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

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