Monday, 12 August 2019

How I Make Soap

    A couple of months ago I put a photo of soap making on my Instagram account. There was a lot of interest from people who wanted to get started with soap making but didn't know where to begin so I promised to write a post about the way I make soap.  But first I need to clarify that I am not an expert at it.
We have been using my homemade soap for roughly six years and would never go back to using commercially produced soaps.
I also wanted to find another use for the tallow (rendered fat) from our on-farm killed beef and it is a very good base for the soaps that we use here.
This soap is our shampoo and for hand and body washing, and I'm happy that we have no more plastic shampoo bottles to dispose of.
It's a beautiful shampoo, leaving no soapy build up in our hair, as would happen with commercial soaps.
When I used to have my hair cut by hairdressers, they were surprised to hear that I used soap/shampoo bar and agreed that my hair was in great condition. They soon gave up on trying to sell me their "products."

There are many bloggers who write about their experiences with soap making so, as I am not the expert, I will direct you towards the ones I have found most informative and interesting.

I started off with Rhonda from Down to Earth who has an excellent soap making tutorial.  This is a very clear tutorial with lots of photos and easy to read instructions that I recommend to anyone wanted to have a go at making soap.  I used this recipe of coconut oil and olive oil to make my first batch of soap.
It is not necessary to use the best quality organic coconut oil that we cook with, so I use blocks of Copha from the butter and cheese section of the supermarket.  I wouldn't eat Copha, but I think it's OK to use it in soap.
I also buy large containers of cheaper olive oil from Aldi for the sole purpose of soap making. Once again, I wouldn't eat that cheap olive oil, but it's perfectly fine for soap.
When I make soaps from olive and coconut oils I don't add any fragrance because it has a pleasant smell and many people prefer to use unscented products.

I strongly recommend you then read more of Rhonda's various soap tutorials for all of the small details and information to get started.
If you are like me you will read them over and over to get a very clear idea of how to proceed, you might take notes, and then you will choose a day that you can afford the time to set aside a couple of hours to slowly and methodically go through the steps.

Once you learn the process and get into a rhythm, you will be whipping up soaps of your own concoctions in a spare hour at any time. It can be as creative as you want to make it.
Your home made soap will be graciously received when gifted to friends and family too.


 It is very very important to follow the exact amounts/ratios of oils to lye (caustic soda).
I use  this Brambleberry lye calculator for calculating the exact amounts of caustic soda and water that I need to add to my various types of oil to produce the correct chemical balance for perfect soap every time.

 I always make up 1000g (1kg) batches for easy round figures.

As an example;
500g of beef fat (tallow) 
250g block of copha
250g of olive oil
When I put all of these oils and fats into the calculator it tells me that I will need
145g lye (caustic soda)
330g water or other liquid

Use digital scales to ensure exact weights

I might use 200g olive oil and 50g of another type of oil, a few grams of beeswax etc etc to make up the remaining 250g
All of these oils and fats must be entered into the soap calculator at their exact weights.
Different oils and types of fats have different qualities and require the exact amount of lye and water to produce a soap.

When using tallow or animal fats I find it necessary to add some fragrance to mask the fatty smell.
Our favourite is eucalyptus oil.  *It must be the real oil, not the water soluble stuff.*
This oil holds its fragrance when stored for many months and is neither sweet nor artificial. Far more acceptable for folks who don't want fragrances.
For the above recipe, 42g of eucalyptus oil added at trace produces a very mild smell that is not overpowering.
*Trace is the term used when the oils and lye mixture thickens to a custard like consistency.

Another very good resource  is this ebook from Liz at Eight Acres who is a very experienced and energetic soap maker, among many other things.
I wrote a review about it here.

As you can see, I have not purchased any special equipment for making soap.  After all, I've had years of  making-do and finding things at op-shops.
I didn't even buy these disposable moulds... they were gifted by friends who purchase their milk from a shop.

