Monday, April 27, 2015

Chemistry lab

I did a little chemistry experiment yesterday. I investigated the interaction of a strong alkali with two mixed fats, and the saponification resulting from said combination.

I made soap.

First you dissolve lye (sodium hydroxide) in water. I used 85 g of lye in 225 ml of water. Lye is a very nasty, strong chemical, and it is imperative that you wear gloves and eye protection when handling it. You put the lye into the water, never ever EVER the other way around, or it might volcano up and burn you. It gets VERY hot, VERY fast, all by itself, in addition to being highly caustic and giving off fumes. I did this part of the process outside.

Love those exothermic reactions. Be careful.

Making soap

I had a hard time finding lye in my town, because it’s used to make methamphetamine. None of the supermarkets or big box stores carry it, but I finally found it at a small hardware store.

You have to let the lye solution cool- it spiked up to almost 200 F in less than a minute! While it’s cooling, you melt the oils (if necessary). For this batch I used oils which are solid at room temperature: 175g of coconut oil and 425g of lard. Yes, lard. I have never in my life bought a container of lard, but now I have. Apparently it makes good soap. So there you go.

Making soap

When the lye solution and oil are both about 110 F, it’s time to combine them. You carefully pour the lye (no splashing!) into the oils, and stir. I used my spiffy little immersion blender because otherwise I would have been mixing by hand for more than half an hour. I used it in short bursts interspersed with hand mixing. This combines the lye and oil, and the reaction starts.

The thing to watch for is “trace.” This is when the mixture starts to look like pudding and will hold the line of a dribble on its surface. You don’t want to mix too vigorously or too fast, because depending on the recipe the mixture might get to trace very quickly and you wouldn’t be able to get it into the mold before it sets up.  Here you can see the outline of the mixer head left in the goop after I lifted it out.  That's trace.

Making soap

It took my soap less than 10 minutes to get to trace, then I quickly blended in some lime and sweet orange essential oils just for fun and poured it into the mold. I have a very high-tech mold, as you can see.

Making soap

It's just a shoe box lined with aluminum foil with a layer of plastic wrap on top.  You DON'T want the raw soap to come in direct contact with the foil because lye will react with aluminum, eating it away and releasing hydrogen gas.  I used the aluminum liner because it's a pretty flimsy box and I thought it would make the sides more rigid, but I don't think it was necessary and I won't do that next time. Then I wrapped the box in towels for insulation and left it for 24 hours to let the saponification magic work.

Making soap

I unmolded it tonight and cut it into bars. 

Making soap

A little wobbly, but rustic is good, right?  Even though the bars are somewhat hard after only a day, they're not ready to use yet.  They need time to allow the saponification process to complete and to fully harden.  So I stood them up in the box lid and stuck it in the back of my cupboard to cure. They'll be ready to use in a month, give or take.

Making soap

This was really easy, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. The possibilities of fragrance and additive combinations are virtually endless. I think peppermint soap may be next.  I’m not really a perfumy froo-froo kind of girl -- I tend to buy unscented if it’s an option -- but this was fun!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Garden 4.22.14

Breaking news!  I have baby strawberries!  The first two flowers that bloomed are forming fruits!

Baby strawberries!!

Emma went around the bed and counted all the flowers as I was weeding this afternoon.  She reports that we now have 19 open flowers, plus "eleven billion and four" that haven't opened yet.  I can't wait.

Also of note today were bleeding hearts,

Bleeding hearts

and the first iris is open!

First iris

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The first strawberry flower!!!!!!!

First strawberry flower!

Oh, annnnd.... it's snowing.

Annnnd.... It's snowing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Garden 4.12.15

Emma and I had a glorious day in the garden today.  It's just so nice to have my own yard!  It's also nice to have established plantings- everything is really blooming.  The flowering quinces are so beautiful right now.


I did the first grass-mowing of the year yesterday, and it took less than half an hour!  Much nicer than the vast expanse of grass I had at the old house.  I also tidied up the beds that I planted a couple weeks ago.  Just a little weeding needed- I'm still winning against the grass!

Here's the greens bed- left to right there's two kinds of lettuce (2 rows each), spinach (3 rows), and pak choi (1 row).  All my little greenlets have at least two sets of real leaves.  The strawberry bed is behind the greens, and there are new leaves shooting out all over.


The onions and peas are also doing great.  The peas are about 2 inches tall and I put some trellises up today.  Possibly not tall enough, but I went with the scraps of cattle fencing I found in the yard for now.

All the onions are up and most are 6-8 inches tall.  I went ahead and planted the rest of the leftover sets that came in the bag, just 'cause. Don't want to waste them! I put some between the rows of onions, and the last few in with the pak choi.

The fourth bed, behind the peas and onions, will eventually have tomatoes.


I also tidied up my big herb boxes, adding some new soil to the tops to rejuvenate them.  I trimmed back the thymes, pulled out the rosemary and mint that didn't make it through the winter, and the leftover chamomile stalks from last year.  In those now-empty boxes, I planted a new rosemary, and lemon balm and peppermint clumps that I got from people on Freecycle.

So from left to right, this picture shows:  a curly willow tree that came with the house (some branches died over the winter, but it's leafing out now, Anne!), a rectangular planter in which I planted pansies and Stargazer lilies today, a strawberry jar I planted with extra runners a couple weeks ago, a barely visible round blue ceramic planter that I planted lily-of-the-valley in today (I have A Vision of how that's going to look when it's mature, and it's lovely...), then the square pots with oregano, rosemary, lemon balm, peppermint, and lemon thyme.

Someday I'll replace these five-year-old cheapo plastic planters that are getting brittle and shattery from UV exposure, but they have at least one more good year left.


I also started three new planters this year, big round half-barrels.  I've always wanted half-barrel planters, and since they were on sale I got some.  I filled them with a nice mix of topsoil and compost, and Emma and the neighbor kids spent a fun hour digging in the future tomato bed to find worms to put in these and the herb planters.  These kids love worms!  They're going to be sad when I plant the tomatoes and they can't dig in that bed anymore.


I don't have the planting plan all worked out for these yet, but I want to try growing ginger, turmeric, and lemongrass this year, and each barrel will get one of those in addition to some veggies and flowers.

That leads me to this:

Ginger experiment day 1.

I got a great looking piece of ginger at the grocery store this week, and I potted it up today. I'm starting it in a small pot inside the house, because it's still too cold at night to have it outside.  I'll put it in the biggest half barrel when the weather warms up.  The starting weight of the rhizome is 270 grams, and we'll see if there's any increase by fall.  It's an experiment.

I also have a little lemongrass plant inside already, and have ordered a piece of turmeric rhizome that should be here Monday or Tuesday.  Experiments everywhere!

Ginger experiment day 1

So that was the gardening I did today.  I also just walked around to bask in the prettiness of the yard.

Apple blossoms

A drift of red tulips with one yellow

So pretty!


Another drift of red tulips and narcissus in the front yard

And more red tulips being friendly with the neighbor's yellow ones

A gorgeous red and yellow one

One of the last standard daffodils

But a very pretty frothy double narcissus opened yesterday
and these are so cheerful.

My bowl of primroses on the front porch is blooming like crazy, and they have almost doubled in size.

So that's my yard today.  :-)