The Plague Doctor Will See You Now…

Thieves Oil. It’s been around for centuries.  Purportedly it wards off the plague. Grave robbers in 15th century France are rumored to have escaped contracting the disease by using a blend of essential oils that contained healing properties. Plague doctors wore masks with a pointed “beak” which they filled with herbs and straw. I am deathly afraid of plague masks. I think they are just about the scariest thing I have ever seen. My son was playing a video game and his character was wearing a plague mask. When I looked at his computer screen I actually screamed.

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I recently blended Thieves Oil for soap making. It has a clean smell and the use of five essential oils creates a blend where no one particular oil stands out.  Lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon bark, rosemary and clove essential oils all reputedly have antiseptic qualities.  The addition of goat milk in the soap really helps to keep the bar mild and balanced.

Warding off the plague has never been so easy! Just don’t scream if you see a mask.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/254121468/5-bars-of-thieves-oil-goat-milk-soap?ref=shop_home_active_1

 

Stump Town part 2

We are still clearing the future orchard. Even though we had significant help from the bull dozer there is still a field of stumps. Stumps are expensive to have removed with heavy equipment because each stump needs to be dug out of the ground with a backhoe. Since we already paid for the bull dozing we decided it was in our best financial interest to remove the stumps ourselves.

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Stump town is beautiful but stumps don’t really lend themselves to a lawn mower. There are about 20 or so old growth stumps in this approximately 2 acre field. We would like to plant fruit trees in this field and underplant them with grass. I have already seeded this field with grass seed and some of it is sprouting. In order to mow the grass the stumps have to go.

Since the stumps are old growth many of them are 3 feet in diameter! Obviously we can not dig them up due to their size, so our best bet is to get them cut off at ground level and dump a scoop of dirt on top, plant grass and call it good. Cutting them at ground level would require a really big chainsaw, bigger than our current chainsaw. So we got creative.

My first thought was to burn the stumps to ground level. This is much more difficult than it sounds. My first attempts were met with mixed results. I tried the teepee method where I piled up branches around the stump and lit the whole mess on fire. This basically just produced a charred stump. Not a particularly effective method.

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Here is the husband pouring water on the stump. The fire actually caught a root on fire that was under the ground.

The next sump I tried to burn I decided to drill holes in first and fill them with used motor oil as a fire accelerant.

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I used a drill and a wood boring bit to create the holes. BTW this stump is HUGE! I piled on some match light charcoal briquettes that were on sale to really get things going. My goal for this stump is to burn a hole down the center of it and use my tractor to bash in the sides so it kind of collapses in on itself. If I was able to keep the fire hot enough for long enough I believe this would be a good method. Unfortunately, a steady rain popped up and eventually put the fire out.

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More stump removal to come in Stump Town part 3

Stump Town

This year we decided there were not enough projects going on so we purchased an additional 20 acre farm. We are project oriented people. 20 acres allows for lots of farm fun and follies. Plus more goats. You can never have enough goats.

One of our many farm projects involves planting a new orchard. We currently only have about 25 fruit trees and everyone knows that 100 fruit trees is better than 25 fruit trees. So 100 fruit trees it is!

After careful consideration we found an awesome site for a new orchard. It will be close to our house so we can keep an eye on it, in full sun, on a gentle slope and is covered in scrub, brush and trees that are not fruit bearing. Other than that last detail it was practically perfect!

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Pre clearing, the future orchard looked something like this.

This is an area of our land that was previously logged. Lots of scrub trees pop up after logging. They are generally alder and large leaf maple, both trees that tend to grow fast and blow over in a storm. There were plenty of blackberries, scotch broom, blackberries and…blackberries. We set off to clear this area using a chainsaw, chainsaw on a pole, tractor and big boots. IMG_0508

After 8 tractor hours, many days of waving our hands and chainsaws around we managed to make it look like this:

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Don’t ask what that crazy thing is on the right. All farms cough up weird stuff when you start clearing. There were also a fair amount of rocks. We kept at it, hard work and mind numbing but the weather held so we just kept clearing. Eventually it looked like this:

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As we kept clearing we started to run into stumps. Stumps, Stumps and more Stumps. We also hit old slash piles that had never been burned or removed. These proved too much for our tractor, Big Orange. While waving my arms around in defeat when I found my umpteenth slash pile, my driveway contractor (who had been working close by with a large piece of heavy equipment) was roped into the project.

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What took days and days and more days of tedious work took just a couple of hours with a bull dozer.

Stay tuned for part 2

Let’s Make Soap!