In the first photo you will see that I use stainless or enamel saucepans. I did use a pyrex jug initially for combining the lye with water, but it cracked under the intense heat so, a small stainless steel saucepan from the op-shop is perfect for the job.
The larger stainless saucepan is used for melting the fats/oils and then the lye/water mixture is poured into this same saucepan for the mixing.
** To avoid spills and splashes while mixing I use this larger saucepan.
Soap making equipment is used solely for this purpose and stored in the laundry cupboard when not in use.

DO NOT USE ALUMINIUM containers and do not let any of the raw soap mixture touch your skin or kitchen surfaces.

The soap is easy to remove from the moulds after allowing to set for twenty four hours.

A cutting tool and guide is not necessary if you don't mind the bars being a bit irregular.

After cutting into bars they should be stored in a cupboard for four to six weeks before using.
The soap will go through a process called saponifacation. 
(to saponify - the hydrolysis of fat by an alkali with the formation of a soap and glycerol.)
Allow air to circulate between the pieces while aging as in the photo above.

 I always enjoy reading Nanna Chel's wide range of soap recipes on her blog "Going Grey and Slightly Green"
She is the queen of experimentation, using unusual and colourful ingredients.  Check out some of her  soap making blog posts for knowledge and inspiration.

So why not have a go at making your own soap? Once you've done it once you will want to keep going.
Do you already make your own soap/shampoo bars? What are your favourite ingredients? 

Feel free to ask any questions, no matter how 'silly' you may think they are.  I can't promise to have all the answers, but between us, we will work it out.

My supplies are running low, so a soap making session is on the calendar for next week.


Sally XX

Friday, 9 August 2019

The New Electric Cream Separator - (All guesses were correct)

 We have been using this old cream separator for all of the years we have been milking cows and I'm very grateful to have it.
I taught myself to turn the handle at just the correct speed to get delicious thick cream from our cow's milk. It requires a bit of fancy foot work and juggling whilst tipping heavy buckets of milk into the bowl while the handle is still in full spin mode. But we country women are multi-taskers and multi-skilled, determined to get the job done when there is no one about to lend a hand.

Occasionally we have made an effort to find an electric separator like the one on the farm that I visited as a kid.
Memories of milking time on the farm as my friend's mum hand-milked all eight house cows of varying colours and breeds. Hand milked...! Here's me fifty years later,  like a princess.. needing a machine to milk my one or two cows because my hands get too sore after the first five minutes. (Rolls eyes with shame!)
She would let us milk one of the quiet multi-coloured old girls, squirting each other with warm milk straight from the teat. The cats lined up, happily accepting our squirts of milk onto their coats before slinking away to lick themselves clean.
After milking was done I loved to follow Mrs A into the cream room where she tipped the milk into the electric milk separator. Golden cream poured into a container from one spout, and the whitest of white milk poured into buckets from the other spout.
Perhaps that is where it all began? My ingrained love of cows and obsession with all things cream, milk and cheese. Who knows, but I've always had a hankering for one of those electric milk separators.
All of my searches for the holy grail of separators, over the years, amounted to nothing. All that showed up on Gumtree and similar on-line market places were old and beyond repair.


Recently we were invited to a long lunch as a thank you for hosting some organics agriculture students at our property last summer.
The three course lunch was entirely made up of ingredients grown and cooked by the students.
Can you imagine how thrilled we were to be attending this beautiful event?
And by the way, it was held on a weekday. You already know how we never commit to lunches out during our busy working weekends.
*Edited to apologise for the blue coloured words. All of my editing efforts will not remove them.*

One of the students had supplied the fresh jersey cream for the amazing citrus desert.
I was chatting to him across the table about milk separators (as you do) and which type he uses.  I mentioned that although we have a hand winding one, we have been looking for an electric model for years, with no luck.
The older couple sitting along from us heard this and called out that they had one they wanted to sell.

