Shrooming: Trials and Tribulations of growing Shiitake Mushrooms

shiitake mushroom

My path to learning how to grow Shiitake mushrooms has been paved with years of failure until about 3 years ago. I can now say that I finally have success and have enough confidence to begin to experiment with growing other strains and in different growing mediums, such as straw and wood pellets.

Many years ago, I thought it would be fun to grow mushrooms so I bought a-grow-your-own mushroom kit from a seed catalog.  My rationale was that they were a fungus and mushrooms grew wild in my compost pile, woods and in our grass.  How hard could it be? HA!

My first kit arrived in the dead of winter and I eagerly opened the box. I followed the instructions, put the box with the gooey bag of ick down in the basement and tenderly cared for it for months….and…. nothing happened. I was frustrated and felt like I had been suckered (not for the first time and probably not the last). I tossed the mass of ick on my compost pile and thought it was a waste of time and money!

Then one very hot and humid day in August while tossing scraps on the compost pile I spied a mushroom.  I looked closer and I thought it was a shiitake and it appeared to be growing from that lump of white ick that I dumped months earlier.  I was excited but I didn’t want to pick it just yet. I wanted to wait just a little longer to see if it grew bigger.

A few weeks passed and I was thinking that the mushroom should be more than ready to pick and I hoped that more had sprouted.  I went out to the compost pile and it was gone – nothing. No white lump, no beautiful mushroom nothing but a pile of dirt and gravel.  WHAT?  I dug into the pile and there deep under the dirt and gravel I found a shriveled up dead mushroom. My neighbors heard me cry NOOOOOO!  I was crushed.

A few years went by….One day I was out with our hiking club walking next to a member I hadn’t met before.  We were chatting along and she suddenly stopped and said “Oh look! There’s a blah blah ish-a-toris something or another mushroom” (long Latin name).  She bent down, picked it, took a bite and offered me a piece.  As she stared and smiled at me, I was trying to find my lower half of my jaw as it was sitting on the ground.  I thought… “Did she just do what I think she just did?”… “Uh- no thank you” I replied.  I quickly gained my composure and I peppered her with questions on how the heck she knew that mushroom was edible.

I learned that she and her husband were wild mushroom foragers and that they learned this craft by going out and watching other seasoned mushroom hunters forage.  She explained that wild mushroom foraging should be taught by a seasoned forager and should not be taught via books or the internet.  There are too many poisonous mushrooms that look like nonpoisonous mushrooms and one mistake could be fatal.  I quickly decided that foraging for wild mushroom wasn’t for me.  Then I learned that she grew all kinds of mushrooms on her compost pile, logs, and wood chips, which she inoculated with mushroom kits.

Stop! Time Out! What did you say?  She explained that growing mushrooms is easy if you have the right environment.  I shared my tale of woe with my many attempts of growing mushrooms in my basement in the dead of winter and my hopes and dreams for a lonely mushroom growing in my compost pile from a discarded kit until it was killed…

She kindly explained that mushrooms like warm, humid shaded conditions and not cold dark basements.  To grow mushrooms, you needed to replicate those conditions and my shaded compost pile in August just happened to be the perfect environment for that shiitake mushroom.

So why do those darn gardening catalogs only sell those kits in the dead of winter?  She smiled kindly and stared at me…It hit me, O.K. I get it – there’s one born every minute…”S” stands for sucker…She laughed and explained that I needed to buy the spawn from a “real” laboratory that specialized in growing fungi.  Oh…I said – there are mushroom laboratories??? I thought this was supposed to be easy…

Fast forward a year after my initial hike with the “Mushroom Lady.”  A consultant from CT Department of Agriculture was doing a site visit for my farm certification.  We were wandering around my property and he saw how much of it was covered in woods.  He asked if I ever considered growing mushrooms.  I had flashbacks of years of failed attempts growing mushrooms in boxed bags in my basement and of my conversations with the wild mushroom lady telling me I had to find a mushroom laboratory to get good spawn while she ate her way through our hike.  I asked him if I needed to have a sterile room or some building to grow mushrooms commercially.  He said no as there are mushrooms strains that grow well in the woods.  Clearly I was missing something. He recommended that I do some research and think about it.

