We're loving all the carefully chosen recipes, and we're certainly luxuriating in fresh, handmade soap, creamy with loads of fresh goat milk, full of natural glycerin and skin-loving butters and oils.  No dry, detergent-stripped skin around here!

We have noticed that our soaps can get a little soft sitting in the shower.  And I've become aware that that can be a 'thing' with handmade soap.  Glycerin is a natural by-product of soap making; commercial makers often remove it to sell and use elsewhere, leaving a harder bar of soap.  Many commercial soaps are actually just detergent whereas our soap is fats, oils and fresh milk, saponified with lye.  Then, when we don't let them cure for very long before trying them.....well, we have soft soap.  I've been reading, for a while, about soap bags or soap savers or scrubby bags....whatever you want to call them!  On the Web, there are mentions of them on soaping sites, crafty sites and frugal-living sites.  And I'm loving mine!  Highly recommend it!

A soap saver or soap bag serves a couple of purposes.  It is a crocheted bag (preferably handcrafted locally with natural fibres), your bar of soap goes in the bag, then between baths or showers you can hang the bag up.  Thus, you avoid leaving your soap sitting in a puddle and the soap dries out fully.  You can put your smaller pieces of soap into a bag and use them to the last little bit - which is the frugal part.  They are also excellent for exfoliation - like a wash cloth but way more sudsy and easy to handle!  I got mine from local Etsy seller Ritzys All Naturals, who sold her crocheted wares at The Global Market this summer.  (I also got awesome cotton dish clothes from her, which I've used all summer for cleaning up the goats!)  I enquired with some crafty friends, and our CSA friend Sharon made some up for me to sell with our soaps - in some beautiful pastel, multi-coloured cottons!  If you do crochet, apparently a quite easy #DIY project - Sharon whipped up a bunch just watching TV over a couple of nights!  Here's a link to a bunch of free patterns here!

We're so excited to be bringing all our wares to the Art Gallery of South Western Manitoba's 'Gala of Gifts' on December 1st.  Stay tuned for more details!  And, if you're not in the area, watch for our announcement about online shopping...soonish.......

Friday, November 9, 2012

Time To Dry Off The Goat Mommas!

Dot will miss her fresh milk daily!
We're hoping that Randi the Buck has done his job, and that our Goat Girls are now pregnant.  He's been with the ladies 24/7 for over a month, and was very enthusiastic to get on with his work!  We are currently still milking the does, but the time has come to dry them off.  Once a doe has been pregnant and produces milk, theoretically you can keep milking for a long time: we've heard of does that milked for more than two years steadily!  That is, as long as they're not pregnant again.  Making milk takes a lot of energy, making babies takes a lot of energy so it's either one or the other.  Apparently, you can milk a doe through the first three months of their five month pregnancy, which means we could milk until the end of December.  However, two considerations for us: first, we had a Randi 'break-out' before we put the buck and the does together and Choco may have gotten pregnant early.  Second, we're about to get so cold weather-wise, that we'd rather give the girls a longer, healthier break from milking.  And us, too; we'll actually be rather happy to have a break from the routine of milking.

Drying off a doe - getting them to quit making milk - is going to take us about six weeks.  Like everything around here, we're going to do it fairly naturally.  We have started this week by going to milking just once a day, in the morning.  The first night was quite amusing - we went up to the barn at our usual time but instead of taking out a doe, we just gave them a little grain ration to share, right in their pen.  Mabel, always first to get milked, stood up on the gate, watching and waiting.  She didn't head for the grain, she kept waiting to be taken out of the pen.  From there, usually, she would go on the milking stand and get her own (private) grain ration to enjoy at her leisure.  As we gave a little grain to the kids, tossed a little scratched for the chickens in the barn and fed the cats, Mabel continued to watch our every move from the gate.  She seemed to be in disbelief.  Feeling sorry for her, we put a little more grain ration in the girls' bowl, taking the scoop right past her to entice her, then said good night and turned out the lights.

