Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hand Milled Soap

Hard to spoon the glop into molds!

Sometimes you will come across fancy soap in the stores labeled as hand milled or French milled.  It means the soap has been processed a second or third time.  The soap is made, grated, dried and then heated and re-poured.  Some of the big firms use big rollers to press the soap.  The result, apparently, is a finer bar of soap: hard, firm, no traces of lye.  Grated soap is often sold at craft places for people who don't want to make soap from scratch.  You can buy pre-made soap already grated, melt in the oven or crock pot, add your own scents and additives without ever going near a jug of lye.  Milling or re-batching, as it is also called, can be used on a batch of soap that has failed for some reason.  For the DIYer, scents and additives go farther and it's much easier.

I had read about hand milled soap during my learning process before making soap.  I was interested in making soap from scratch with our fresh goats milk, so I didn't pay the process much attention.  As I got into soap making, I chose to use flat molds, rather than loaf molds, so that less heat would build up in our soaps, potentially damaging the goats milk.  To get a nice fat bar I was always over-filling the molds and had to trim away the excess, which I saved - largely because I couldn't bear to throw it away!  After a couple of years of making soap, I had quite a collection of these trimmings, long thin pieces cut from the sides of my batches.  So, I decided to try hand milling to use up the bits.

At home, this involved leaving the bits out to dry, then using my food processor to grate them into smaller bits.  Then a little more milk is added for moisture and I heated the whole thing in the oven at low temperature.  I took my basic method from these instructions and this info.  Grating the soap in my food processor was a bit of a mess: Even though the soap was well cured it stuck to the blade and gooped up.  Pour into a casserole, mix in some milk and heat - quite simple.  It took longer to melt to a nice texture but the mixture was still hard to pour, even after being returned to the oven.  I had used bits of our Simple Soap; apparently heating fragranced soap or soaps with herbs just turns into an ugly mess.
Even after sitting out for over a week...

Unfortunately, the resulting soap is a soft, gooey mess.  Too much milk?  Whatever the problem, I've decided that it's not worth fussing over.  The time involved in re-batching is just not worth my while.  If I can only re-batch unscented soaps that doesn't solve my problem of left over trimmings from soaps with essential oils and herbs.  And, with the time involved, a bar of Simple Soap, which sells for $4 normally, would have to sell for $7 or $8!  I don't think my customers would see the advantage.  I cure my soaps long enough that the lye is all used up and they are nice and firm, so I'm not worrying about those concerns.  As I thought about it I realized that the best thing to do is not over-pour and have all the trimmings left over in the first place!  Soaps were going to have to go up in price this summer due to inevitably rising costs, so instead of raising the price, I'll just have a slightly smaller bar of soap without waste.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weird...but true!

Cloves of garlic getting tucked in.
It is so weird: It's May 18th and we are just starting to plant!  Even weirder: We're starting with garlic!  Most years we would be almost done with seeding the gardens.  This year, between the Winter-that-wouldn't-go-away and the Spring-that-wouldn't-come we've just barely started.  It took seemingly forever for the gardens to dry out and warm up, then we had a cold, rainy spell.  If you follow our Facebook page, you know last week we had a day when tractors got stuck in the field a couple of times.

And garlic!  We usually plant garlic in the Fall, but last Fall we were a little distracted by jobs, life, harvest, breeding goats, etcetera and missed our opportunity to purchase seed bulbs.  The last few seasons we had saved our own garlic to replant, but a poor harvest and disease left nothing.  Fortunately, we were able to purchase some lovely garlic through Lindenberg Seeds this Spring.  I spent an afternoon two days ago breaking up the heads into the cloves on ten pounds of garlic!  When Farmer Man finally managed to get most of the cultivation done, we were waiting for a decent day (like today), when both of us were home and we got busy!

We and our CSA members can all breath a sigh of relief now that the garlic is in.  We, personally, love garlic and the taste of naturally grown, farm fresh garlic is head-and-shoulders above the store bought stuff!  CSA members have come to love garlic scapes, too!  Have you had them?  The scapes are the flowering stems of garlic; raw, they have a lovely mild, green garlic taste.  Cooked they taste something like asparagus.  We think they are best raw and make an awesome pesto, a great addition to salads or a delightful topping on pizza or pasta.  And they are in the ground, with more rain in the forecast.

Some peas, chard, some beets, some carrots, some onions and some lettuces are also in the ground as of today.  So, a good start has been made!  Rain tomorrow, then we're going to spend a day planting potatoes.  Shortly, we'll get back to successive plantings of many of the vegetables.  Corn and many of the winter squash will go in when the soil is just a little warmer.  Beans and summer squash can go in anytime now.  In the meantime, the sun room is bursting with seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, ground cherry and tomatillos.  They will go into the ground in June - we're never in any hurry because we can easily still have frosts for the next two to three weeks.

It feels good to get a start made!  Were you working in the garden this May long weekend?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

This Changes Everything!

No, it's not some fancy new design for a watering wand or some earth-shattering invention of a new hose.  It's just the fact that we once again have outdoor running water that changes everything!

All winter, every winter, we have no outdoor running water.  We've looked into installing something from our well, which is located between the house and the barn.  Setting up for weather-proof running water in the barn has proved just too expensive for our modest budget.  So all winter we're hauling water from the house to the barn and the chicken coop.  There is only one power outlet in the barn itself and we're afraid to be running extension cords around so much straw, hay and wood so one goat stall has a heated bucket.  Every other stall has just a plain, old plastic bucket of water, which freezes.  The chicken coop has one waterer which doesn't freeze, but the chickens go through the supply almost every day.

So, winter is interesting here at Aagaard Farms.  And this was an especially looooong, very cold winter.  We have multiples of everything: two chicken waters, eight plastic buckets.  Buckets of water are thawing in our foyer all the winter.  Half thawed water is dumped in the kitchen sink, the bath tub or outside if we're ready to go out, making for interesting ice sculptures everywhere.  Buckets sitting in the pens always have frozen 'stuff' on the bottoms, which softens and falls off or melts into a puddle.  So winter is messy here at the wee farm.  Old newspapers holding dirty pails are always in the foyer or in front of the heater.

Getting water up is a relay event.  Four buckets go at a time, so it's carry two outside, carry two more outside, carry two up to the barn, return, carry two more up to the barn, all bundled up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  At least once a day a chicken water has to go up for another trip.  We haul a frozen bucket out of a stall, replace with a new bucket.  Do the rounds, haul all the frozen buckets back to the house to thaw for the next time, make hot chocolate (very important!).  When it was very cold, the water would freeze in a few hours so we were doing this little chore three, sometimes four times a day.  Goats also have some natural talent for pooping into their water buckets so sometimes an extra bucket had to go.  Since our does were pregnant, we were keeping an eye on both water and hay regularly through the day, trying to get them through the cold weather.  At -30 C, with a wind chill the trip can seem like a hike to the Arctic Circle!

So, you can see why a simple garden hose makes such a difference!  First, water is no longer freezing.  And, if water is dirty, it's just a matter of dumping it out the door, fill and replace.  The chicken waterer, too, is just taken outside, emptied and re-filled.  It makes life so much simpler and lessens the time involved in the chore substantially.  And that's a good thing, 'cause we're getting a little busy with other stuff!