No time was wasted agreeing on a time to visit them early on the following Saturday morning. All planned farm jobs were moved aside to accommodate this special excursion.
We bought it for a song at twice the asking price.  Neither of us could walk away without paying a fair price for this beautiful piece of working history, but it was definitely a "start the car" moment.

So to all of you who guessed correctly, it is indeed Alfa Lavel brand, congratulations and well done!

There were just a few minor teething problems, getting the the thickness of the cream just right; the tiny allan key was missing so we had one made up by a friend.
At present I'm not into full-swing milking mode as Lavender holds back the best part of her milk for her calf Minnie, and I'm milking only a couple of times each week. But come October, when the calf is weaned AND Poppy's calf is born, there will be milk and cream and all the good things.
So I will enjoy this relatively relaxed milking time, using my energy elsewhere for now.

As I've been writing this, the rain has been pelting down for two days, with 20mls in the gauge so far. It couldn't have come at a better time. Our rainfall is well below average again this year, our crops are only just hanging on. It is also allowing me some respite from outside work as I've injured my shoulder and am feeling rather helpless until it recovers.
Brian is on hay feeding and firewood duty for another couple of days, while the-up side (for me) is having the time to sit at my laptop and write.
Covering for each other when one of us is away or ill/injured is a good reminder of the work and effort that each of us adds to the smooth running of our home or farm. We can easily take for granted all the work that the other does. I can't help feeling that the universe throws these hiccups at us for a reason.

And as the rain falls here, filling our tanks with precious water, I feel so terribly helpless for all of the parts of our country that haven't seen rain for too long. Stanthorpe in Queensland is only hours away from running out of water. Millions of dollars of water will be trucked into the town until it rains again. Our thoughts are with all of the residents there and in surrounding districts.

Thanks for dropping in friends.
Sally XX

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Sheep Maintenance - A Farmer's Work is Never Done

Whilst Brian is still employed full time, our weekends are always full of farming maintenance jobs. Never ask a part time farmer out to lunch on a Sunday, or expect us to commit to anything.
Saturdays and Sundays are when we are head down, bottoms up!
There's an almighty long list of all the jobs to be done over the coming weekends, and that's just my list. His list is probably just as long. 
Oh if only it were possible to work a four day week, we might actually get on top of things.

We brought the young ewes in for crutching (trimming wool from the breach area) and wigging (trimming wool away from the eyes).
All of our sheep will be shorn in October when the weather is warmer; Brian will be taking some annual leave.

Feet are trimmed while they are in the shed and getting a once over.

We usually use a natural mixture of seaweed, apple cider vinegar, aloe, minerals and herbs to manage worms and internal parasites, whilst boosting the animal's immune system at the same time. However, upon close inspection of the droppings, which all stock owners should do regularly, we found some worm eggs. A sample was sent off to the lab to determine which parasites we needed to treat, and a commercial worming preparation was purchased from the local Stock and Agriculture outlet.
The use of commercial chemical wormers should never be routinely administered to livestock (sheep, cattle, goats, poultry). This is what farmers had been doing over the last sixty, or so years and it is why stock have developed a resistance to them.  New, more powerful preparations are always coming onto the market but soon they will run out of ways to make an effective wormer for when we really need to eradicate harmful parasites.

These two dogs are worth two farmhands, but are much cheaper to feed, super loyal and lovable, and never argue the point. Where would we be without them?  Oh and the bloke is rather useful to have around too.

Can you guess what this is?
A serendipitous find a couple of weeks ago, which prompted one of those "Start the car" moments.
I'll tell you about it next time.

A very dry July, we have had frosts for the past two mornings, but thankfully, the hay crops are hanging in and still putting on growth. Rain is forecast and Brian's dowsing apparatus tells him we're in for a nice few drops over the coming days.
This afternoon I'll bring up a couple of extra wheelbarrow loads of firewood from the wood heap down the back and fill the kindling bucket to keep me going with dry wood for starting the fires. 
I hope there is some rain coming your way too if you're in one of the many places that is in dire need.