A year of research…I began to read books on mushroom cultivation. Who knew there were so many different kinds of mushrooms? I watched YouTube videos, read articles from magazines/blogs and I took a workshop on growing mushrooms.  The class was packed and, after hearing similar stories to mine, apparently, I wasn’t the only one that had been suckered with those grow-your-own kits.  I was not alone. I learned that the easiest and most successful way to grow mushrooms is to inoculate oak trees freshly cut into 4-foot lengths.

Months after taking that workshop and doing more research, I decided it was time.  A farmer friend was kind enough to allow me to cut down several trees on his property.  We hauled the logs back to my driveway and my husband (who was trying to be patient with me) hauled them to the back of our property and into the woods.  On several cold spring days, we drilled, plugged and waxed hundreds of holes.  It was a cold and sticky job and at that point, my husband was not- so- patient anymore and declared “No more logs!”

The logs were then put to bed on the forest floor laid out in sections.  I was nervous because I didn’t know if this would work. But I was hopeful as I had done my research and felt confident that I did this right.  It would be a year of waiting to get my answer.  Was this going to be another failed costly experiment?

Nine months later, I was giving someone a tour of my farming operation and I took him out to the pile of logs in the woods.  I spied a mushroom, then another and another!  I became emotional as I tried to explain to my guest that I finally had shiitake mushrooms. I was having a moment…this was big!! However, my guest was not so sure about me and was probably thinking that I was a whack job. He soon left and I was alone in the woods carefully cutting my prized mushrooms and lovingly carrying them into the house to show my husband.  I told him in a cracking voice, “It worked!  It really worked!”

Hubby wasn’t impressed…

Then I told him the current price per pound for shiitake mushrooms at the market.  His eye got real big and he said Oh! This year we will be experimenting growing in straw and wood pellets oyster, shiitake and winecap mushrooms.

Books:

Links to books listed are Amazon Affiliate Links. I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.

The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home by Paul Stamets and J.S. Chilton

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets

Websites:

Fungi Perfecti – www.fungi.com

Mushroom People – www.mushroompeople.com

The Day(s) After A Feast

Sorry, this is so late posting – here is my friend Coach Theresa’s latest guest post.  Once again she hit it out of the park! Now I don’t feel so guilty! I am definitely going to try her morning drink routine.  Enjoy the posting!!!

Brenda

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The Day(s) After A Feast

I dunno about you but it seems like one day of indulging often brings another and another and before you know it you’re guiltily humming Annie’s “tomorrow” inside your head. There’s always a reason to indulge. And you know? It’s actually good for you. So for starters let’s just get over the guilt and purposely indulge in some extra calories every once in a while.

My rule is that it’s ok to indulge as long as my digestive enzymes can recognize it as food, that is, no processed yoga mat material or preservatives and trash included in my cheat days. Stick to real food even the sinfully rich variety and with moderation, you will recover. Yes, you CAN have your proverbial cake and eat it too. I do it all the time –figuratively speaking.

If you are on a sustainable plan of everyday healthy living that involves whole foods nutrition and appropriate portion sizes for your body, you are very much ahead of the game. But it’s also easy to have too much of a good thing. Being on track involves following an 80/20 rule and making sure that the 20% doesn’t expand to 80. This is where most of us fail because that proverbial slope can be so slippery.

If you are struggling, take a good look at what you are eating. Often times this sparks a lot of motivation! If you are eating well and within your recommended calories and are still experiencing difficulty with your weight, then we need to look at your activity level, and of course your last check-up.

Keep in mind that when we are hungry it is very hard to objectively assess intake and we are often lenient with ourselves. It is important to examine the picture as a whole. For me, as a mom, I wasn’t counting eating my kids’ leftovers! (leftover cupcake frosting is my favorite. There are, oh so many, external reasons to expand “that exception” AFTER “exception day”. This can start with simply more piled on social events in a given season, accessible leftovers, and vacation time.