The next morning we went up a little early, not sure what to expect.  None of the does seemed in any discomfort, although all three were very enthusiastic about heading for the milking stand when their turn came.  There was no bulging milk bags, no cries of pain - all things we thought possible.  Mabel and Chocolate produced about the usual amount of milk, Goldie produced a little more than usual.  Again, in the evening, we just put everyone to bed as usual, giving the does a little grain ration in their pen.  During this week, this has easily become the new normal with no problems.  We'll do this for a couple of weeks, lessening the grain ration that they receive each morning, which will also help with the transition.  In a couple of weeks time, we'll go to milking every second morning, then milking every three days, then we'll just stop.  And with that, the does will be dried off, ready to grow beautiful, healthy kids!

We'll miss our fresh, raw milk.  We're an all-goat-milk-all-the-time household right now.  We do have milk frozen, which will get us by for a while.  Probably late winter, before the new kids are born, we'll have to buy commercial milk.  We're not looking forward to it: our fresh milk is beautiful and delicious!  Probably, the one who will miss it the most is our little barn kitty 'pet' Dot, who is in the habit of following us to every milking and getting a little bowl of fresh, warm milk to enjoy!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Revving Up The Soaping!

Goats Milk, Oatmeal, Cinnamon Soap.
CSA is finished, the Global Market is finished, the gardens are largely finished.  What's left?  Making soap!  I'm getting ready to participate in some craft fairs.  I was able to make small batches of soap thru the summer, which sold nicely at the Global Market, with great feedback from customers.  One needs volume to participate in a craft show, though, so I've been soaping up a storm!  I've been aiming for a batch a day...although that hasn't always happened!

Like everything we do, we're looking to make soap as simply and naturally as possible.  No swirling, twirling, no glittering or glamming!  We're making skin-nourishing goats milk soap with no artificial colours, no artificial fragrances, no preservatives, no chemical sudsers - just natural ingredients!  We're super-fatting with fresh, fluid goats milk - no dehydrated milk powder here!  It's harder than you might think to find info, so a certain amount of experimenting is going on in the kitchen!  Farmer Man and I, and a few friends, have been washing up with some odd-looking, but still very usable soaps!

Our 'mainstay' soap is a cold process soap which we're calling our 'Simple Soap': just coconut oil, olive oil and lots of goats milk.  All ingredients that are good for your skin, and coconut oil makes a nice lather.  We'd love to keep our soap ingredients 'local', but it's hard to make good soap with just what is available: canola oil, sunflower oil and hemp oil!  We could get into rendering lard, a classic soap ingredient but...we'd need a lot and I just don't really want to get into it!  We have also made a hemp soap - very popular at the Global Market and a good pairing with our hemp lotion bar!

To keep our soaps the lightest colour possible, we are freezing the mixes as soon as they go in the mold.  The common practice, in cold process soap making, is to insulate the soap in the mold and leave it 24 hours.  During this time the soap goes through a 'gel' phase, during which the chemical process involving the fats, oils and lye is completed.  A lot of heat is generated during this phase which can scorch milk fats and darken the colour of the bar.  We can keep more of the milk solids unscathed and the colour lighter by avoiding the gel phase.  Our soap will be a little softer, and may take longer to cure, but more benefits to the skin!  We're making most of our soaps in flat tray molds, so it freezes quicker and to avoid heat build-up.  The hemp soap I've been making in a loaf mold, and have had the centre darken, meaning it was warm enough for a short time for the gel phase to start.  Still great soap - maybe we'll call it 'Hemp Heart' soap or something!

So far, we've got a good stash of our Hemp Soap, Simple Soap Unscented (great for those working in hospitals and such where fragrance is frowned on, or for people who don't want their soap to interfere with their perfume choice), Simple Soap with ground Lavender and Lavender essential oil, Simple Soap with ground chamomile and chamomile infusion, a goat milk, oatmeal and honey soap (from a recipe on the Web), a shampoo bar and a shampoo bar with Rosemary essential oil (for scalp stimulation).  Today's experiment:  a goat milk, oatmeal and cinnamon soap which I am not going to put in the freezer.  I'm making it in a loaf mold and since the ground cinnamon is going to colour the bar anyway, I decided to see what would happen if I didn't freeze it, but insulated it instead!  I'll post some pictures on our Facebook page when I take it out of the mold in a day or two!