Until next time when I share the story of the mystery object,
See you!

Sally XXX

Monday, 29 July 2019

Screen Time Avoidance and Viola..! a Garden Takes Shape

You may well ask. Where the heck have I been?
Here is where I've been.
I'm alive and very well, but afflicted with a dread of screen time and social media for the past few weeks.
It's not such a bad thing though. I've achieved mountains of work in the garden... the Magnesium oil bottle is almost empty. (Rubbed on back to relieve sore muscles from overwork)

My helper can't understand why it's OK for me to dig holes but not OK for him to do the same.

Today I've exceeded my daily goal of laying three paving stones, laying six pavers instead, so there's a spare hour for paying some bills and a quick blog post while the computer is on the table.

After the completion of the new deck, we were left with a corner that needed some love. I snapped this photo after I had already begun the work, so strictly speaking, it's not a true before shot.

A few water wise plants, some tree branches (from the firewood heap) a load of aged wood chips, and a dummy hot wire to prevent little helpers from digging gardening.
I still have the external window frames to paint, and am waiting for a free couple of hours and a warm sunny day to coincide before I get the very tall ladder out of the shed.

Our hill, visible through the windows, is magnificently green with a healthy hay crop and paddocks of pasture for the cows.

 Speaking of cows.. The bad news is that Honeysuckle is not in calf.
Her AI in January appeared to be successful but after two months she came into estrus again. We had another AI done but it wasn't successful either.
If she can't have a calf, she can't be milked. Keeping a dry barren cow is not an option, especially in our small-holding situation and with another dry year on the way.  Every animal has to pull its weight.
I have invested a huge amount of emotional energy into this cow and it will just about finish me if I have to send her off to market, but there is one option remaining.
A visit to a bull.
I'm planning the process of a trailer ride across the valley next weekend for a sleep-over with a very handsome boyfriend.
Your positive thoughts and energy towards assisting the planets to align will be so very much appreciated.
I'll keep you posted.

And now back to paying those bills.

Sally XX

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Outdoor Kitchen

Celebrations and jubilation....the outdoor kitchen project is finished.

I think I have already exhausted my repertoire of the misgivings I had as the project was slowly moving along. Really, I need to give myself a good slap sometimes. 
In fairness to myself though, when making changes to something that is already lovely and well functioning, I have feelings of anxiety that we are at risk of spoiling what we already have. 
I have come to realise that this seems to carry through many areas of my life. It's a kind of "If it ain't broke why fix it?" mentality which I'm not all that concerned about to be honest.
We live in an era of excessive consumerism and I know, from the very core of my being, that I don't want to be a part of that. 
Anyhooo.... getting off topic, as I so often do, my dread of changing our already lovely outdoor space has caused me some sleepless nights.

But here we are, and it has turned out to be a beautiful space that still takes my breath away as I get first glimpse from the kitchen window each morning.  

I was concerned that my view of the garden from the kitchen window had been compromised, but there is still plenty of garden to see.  And when perched on the new cafe bar stools, that are yet to arrive, the remainder of the back garden will be visible. 
I have always enjoyed a garden that holds little surprises just around the corner, or over the hedge or wall, and this is the effect that the slightly higher cafe bar gives us now. 

This old restored stove is what started the whole process. How plans and thoughts can snowball..! Salvaged terracotta tiles that didn't quite fit the space. I'm totally in love with what Brian has done to create an interesting fit.

The beauty in the detail of this old piece of functional art. A tiny sliding door allows extra heat to escape from the oven if needed.

The oven door knob is shaped in a fist. All of these fittings were seized up or had been separated from the stove when Brian brought all the pieces home on the trailer a year ago.

The benches are built from the old decking boards.

 The old butler's sink had been used as a water container in the poultry shed. Scrubbed up and very heavy; too heavy to sit atop the bench so Brian made up a little table to safely support its weight and has plumbed in a water tap.

