Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Climbers, Prickles and Parasites at Ocean Grove

Male Superb Blue wren
in hedge wattle Acacia paradoxa
I found all sorts of things on my walk in the reserve yesterday. Some of the Spring flowers are starting to come out. This little wren caught my eye the contrast between his bright blue feathers and the yellow wattle was so striking.

I'd love to take more shots of some of the birds here but my camera is not ideal for it unless they are still and relatively close.

Acacia paradoxa closeup
The Hedge wattle he is sitting in looks pretty with its glowing golden mass of flowers. But look closer and see the mass of prickles hidden in the foliage.

We've had some unseasonably warm weather for the time of the year lately. But I was very surprised to see this butterfly out so early in the Spring.

Twining Fringe Lily Thysanotus patersonii
There are a few different climbers flowering at the moment from the tiniest little Twining Fringe Lily away down in the grass.

Love creeper Comesperma volubile
This is my personal favourite Love Creeper it is almost leafless and is covered with a mass of tiny bright blue flowers.

Small leaved clematis Clematis microphylla

This Small Leaved Clematis is every were and covered with a mass of small white flowers.

Small leaved clematis Clematis microphylla
A close up of it's flowers. The true beauty of this clematis unlike the showy garden ones is not in the flowers. But rather later in the year when it turns into a cloud of fluffy seeds.

The new growth of the leaves on this mistletoe are a rather attractive rusty orange. It will be interesting to see the flowers later in the year some of the Australian mistletoes have very attractive flowers.

Echidna rush Chorizandra enodis 

The common name of this rush is Echindna Rush you can see where it gets its name when you look at its one sided flowers up close. They look like tiny little echidnas climbing the stems.

Early Nancy Wurnbea dioica
The tiny but appropriately named Early Nancys announcing Spring is on it's way.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Batch of Patch.

I made a big batch of Patchouli soap as I have quite a few customers who love it and buy multiple bars of it. I thought I'd take a few shots of the soap as I made it. I forgot to take a shot of the patchouli oil but it is a thick tan syrupy oil that smells the whole house out when I have it open.

Patchouli essential oil is distilled form the patchouli plant which is a herbaceous plant from the tropics which grows a bit like mint. For more see here.

Oil and caustic just mixed
First I weigh out the oils including the patchouli into a large pot (8kg in this batch). I mix caustic soda with water very carefully and stir until clear. The caustic is added to the oils. This is then mixed with a stick blender until it starts to react and gets very thick like a thick custard. Saponification is an exothermic reaction so once it starts it produces enough heat to keep the reaction going until finished.

Freshly poured logs of soap

At this stage I spilt a little of the batch into another bowl and add some cocoa for colour. These are poured into lined wooden moulds and the tops textured with a spoon.

Insulated soap in the moulds

These moulds are then covered to keep in the heat and left to react for about 6 hours. My soap I let gel which basically means it gets hot enough to melt the soap. After the reaction finishes the soap gradually cools down on sets hard.

Cooling soap
Then I take out the logs of soap and allow them to cool down further. The lining material is then removed and the soap cut.

Cutting soap

I use a cutter I imported from the USA to cut my soap AKA the "tank". It basically uses strained stainless steel guitar strings to slice through the soap rather like a cheese slicer. The soap is then lifted out of the cutter.

Soap produced from 8kg of oils
The soap is then carried downstairs to shelves where it cured for a number of weeks. This cure allows extra water to evaporate out and produces a harder bar of soap that will last longer in use.

And yes I do have genuine bright yellow laminex from the 70's on my benches.

Why read the labels? and what are the requirements?

Why read the labels on your soap? For information of course! 
So you or anyone else can check for allergens. I work with natural ingredients but these can still be allergenic I've had customers allergic to dairy, avocado, lavender and tea tree to name a few.

It also lets you compare different products that you might be looking at. Does it have any of the more expensive oils like olive, almond or some of the butters or are they using lots of cheap oils like soy or canola. Do they use cheap fragrance oils (there are expensive ones too) or some of the more expensive essential oils? This will give you an indication of whether you paying for pretty packaging or good soap.

Front label
I was browsing though the rack of soaps at a gift shop and this one left me shaking my head. According to the label on the front it was moisturising olive oil soap. A bit expensive as you can easily pick up olive oil soap for $5-6 depending on what else is in them but I was in a gift shop.

So while a little expensive it seems reasonable until you turn it over and look at the ingredients. The main oils it contains palm oil and palm kernel oil, no olive oil in sight. This soap would in no way feel like a conditioning pure olive soap. Oh and don't get all excited about triple milled, almost all commercial soap is milled these days so it is nothing particularly special it just sounds good.

Back Label

So just what are the requirements in Australia?
One of the most confusing things I found when I was first looking at selling soap was trying to determine what was required for labelling ingredients here in Australia. Why was I confused you might wonder? Have a look at what is around next time you are out shopping.

I went and walked through the local gift stores and found a multitude of possibilities. Nothing at all, the scent, the ingredients listed as scent and all vegetable oil, saponified oil of xyz, common names ie olive oil, sodium hydroxide, water or full INCI (international nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients) listing.

Anyway I researched and found out that soap is covered by a wide range of different government agencies, so as usual in Australia nothing is straight forward.

To start with soap is considered a cosmetic here and therefore it's labelling is covered by the ACCC

In simple terms all ingredients need to be listed in descending order of quantity at point of sale. Ok, got that one it seems simple enough but that meant that approximately 70% of the soap I saw on my walk around the shops weren't being labelled as required legally in Australia.