Just mentally, all of these external factors can send you off in the wrong direction and seriously throw you for a loop that can get you stuck in a whirlwind of cravings and mindless eating. When I manage my cravings well, my perspective on how I can also handle unrelated situations in my environment also changes. It is very empowering!

My first recommended course of action on my START day is to get a workout in as soon as I wake up. It seriously jolts me back into reset mode. Go immediately when you wake up. Drink some water and carry some with you throughout the day. Start with 5-10 minutes of stretching that is appropriate for the type of workout you will do and then jump right in. Pop in a DVD, go for a walk/run, yoga, a bike ride, a class, whatever it is you do, get there first thing, before breakfast (if your health allows or go as soon as practicable if you need to regulate your body first.) The idea is to go as early as possible.

Exercise will have the amazing effect of making you feel good and simply even reminding you where “the course” (on that track) is so you can get back to it sooner rather than later.

Before your workout, try a warm cup of lemon water with a dash of cayenne. Surprisingly the cayenne is not too spicy in this mixture and has the added benefit of supporting digestion and elimination as well as detoxing the body of that feast. Ditto for the lemon with its own list of benefits. Think of this as a great way to rinse out. This may send you to the bathroom before your workout, so give yourself a few minutes to think that through before lacing up! (True story. Ha!)

Be deliberate in keeping a bottle of water near you throughout the day, and of course drink it. It sounds silly but it IS easy to forget!

Immediately after a workout, I recommend a recovery smoothy rich in fruits, vegetables, and protein. What is great about this is that you are providing your body with a nutrient-dense meal it has to work very little to break down. This high level of nutrition will aid in restoring your balance and help you fight cravings.  A simple recipe can use ½ banana or ¼ avocado for creamy texture, 1 cup of leafy greens such as kale or spinach, 1 cup of frozen berries of your choice, a tbsp. or flax or chia seeds and a scoop of protein powder. Add some ice and 6 oz of your favorite milk, another 6 oz of water and blend to a smooth consistency. It’s that easy and it will help you resume your eating schedule much more easily.

This is key. Resume eating whole foods after recovery. Don’t crash diet. Give the smoothy an hour to digest and then have your first meal of the day. You will feel much better and empowered to break the cheats.

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Another thing I like to recommend is adding some fresh juice as a snack or a pick me up. You might be feeling sluggish the day after a big feast and you might find yourself reaching for more caffeine. Try and have a fresh pressed juice instead and truly recharge your batteries. A favorite go-to of mine contains 2-3 leaves (with stems) of kale, 2-3 whole carrots, an apple or a pear with about ½ inch of ginger root.

 

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If you cannot access a juicer consider making an effort to add more greens and fruit to your diet to avoid snacking and enjoy some green tea.

If you have a season of temptation coming up, (I, for example, just had 4 Birthdays and a Big Fat Greek Easter within 1 week, yikes!) consider planning ahead and having things in place to set your recovery plan in motion immediately. It will help you bounce back faster and empower you to make more changes. You are in control. You’ve got this. We’ve got this. Cheers, to your health!

Theresa

CoachTheresaWV is a Health Coach and Personal Trainer whose goal is to help people transform their life through self-care. She believes in lifestyle habits that include fitness and clean living for their empowering and life-changing effects. As a coach, she helps individuals reach their specific goals and put systems into place for continued improvement and sustained change. A mom of 2, Theresa does this for her children as well as a growing online and community following, helping people reach health and fitness goals one day at a time. Follow her at www.TheresaWV.com on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/trainandtransformyourlife/ or email her at CoachTheresaWV@gmail.com for a complimentary consultation.

Introducing Our First Children’s Book: Counting Starfish

A Read and Play Series from Thompson Street Farm LLC

 

This book was a labor of love for me and my daughter, Katie.  We’ve been painting together for years and I thought it would be fun to create children’s books using our artwork. Counting Starfish is our first and it’s an interactive book.  It’s part early reader and part coloring book.

Our next book is a garden journal complete with cool info sheets on how to be a successful gardener.