I love making soap. I often get asked about the process, which seems mysterious. Here I will give a break down of the process, complete with photos and everything.

The basic process of making soap combines fats and oils with lye. In general fats and oils do not want to combine with lye because they are not friends. We need to convince them this is a good idea, so we heat them up and stir them vigorously. This is a lot like a cocktail party. Give everyone a few drinks, stir them up and all of the sudden…everyone is mixing.

Lye starts off as a solid and must be combined with water. This creates a LOT of heat (exothermic reaction!) and a good deal of bad smell. It is important to do this in a well ventilated area. *Use extreme caution as lye is very caustic and can burn skin, eyes, and the smell can take out nose hairs*. Measure out your lye and water by weight. Get a kitchen scale! When the lye and water are mixed they must be cooled down to approximately 90 degrees or so to encourage it to combine with the oils. If you are using goat milk in place of your water, you will want the milk to be very cold, even with partially frozen bits in it. You will want to add your goat milk slowly, in stages, or the milk will caramelize and turn an undesirable brownish color.

Once your lye is safely cooling (safely- meaning in a ventilated place where dogs and children are not going to knock it over) you can get to work on preparing your oils. Everything must be measured by weight for accuracy. Get a kitchen scale! Did I already say that??? Measure out your oils, some are solid at room temperature and some, like olive oil, remain a liquid. Gently heat the oils in a large pot until they are all in a liquid state. The oils will also need to cool to around 90 degrees. Soap recipes have suggested temperatures that you “soap” at. Most of these recipes will suggest that you soap around 90-100 degrees. Check your recipe for suggested soaping temperatures.

A thermometer is essential for determining the temperature of your lye and your oils. I use a temperature gun which is a fun little gismo that you point at anything (not living) and a red laser comes out of the end and settles on the object you are pointing at (not living) and tells you the temperature. Don’t point it at anything living. If you don’t have a handy temperature gun you can easily use a stainless steel kitchen thermometer. A glass candy thermometer would technically work, but as they are prone to breaking in my house, I have banished them from my property. It is important to wipe off your thermometer after measuring the lye solution and oils, since you will be going back and forth to measure between the two. Napkins or paper towels work great for this.

After your temperatures have settled you are ready to begin soaping! I pour my oils into a large plastic bucket. Since I buy my soaping supplies in bulk I always have plenty of 5 gallon buckets. Before I had such a collection of buckets, I just purchased a bucket from Home Depot. After the oils are poured in the bucket you will need to carefully add the cooled lye mixture to the oils. Remember the above mention of how caustic the lye solution is. Take safety precautions! You should look like Walter White in Breaking Bad!

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(Safety glasses on!)

It is now time to stir your two components together to begin saponifying. I use a drill for this with a plastic paint stirring attachment. Many people use a stick blender. If you want a rotator cuff injury you can stir by hand. It is critical that what ever you use to stir, you dedicate to soap making. No cross contamination! Every recipe takes a different amount of stirring. It is hard to say how long it will take. Many factors come into play: recipe, temperature, amount of soap being made, types of oils being used, speed of stirring, I could go on and on…

How do I know when to stop stirring? You will stop stirring your soap when it reaches “trace” how will you know when trace is achieved? Your soap batter will get very thick, like pudding. There are many youtube videos available that show trace. Soaping 101 is a good youtube channel to see videos of the process. At trace you can add in your additives such as essential oils, fragrance, oatmeal, honey, I could go on and on… After your additives give it a final stir and you are ready to pour your soap into your mold.

I have several types of soap molds. All of them were made by my industrious husband who loves to make things to “improve and streamline” my hobbies. What ever your mold, unless it is silicone, you will need to line it with parchment paper. After you pour your soap in the mold you will need to spend 1 minute admiring your creation and then you must ‘put it to bed’. Putting your soap to bed involves covering it (I use a piece of wood cut to cover the mold) and wrapping it with a blanket. This process allows your soap to heat up and go through the ‘gel phase’ to further saponification. After 24 hours your soap will be ready to cut into bars. You will need to let it dry and ‘cure’ for about 4-6 weeks before you can use it, making soap is a long process!

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Bar soap and round soap made in a PVC pipe

Making soap takes practice. If you are up for the challenge, watch lots of youtube videos and read some books, study different recipes. Start with a simple, basic recipe and when you get the hang of it, branch out and create something uniquely your own.

Want to skip the making part and just buy some soap? Check out the link to my online shop at Etsy.com:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/248497271/5-bars-of-lavender-vanilla-goat-milk?ref=shop_home_active_1