Oh another thing for you as a customer to consider is where the ingredient is listed. If it is listed below the sodium hydroxide you are looking at there being less than roughly 12% (it depends on the exact soap recipe) of it in handmade soap.

To make and sell home made soaps we also need to be registered as chemical introducers through NICNAS. Why? Because the reaction to make soap alters it chemically to new compounds and anyone who manufactures or imports chemicals into Australia must be registered. You can check out more here NICNAS . In the long term NICNAS is supposed to be ensuring chemicals in Australia are assessed for their safety. If you just make home made soap and don't sell any you don't need to be registered with NICNAS

OK so we've listed the ingredients and have registered ourselves with NICNAS. Is that enough? Well......... yes but you also have to be careful about any claims you make about your soap as some of these can potentially land you in hot water with the regulators.

You can't claim it is an insect repellant (soap being a wash off product wouldn't work well anyway but I've seen claims it is). If you do it is then covered by  APVMA and you would have to have it tested to prove it's effective and register it. Make those claims without doing this and you are likely to face a whole lot of expensive trouble.

You also are not supposed to make any medical claims like it cures eczema, cancer, insomnia, hives or anything else you can think of. Do so and you need to be dealing with the TGA and registering products through them.

You see why it confusing ;-). After all how hard can it be to just make a bit of soap to sell. Well, more than you would expect it seems.

Oh and while I don't on sell any of my essential oils I know a few who do. Another list you'll need to look if you want to do this is the poisons schedule as some of the common essential oils are covered by this and as such require special labelling and packaging.

Cheers. I just hope I haven't confused you even more.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Spring is Coming

We've had unseasonably warm weather here the last week. Reminding me it is time to hurry up and get the first of the spring seeds in. So today was it.

I put some tatsoi, purple mustard, mitzuna, coloured silverbeet, radish and bok choy seeds straight in the garden. I've got my fingers crossed that the escape artist chooks don't get out and scratch them up.

Punnets of seeds
In the glasshouse-I planted Siberian tomatoes nice early tough bush ones with egg sized red fruit.
-Tomatoes we've dubbed Ed's Red that a friends FIL has been growing for years which grow to around 4' and have lots of big red tasty tomatoes for slicing and bottling.
-Three different capsicums a long sweet yellow one that eventually turns red. Mini Chocolate coloured ones and mini orange ones that were loaded even in the toughest years of our drought.
-Bristol Rock snapdragons, just because I love the cute stripes they have.
-My sons Striped parasol marigolds he loves.
-Asparagus seeds, Argenteuil.
-Broccoli, Calabrese sprouting
-Field carnations.

I'll put some more seeds in a couple of weeks different tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.

Then later again things like cantaloupe, pumpkins and watermelon.

I'm happy with the chooks as since I last wrote I now have 4 out of the 6 girls laying. So it won't be long until I'm inundated with eggs and end up handing them out to anyone who visits.

Purple cabbage
My purple cabbages are starting to set hearts. Did you know you can use the colour out of them as a natural pH indicator. If you have kids let them try it sometime they can have lots of fun.

Broad beans
I've got broad beans and snow peas flowering we are looking forward to more  garden fresh vegetables.


These are my feral potatoes I throw all the potatoes that have turned green or started spouting in the corner under the plum tree. I can't get much to grow there later in the year as it gets too dry. However, I still usually manage to pick several buckets from these potatoes every year.

I Love/Hate Indigo

Native Indigo - Indigofera australis
You may be wondering why the title well I grow our native indigo and thought it would be fun to extract some indigo from it. I tried following several suggested chemical methods to extract it with no success. Clearly I'm missing some critical point. I only had a tiny bit of plant material left from last time I pruned it. So I put some in a jar to ferment and promptly forgot about it.

Today a few months later I found the jar. Yes, there was a bit of dark ink blue indigo floating on top. But when I opened the jar shall we leave it at it stank. So I won't be trying that again on a larger scale unless absolutely needed. I'll just keep growing the indigo for it's pretty flowers and ability to survive dry shade.

Blue Cypress salt bars - Indigo coloured
I'll still keep using indigo in my soap but I'll stick to buying naturally sourced indigo powder. I love the pretty blue colour it gives and it may fade but that happens fairly slowly and just provides a pretty faded denim look.

One thing I've noticed with my soap is the blue colour seems better when I've let the soap gel.

All the Tiny Things.

I took a walk in the Ocean Grove nature Reserve this week and was surprised by the number of tiny flowers out already. The other thing that surprised me as I was there mid afternoon was how noisy the frogs were.

Running Postman - Kennedia prostrata 
This running postman was out quite a few of them have popped up since they did a controlled burn in there. No sign of flowers on mine in the garden yet.

Pink bells -Tetratheca sp 

I love these pink bells I had some in the garden but the drought took care of them.

Senecio sp.

I'm not sure of this Senecio sp. It's probably variable grounsel. I hadn't seen many around for I while I'm guessing it was too dry.

Scented Sundew - Drosera whittakeri

I love these little Scented Sundews and how the flowers (around the size of a 20c) are bigger than the rest of the plant.

Silky Guinea Flower - Hibbertia sericea
The silky Guinea flowers are just starting to flower soon the whole plants will be covered with the brightest yellow blooms.

There were also some Tiny stars and Bent Goodenias just starting to flower.
Tiny Star - Hypoxis glabella  
Bent Goodenia - Goodenia geniculata