Book Description:

Children learn by experience and are stimulated by imagination.  Counting Starfish is designed to build basic concepts and what better way to learn than from the natural world?

Counting Starfish was inspired by starfish (or sea stars) living in a tidal pool off the coast of Alaska.  This interactive book teaches children the fundamental concepts of counting to ten with coloring pages providing the opportunity for each child to create their own imaginative version of a colorful Counting Starfish Book.

About the Authors:

Brenda Sullivan lives in South Glastonbury CT with her husband Paul and their daughter Katie.

They are avid gardeners who took their love for gardening to a new level by converting their 1.3 acres into a small farm called Thompson Street Farm LLC www.thompsonstreetfarm.com.

Brenda specializes in growing small leafy greens, microgreens, flowers and herbs. She also makes handcrafted goats milk herbal soaps and herbal bath products using the herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables that are grown on the farm or locally purchased from other local farmers.  For more information on her bath and body products go to www.farmtobath.com.

Katie, the love of their life and the center of their universe, has severe cerebral palsy, epilepsy, is legally blind (with limited vision), and has other serious medical conditions.  Katie is nonverbal and wheelchair bound but these challenges haven’t prevented her from experiencing life.

Katie experiences her world on her terms.  With the help of assistive technology, other sensory adaptations and years of homeschooling experience, Katie understands basic concepts and has developed many interests including an appreciation for music, painting with her Mother and listening to stories.

She loves being outdoors and we’ve discovered that experiencing her natural world has been Katie’s best educator. This has been our inspiration for creating this first nature-themed series of children’s early education books.

Sample Pages:

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Just Take That Darned Shower!”: Essential Steps to Activating Energy to Get Moving

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I have always been a procrastinator. As a new mom, though, I took procrastination to a whole new level. Had I not procrastinated that too? I could have coined my own term for it. It’s in our nature to procrastinate, sure, but the solution may just lie in finding your particular spark.

As a new mom, I found myself often swimming in a sea of laundry and dishes, unable to keep a schedule because I was so sleepy most of the time. The flexibility required of motherhood had overrun my sense of structure and accomplishment. It felt hard to plan or complete anything. My husband would come home from work and ask me how my day was and I would stare blankly at the blur before me, grasping for something intelligible to say.

My sense of failure was magnified by the fact that I was never able to make those 8:00 a.m. mommy-and-me classes with friends. I would arrive late and disheveled at the 11:15 a.m. pool or music class and still, miss all the pre-class chatter and much needed social life. Invariably on the drive home, with first born loudly protesting in the back seat, I would find myself driving past that mom with the cute bright smile and the jogger- jogging of course, with snoozing baby in tow.

While the other moms seemed relaxed and put together, I felt a complete mess. It seemed my former punctual and organized self-was left behind in labor and delivery. My key problem? Overwhelm.

My 90+ lb pregnancy weight gain literally weighed me down even with half of it gone. Everything just felt harder. I just could not believe my loss of control and felt helpless to get out. I found my solution in an at-home workout program I had purchased for my husband – sitting on a shelf, unopened. Instead of finding time to go somewhere to workout I only needed to pop in a DVD. Yet, that too was hard.

When it came to workouts my best excuse was the shower; by the time I COULD workout, I felt too sticky and icky with baby spit up and cooking smells (and too sleepy!) to actually take that time for myself. My conundrum? The shower. Save it for AFTER the workout and I felt miserable instead of engaged. Take a shower BEFORE, well THAT’s silly – or, is it?

All I wanted to do was regain some measure of control, and of course, my body. My weight gain and fatigue were interfering with everything I had wanted parenting to be. Sure I was delighted to be a mom. It wasn’t something that came easily for me, having lost 2 babies before my first – I was grateful. I am grateful. I just didn’t feel good. And when you don’t feel good it’s hard to change things – especially since change often necessitates more discomfort. But that shower? That feels good. Aaaaaah! But was I just procrastinating again?

Change is painful, it’s not a new discovery. Neither is the fact that we are hardwired to want to avoid discomfort. It’s a survival tool.

