Sunday, 31 July 2011

My indigenous garden

My birdbath
We live in Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia. We live within 1 km of the sea and have a crazy mixture of absolutely water repellant grey sand and a gluggy reddish clayey sort of soil. Our whole block is on a west facing slope which means a lot of it is quite shaded in the morning and subjected to scorching afternoon sunshine in the summer.

Our backyard contains some of our favourite flowers, fruit trees, vegetables and the glasshouse (originally for hothouse orchids but over time it is now more used for raising cuttings and seedlings). But the front yard was a dilemma as it is quite steep. When we first moved in it contained some rubbish trees that needed removal and poorly growing lawn. The trees were removed early on. It soon became apparent that the lawn had to go to as I felt I was taking my life into my hands when I was mowing it, as if the grass was the slightest bit damp I started sliding down the hill.

My indigenous garden
We tossed up do we terrace it to level it out etc, etc. But in the end apart replacing and moving slightly the old brick retaining wall near the house with a new wall and leaving the rest as and planting it out.  I started on it about 8 years ago and the main planting was finished about 18 months later. This is what it looks like today. It's grown more slowly than I originally planned for but as I don't water it at all apart from once or twice after initially planting things (It's survival of the fittest here and the water is saved for the vegetables) and we'd had years of drought.

Shall we say it is a garden that is either loved or hated. The comments range from "I can lend you my slasher" to "this is the best indigenous garden in town" from strangers walking past when I'm working in there.

Hop bitter pea
I've got it planted out as a woody grassland as I love some of the tiny plants that grow in them. These are also the hardest to source so I'm slowly adding new ones as I find them. Whilst I have a large number of indigenous plants in there, I'm not a purist and there are other plants in there that I've added for various reasons.

One of the locals flowering in my garden at the moment is the hop bitter pea.

Some plants are colourful even without flowers. Like the local geranium below whose leaves always turn a delightful shade of orange before they die.

I found when establishing the little grasses and herbs that if the mulch I used contained any fines (like composted mulch) that I tended to have a lot of the plants rot out. Whilst the growth was slower initially, I found the coarse Eucky mulch was much more successful and I lost fewer plants.

A couple of winter flowers

I love my scented flowers in the garden. This time of the years there aren't that many around in my garden as it is still winter and the garden is still quite bare.

I'm a lazy gardener so bulbs don't get lifted very often here but some of them manage to survive the drought we had, neglect and still delight me every year like these jonquils and these sweetly fragrant hyacinths both of which I love. A spike or two of these is all I require in the house or the scent becomes overpowering.

My daughter thought the jonquils were cute and did a quick sketch of them while sitting out in the winters sun today.

Rosies Sketch

Playing with in the pot swirls.

This week is was time to stock up on some favourites and try out a couple of new blends. I was having a great week as all the in the pot swirls worked out just perfectly instead of being a bit blobby. I'd had to find a new source for my olive oil which turned out to be quite dark in colour giving me a beige based soap rather the cream base I'd typically been getting, so was affecting the end results giving a lovely earthy feel to the soaps.

Morning Dew olive soap
The first one I was happy with was my restock of my Morning Dew Olive soap as I've nearly sold out of it. I use Australian pink clay and French yellow clay in this one. I soap a little cooler than normal as the rose geranium essential oil in the blend tends to cause a bit of acceleration the reaction.

I love lemon myrtle and when I make batches of this I always think of lemon meringue pie. Over the spring and summer my markets are busier so I like to play around with some new scent combinations. I was playing around with a some lemon myrtle blends and decided to soap a couple of them as well as the straight up lemon myrtle that is always popular.

Tiger's eye soap
Paprika infused olive oil

This one when I cut the soap reminded me of the gemstone Tiger's eye so I think I'll settle on that for its name. I used paprika infused olive oil in this soap. I spilt the batch into two. With one half I pulled out two portions, one I added some oil soluble annatto to and the other I put some French yellow clay to. I poured both of these into the rest of that half for an in the pot swirl. This swirled soap I then poured into the other half of the soap which I added cocoa powder to and swirled them. This mixture was then poured into one of my log moulds. It didn't quite turn out how I had imagined it but I really love all the shades I ended up with. The colour goes quite nicely with the blend of frankincense, lemon myrtle, ginger and vetiver I added to it. This gives a lovely spicy scent I love the smell of frankincense and vetiver.

