Monday, June 18, 2007

Almost Edible

As organic lavender farmers of the do-it-yourself variety we get to see many aspects of a business that often is missed in the larger commercial world. Both Chris and I have been working hard at hand-harvesting lavender and both fields for the last few weeks and we’re close to being finished.
Today though, it’s raining. We’re generally not fair-weather farmers but it’s a good day to catch up on inside tasks. Each January I try to estimate how many products we need on hand to get us through the first part of the season – essentially past harvest. With trusty spreadsheets color-coded and printed we start the winter chores such as making soap. All of our soaps are vegetable based and contain no synthetic ingredients. They’re also made completely by us – never farmed out to a contracted soap maker.
Soap making is like chemistry class in high school. It involves great care in mixing and measuring numerous ingredients and checking temperatures. Solid and liquid oils, essential oils for scent, our organic lavender buds, other herbs and spices and of course, sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide, or lye, is the ingredient that makes the soap hard, and as I overhead a chemistry student customer telling her mother – it’s what pulls the dirt away from whatever you’re washing.
Making soap also involves a bit of fun. I’ve searched around to find natural ingredients to use for colorants in our lavender soap. In the basic Lavender Bud soap I add an East Indian spice called Rattanjot to achieve a purple color. Other vegetable matter could be used too – like blueberries or indigo, but I’m not sure our customers want the lasting effect of lavender skin after showering. If it’s been a good year for Chamomile, and it generally is, we’ll have Lavender Chamomile soap. A bit of turmeric gives that soft yellow color. Another soap we enjoy is the Wicked Witch bar. It’s an avocado based soap, as opposed to olive oil, so it has a soft green color when cured. Avocado is emollient and very soothing on dry skin.
Often when I’ve got multiple batches of soap curing I’m struck by the colors of the bars that are lined up on the drying rack. They are lovely and have an almost edible appearance.
My calculations back in January were pretty accurate. We made more soap than my spreadsheet called for and I began soaping again recently to prepare for late summer and fall events. Today’s soap will be cured and ready for sale in six weeks.

1 comment:

Janine said...

I've always wanted to learn how to make soap. BTW, I've harvested my second set of spikes, and I swear I have new ones coming up from the spikes I cut down two weeks ago!