So how do we combat that resistance to taking action? For me, it began with writing down a few things. I made a list of how I was feeling. Then I made a list of what I wanted. The last list was the hardest. I had to identify my obstacles: both real and imagined. My big one was not feeling good in my own skin.

I wanted to lose weight. I feared I had squandered my opportunity to be fit before motherhood because I was never previously into fitness. I feared failure. I wanted to be healthy for me and for that desire that burns a parent: to be around forever, for their kids.

I wanted to regain a sense of control and direction yet wanted to maintain the flexibility to meet my infant’s needs at home.

I NEEDED A SHOWER. But the sink was full of dishes, the baby was sleeping and the floor, oh the floors! I needed to get a nap or a workout or eat but felt stinky and unmotivated. Would my exercise wake the baby? What if I didn’t finish the workout in time? What if I didn’t get the shower OR a completed workout? Would that constitute failure?

For me, the shower was at the core of sparking any action. A shower can wake me or get me sleepy. The feeling I get from a shower is like no other. I truly L O V E my showers.

So I made my shower a MUST. It’s what I knew was missing the most. I self-negotiated out my hair for after workout showers only and resolved to have more ponytails. This helped me keep any pre-workout shower super brief AND enjoy myself more. It also became more of a game that involved self-nurturing. As time went by I was able to complete more workouts and stay caught up with my beloved shower. I started feeling successful. It became a game to find ways to get the workout in. I remember doing 90-minute yoga at 10:30 pm because that’s when it worked yet I enjoyed every minute of it. Soon, the shower stopped being such an obstacle. I needed fewer and fewer pre-workout showers because I was filling that need!

Once I started regaining control of the things that were important to me, and consistently activating my spark, the rest began to follow. I dropped a lot of weight and had an amazing transformation and also reached a never-before-imagined-for-me fitness level.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned is to take that darn shower. Don’t mope around with your obstacles- real or imagined. Identify them and creatively mitigate or get rid of them. That alone is action that sets you in motion towards your goal.

My other favorite tool was borrowing the Nike slogan JustDoIt. It provides me with an instant spark. If you are running circles around your goal and avoiding your target, stop yourself and “just do it”. We must not only be the nurturing parent for ourselves but also the disciplinarian.

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Some other helpful techniques:                

Recognize that you want change. If you consider your “problem” unchangeable, you are less likely to take action to change it. If I accepted my weight gain as something that happens to mothers my age – I almost did by the way- you are less likely to change it.

Once you’ve identified your outcome, break it down into little steps necessary to accomplish it. Set monthly, weekly and daily goals. Make those tasks on your calendar and follow through. Checking them off provides instant feedback and propels you forward.

Recognize hesitation. If you are putting off what you intended to do, be that parent for yourself. You wouldn’t dream of allowing your child to go to bed without brushing their teeth. Same. Keep yourself accountable.

Reflect: Did you get “XYZ” done today? Was it a good day? Can you do better tomorrow? Are you on track? Yay! Celebrate your own victory! You are doing it!

Tell someone about your goal. Doing this allows you to actually hear it, own it and in a way set yourself accountable.

Seek out situations that will help further your goal. This could be meetings with friends, a lecture, an app, a group of like-minded people, or a book. This also reinforces your intention and further propels you forward.

Focus on what you want instead of negative feelings. Get rid of distractions and DO things you know from your moment of clarity that you need to do. For me, my daily excuses seemed to revolve around my beloved shower. If you are like me, I say, just take that darned shower, enjoy that nice smelling soap, even if you work out right after. You will feel great and be one more step closer to accomplishing your goal. Go ahead, take that darned shower and get to the real business at hand.

I’m off to take mine.

Theresa

CoachTheresaWV is a Health Advocate and Fitness Coach whose goal is to help people harness their inner voice through self care. She believes in lifestyle habits that include fitness and clean living and are sustainable for long-term health results. As a coach she helps individuals reach their specific goals by adapting health principles to their everyday life. A mom of 2, Coach Theresa does this for her children as well as a growing online and community following, helping people reach health and fitness goals one day at a time. Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/trainandtransformyourlife/ or email her at CoachTheresaWV@gmail.com for a free consultation.