The deck is on the eastern side of the house, facing the morning sun and the windows either side of the stove are on the northern side, creating a sheltered sunny spot on wintry days.

An outdoor room, sheltered and dry. A transition between inside and outside that is a beautiful space to be in for this outdoor loving family.

A family pizza night to test the oven is planned for later this week.

And now that we've finished this project, there are so many other jobs to catch up on, so back outside I go.

Cheers for now and thanks for dropping in.

Sally XX



Monday, 24 June 2019

Kelpie Kids

Hello! I really need to catch up as this news is already becoming old news.
The annual Kelpie Muster in Casterton Victoria is held every Queen's Birthday weekend and we would not miss it for quids.
This time with two dogs, Meg and young Jack, our preparations stood us in good stead as all went smoothly with them both.
Meg is an old hand at the Triathlon, this year being her third time competing, and as usual she had a most wonderful time.
Jack's first time out in  crowds of people and dogs; he was overwhelmed at first, barking and jumping around, pulling on the lead, but in less than an hour he was settled and well behaved, trusting me to guide him quietly and remind him to correct his manners.

 With our hands full, we didn't get many photos of the competitions, but the Casterton News photographers were out and about.
I found this photo of me with Meg, lining up for the High Jump at 2.055metres. She cleared it to secure equal third placing for High Jump.
She enjoyed the 50metre Street Dash and made very good time.
The Hill Climb was the third event in the Triathlon for the day. Oh gosh, she loves all of this fun and becomes super excited, as you can see from her body and facial expression.
Jack, at eight months old, competed in the 50 metre Street Dash, and lolloped along towards Brian calling out to him at the other end. He felt so special and just like a proper grown up boy.

 Earlier in the day I asked the photographer to use my phone for a pic after she had finished clicking with her hi-tech camera.
Just look at this gorgeous boy! What a face!

Meg scales a seemingly impossible height, and then went on to leap the next level of one board higher. 
The wonderful thing is that the dogs really do love what they're doing. Those stewards wearing high vis vests are there to catch any dog that can't make it up to the top. Although many of the dogs are not able to jump as high as they want to, no dogs are harmed or allowed to fall back to the ground.
Strict veterinary checks are made in the morning before competing and throughout the day. 

Our quiet camp spot far from the crowds. This is a well guarded secret spot where the dogs can run free under supervision. 
We humans appreciate the solitude after long and hectic days of volunteering and competing. Although we always have plans of trying out the pubs and restaurant each evening for dinner, the attraction of take-away or snags on the barbie "at home" with a glass of red wine around the camp fire usually wins out.  
We had a very good meal at the Albion Hotel one night though. Generous sized meals for we hungry workers at reasonable pub prices. 
Brian's reaction to the prices of meals is a funny sight, and the eye raising expression at the cost of a drink would have one think that it's a long time between our eating out experiences. And you'd be right.  

 On our way home, and just inside the South Australia border (phew) we came upon a farmgate table selling pumpkins. This was all that remained after I bought up most of their beautiful Queensland Blues and Butternuts.

We filled up every empty space with pumpkins. I can't tell you how excited I am about getting these pumpkins. After we had such a dismal pumpkin growing season I bought a whole pumpkin at the super market and almost choked on the price. Now we have a good supply of home grown pumpkin to see us through winter.

We have been back home for a couple of weeks and working like mad to catch up. 
Brian finished off the outdoor kitchen...!!! Oh yeah, after some trepidation (on my part) and quietly wishing we had never begun the huge task, tired of the mess, and doubtful of the design....
I LOVE IT..!!!
I'll show it to you next time.
I hope you're able to be warm if you're somewhere near our winter; perhaps you love it just as much as I do. Energy to burn and copious gardening jobs being ticked off daily.