Moody Blue soap
This soap turned out a little darker than planned and as my oils were darker I got a smokey mauve brown from the alkanet section. I added indigo powder and Australian pink clay to the other sections. I've decided to call this one Moody blue soap for both the blue tones and the blue cypress essential oil I've used in it.

I had a little bit of blue cypress essential oil kicking around from a special project that I wanted to use up. It's a bit hard to find any information on blends with blue cypress. Most of the suggested blends didn't appeal to me at all. But this one at My Skin Studio the keylime sublime inspired me to try a citrusy blend using lemon myrtle as the predominant scent, a little lime, some nerolina, ginger, clary sage and the blue cypress the produced my Moody Blue soap. I'm pretty happy with how it's smelling the lemon myrtle is predominant but the bit of floral nerolina and nice green undertones make it even better.

Moody Blue and Tiger's eye soaps in the mold
I find to get the nice in the pot swirls to work well I need to pour the soap at a fairly thick trace. This is what they look like just poured.

I can't wait until the two new soaps are ready to take to my customers at the market and see what they think.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Winter's nearly over isn't it?

I know winter isn't over yet but the winter solstice has been and gone. So being an eternal optimist with my garden my thoughts are turning to spring. 

This is even though my winter vegetables are just starting to bear like this broccoli.

Is it too early to plant seeds for the spring? Of course it is experience tells me. But it doesn't stop me from poring over catalogues to think about what to buy. But no first I really need to go through my seed stash and remember what seeds I saved from the year before. I know I have a bucketload of Purple King climbing beans as they always do well here.

But I always like to try something new. What will it be this year? Last year I tried rat-tailed radishes that you eat the seed pods of. They grew well but the pods tasted of RADISHES which no-one in the family likes. So I didn't bother saving the seed and I won't bother growing them again. 

I'll probably buy through one of these to companies who I've used before Cornucopia seeds or Eden Seeds I'm thinking of trying tomatillos this year. Has anyone tried them?

I find this time of year in the garden I'm waiting impatiently. Will any more of my young fruit trees blossom and bear fruit for the first time this year. And even more importantly when will the "egg drought" be over. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Looking for a natural green

I love working with natural colorants and these supply lots of fun challenges. I've found some good information on a range of natural colours in soap but not many showing how they perform over time. I  plan on showing some of these changes.

Lime and fresh ginger soap coloured with
 annatto and chlorophyll
This lime and ginger soap is coloured with oil soluble annatto extract (orange) and liquid chlorophyll (green). 

I stopped colouring with the chlorophyll as I found that unfortunately when exposed to light the pretty apple green breaks down to an unpleasant brown when exposed to light for any length of time. 

On the other hand the annatto only fades slowly over time to a lighter orange/yellow depending in the original intensity. The image below shows the brown colouring due to the chlorophyll breaking down .

Brown discolouration of
chlorophyll coloured soap

This 100% coconut oil soap is around 8 months old and had been taken to market so was exposed to short bursts of intense sunlight. I make mostly castille, a little 100% coconut oil and bastille. This discolouration of the chlorophyll for some reason seemed too occur more rapidly with the soaps containing coconut oil in them than the castille.

Blue cypress castille with annatto, alkanet,
indigo and Australian pink clay 

This blue cypress scented soap was produced by setting up 3 separate in the pot swirls. This was a special soap I made up just for a swap as it is very labour intensive. I also used refined olive oil so I had a white base normally I use extra virgin olive oil which provides a cream soap. The top layer was produced with uncoloured soap and annatto extract

The middle layer was produced using indigo powder and annatto extract. The pretty green is a blend of these two. 

The bottom layer was a produced incorporating olive oil infused with alkanet, indigo powder and Australian pink clay. This has been stored in the dark for a couple of months without fading.  I'm playing around with using the indigo and annatto blend for a nice green. 

Tea tree and lavender soap
with French green clay
I also like to use French green clay for colour. I love this too but this provides a duller earthy green colour that doesn't fade rather than a bright apple green. The only problem is it can also be difficult to source the brighter green French clays. The colour of the tea-tree and lavender scented soap below is typical of green clay coloured soap. 

If anyone has used a nice natural apple green that doesn't eventually turn brown I'd love to hear from you.