52 Homesteading Skills in One Year: Project #21 and #22: Dealing with real farm life and making bar soap
Homesteading blogs can paint romantic, often rosy pictures about what life is like on the farm. You may drool over their eye catching photos of manicured gardens, smile at their cute, well behaved farm animals (standing inside their fence where they are supposed to be) and imagine your own kids joyfully helping in the garden with big smiles on their faces. This is all very nice. But don’t be fooled. The reality is…well, let’s just say it’s not so picture perfect.
Real farm life is…
This is embarrassing to admit, but I can’t get my ducks to go into their coop at night. They just don’t want to go. So EVERY night at 9:30 p.m. I leave a trail of their favourite snack food (peas) from the bottom of their ramp into their coop. And do they follow that trail? Oh no! They try to eat the peas from the side of the ramp. One or two of the smarter ones will finally get the hint, but then come out of the coop before the other ones have had a chance to make it in.
So EVERY night I end up chasing those ducks until I’ve put each one to bed. And no, it’s not easy out-sprinting a scared duck. By the end of this “game”, I am sweating and ready for a shower. As I leave, defeated once again, I hear their quacking, which sure sounds like laughter to me.
And then there was the day I didn’t close the fence tightly enough and they all waddled their way into my garden where they trampled all my cucumber plants as well as some beans and peas and then had a nap in my bed of carrots…Until I rudely awoke them with my screaming.
My chicks are no better behaved. Currently, they reside in my dining room, which was fun at first as we had nightly entertainment at every meal, but has now turned into a nightmare because chicks (surprise!) make a lot of dust, which settles in thick layers over everything. And chicks can actually fly really well compared to chickens. So one day I came home to a chick sitting in my kitchen cabinet and poop all over the floor.
And then there are my kids. Are we smiling and laughing as we plant and tend the garden? Are you kidding me? Ella who is now old enough to actually help tires rather quickly and needs to go play on the swings.
On the other hand, Jack loves to help. He takes the hose and gets nice and close to the plants and then waters them at full blast. He “weeds” my garden of all the good stuff and harvests most vegetables such as peas by pulling up the entire plant. And he can never quite figure out where the beds are and where the path is because I always seem to find him standing among the vegetables.
Of course, there are many picture perfect, priceless moments and thank goodness because they are the reason I love this farming life.
- Waking up early and sneaking outside with my morning cup of tea to enjoy the peace and quiet, the fresh air and the happiness of the ducks as they waddle out into their pasture.
- Hearing my kids exclaim like it was Christmas morning that the haskaps are ready to eat and the strawberries have finally turned red.
- Watching a chick excitedly and rather frantically run around with its first worm in its mouth while all the other chicks try to grab it from her.
- Relaxing in the shade of the trees to the soft music of the bees’ humming as I watch these fascinating creatures come and go from the hive.
- Learning so many new skills that challenge me, scare me and keep me motivated to continue on.
Speaking of homesteading skills, this week’s is making bar soap. I have big dreams of making my own using honey and wax from my bees, but up until recently I’ve been afraid of using lye, a caustic chemical that can burn your skin and even blind you.
So instead of experimenting on my own I attended one of ZOLI Handcrafted Soaps workshops at Belliveau Orchard in Memramcook.
It turns out lye is not so scary if you take the proper safety precautions – like these stylish goggles and gloves.
You’ll also want to wear long sleeves. You can save your flowy boho clothes for another day. You’ll want to wear something snug fitting.
If lye does happen to splash, vinegar will neutralize it.
The recipe we used was a mixture of tallow, vegetable oil, lye, water and essential oils. I can’t give you the exact recipe as that belongs to ZOLI, but you can find tonnes of recipes online.
Measure your water and slowly add the lye, while constantly mixing. Always add the lye to the water, small amounts at a time. If you don’t, it can cause a lye explosion. Note: Do this in a well ventilated area. The fumes are toxic.
Heat your oil in a stainless steel pot on medium-low until the temperature reaches 140ºF to 150ºF and let both your lye mixture and oils cool to 110ºF. Pour the oils slowly into the lye and water mixture.
Just keep stirring! Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until it becomes the consistency of pudding.
Add several drops of your favourite essential oils.
Pour the soap mixture into your mould and cover with plastic wrap to keep it warm. You want to bring the temperature down as slowly as possible to achieve a hard bar of soap.
About 24 hours later your soap should be hard enough to cut. However, the lye has not yet evaporated so you must wear gloves.
Let your soap cure for three weeks. Turn the bars (using gloves) every week or so to promote good air flow on all sides of the soap.
I was able to cut my box of soap into ten soaps. Guess what all my family members are getting for Christmas gifts this year?