Cheers for now, see you next time.
Sally XX

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Kelpies and Friends

Are you a fan of Emma's blog A Simple Living Journey ?
As well as her interesting articles about raising a family and living off-grid in a Yurt, her "Weekend Reads" post at the end of each week is a gentle nudge towards further reading and discovering new bloggers.
So, late one night, along the breadcrumb trail I went, to discover Artist As Family; teaching neopeasant lifeways
I had seen this family featured recently on Gardening Australia (ABC TV) so I was excited to find their blog written by Megg Ullman and Patrick Jones.
They live and teach Permaculture in Daylesford, Victoria, and their attitude to life makes my heart sing.
Go over and check them out for some seriously good inspiration and a feel good boost.

Spirits are high, as green is the colour that surrounds us now that winter has set in.

Grass Roots magazine has gone coloured!! Not just the cover, but the photos inside are in colour too.
So I'm a little bit  very excited to be a part of this history making issue with TWO articles this time. Well, that's what happens when you get ahead of yourself, and think that sending two articles will take the pressure off meeting the next deadline, and they publish both in the same issue.
So I'm back to my laptop again to come up with articles for next issue.
Emma A Simple Living Journey also has an excellent article in this one.  Congratulations Emma!
What a pleasure and a great honour it is to work with editors Megg and Jessamy. I am truly grateful.

Jack is determined not to be left behind as we prepare for the Casterton Kelpie Muster this Queen's Birthday long weekend. The sheep hurdles on the back of the ute with the recycled green garbage bins; a kennel each for both Kelpies.

Photo by Casterton Kelpie Muster
 Meg is entered in the Triathlon which entails; the fifty metre street dash, the high jump, and the hill climb.
Jack is just six months old, his first time competing among the huge crowds, so is entered in the fifty metre street dash only.
 It's a full day of fun for the dogs and their humans on the Saturday.
The working dog demonstrations are held on the Sunday, followed by the auction of those dogs in the afternoon. Last year the top prices for the dogs went as high as $16,000 and $22,000.
We have made some lifelong friends there in Casterton since we began volunteering to help set up the venues on the Friday before the two day event, and we look forward to catching up with them again.

The Avan has had a wash and will be packed and ready to go first thing in the morning.

 The cows have grown their winter coats. Isn't nature incredible?

Autumn leaves are hanging on.

Alan is giving me that look. Yes it's very unfair of me to block his access to the fire and I felt suitably reprimanded.

 Only just enough space for all three.

We went for a drive to the Adelaide Hills on Monday to purchase this little cream coloured fitting for the top of the old stove. It was also Brian's sixtieth birthday and the first day of his two weeks of annual leave, so we had lunch at a cafe in the Hills to celebrate.  
He worked hard yesterday at installing the flu and roof capping so the old stove was given its inaugural first lighting up with a bottle of red wine. 
Happy Birthday Brian!!

We also had a look in a salvage yard for some reclaimed timber to build the benches and shelves on both sides of the fireplace. The prices were exorbitant, so it was decided (thankfully) to use the old decking boards that were taken up at the beginning of this seemingly endless project. Phew... that's what I had wanted to use in the first place, but if there's one thing I've learned in my long life, is never to get in the way of a bloke on a mission. Just hold back and eventually the right way will prevail. 
 I am much relieved. My idea of keeping a rustic/industrial feel to the outdoor kitchen is falling into place.  

The gate to the Pekin bantam shelter is left open during the day so they can free range in the house garden, controlling the earwigs and generally looking gorgeous as they wander about the place.  The three dogs also have free range of the house yard and although they all co-exist peacefully, a certain dog likes to wander into the bantam house to steal eggs and other tasty morsels. Poultry pellets are especially delicious.
The answer to this little conundrum was to put up some strands of electric fence wire outside the gate. The dogs remember this wire from when they got too close to the cow paddock dividers so the dummy wires do a great job of preventing dogs from going where they're not welcome. 

I'm late night blogging again and there are still a few more things to write on the list of items to pack in the morning. 
The thermos and lunch bag are on the kitchen table ready to be filled in the morning before we set off on our six hour drive to Casterton. 
See you on the other side.

Sally XX

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