 

New Online Store

Farm-to-Bath-Logo-FINAL_1200pxHi Everyone!

Thompson Street Farm LLC has spun off its soap / bath and gift products to a new website and store.  We now have a new look, and store.

I will be doing business as Farm to Bath and the new website is www.farmtobath.com.  There will be new products added going forward, so make sure you comeback and check out the site.  With this new site I can now offer reasonable shipping fees, special promotions and best of all SALES! I am very excited.

Please check out my new store and let me know what you think!

Sincerely

Brenda

Thompson Street Farm

dba Farm to Bath

www.farmtobath.com

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

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Over the last few weeks I’ve seen many postings using natural dyes for Easter Eggs.  The pictures are beautiful and I wondered if I could get my eggs to turn out as nice as the pictures.  Over all I had mixed results.  Some colors were the same as the pictures – other colors I didn’t come close.

If you want to try naturally dyeing eggs here are two important things to know before you start:

  1. Natural dyes are not going to be as vibrant as commercial dyes.
  2. The process will take hours – at least a 1/2 a day or more.

But first I recommend you read these two blog postings on natural dyes and decorating techniques from the Herbal Academy of New England. I thought they had some great suggestions for natural dyes.

The Day Before Cook your Eggs:

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Cook your eggs gently by starting with a pot of cold water on low heat.  Don’t bring your eggs to a full boil but just to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Cover and remove from heat and let stand until completely cool.  I recommend you do this the night before.  By morning you will have perfectly cooked un-cracked hardboiled eggs.

Select your Dyes:

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What I liked about natural dyes is that you can use what you have on hand. In my freezer I found a bag of frozen blueberries (blue) and cranberries (red).  In my spices I found turmeric which I thought would make a great yellow dye. I wanted a green color and I decided to try using green tea.

Berries Smashed or Cooked:

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The blueberries I smashed and added enough boiling water to the bowl to submerge the eggs. The cranberries needed to be cooked until the berries popped open and I could mash them into a pulp.  For the turmeric and green tea (4 tea bags) I just added boiling water to the bowl and let them steep and cool. Do not add your cool eggs to the hot dye mixture – this will result in cracked eggs.

Don’t forget the Vinegar:

March 28, 2015 005I added a tablespoon of white vinegar to the all the bowls so the dye would set.

Hurry Up and Wait:

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When the waters were cool I set my eggs into the cups. I first started with bowls but the eggs weren’t submerged enough to be completely covered. I didn’t want to add more water because I felt it would dilute the dye so I switched to using cups and glasses.  And I waited and waited…and waited…

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After 4 hours of waiting the other colors were ready and I pulled them out.  However, the red egg in the cranberry pulp wasn’t doing a thing. So I found some Red Zinger Tea and frozen raspberries in the freezer. I made up a new bowl of red dye and dropped my egg into it and waited another hour to see what happened.

5 Hours of dyeing:

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After working on this for 5 hours I decided to throw in the towel! I wasn’t going to get a red Easter egg. Oh well…

Final Results:

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Left to right: Red (cranberry, raspberry and Red Zinger Tea) Yellow (turmeric) Purple (blueberries)

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Left to right: Blue (blueberries) Yellow / Green (if you look close…) (green tea – however, I think some turmeric accidently got in my bowl of tea resulting in more yellow than green color).

Final thoughts: If you decide to do this I don’t recommend this for really young children – the process takes a long time and unless you have patient children the waiting will be difficult.  On the other hand, this process allows for some really cool creative thinking about the natural dye world and playing with other ingredients would be fun.  Some of the suggestions from HANE on dyes are:

  • Turmeric
  • Coffee
  • Nettle
  • Spirulina
  • Hibiscus
  • Onion skins
  • Black tea
  • Elderberries

If you decide to try using natural dyes and you have success with red or green – please let me know!

Happy Easter!

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Anatomy of TSF Soap

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 I’m always humbled and grateful when asked to speak about what I do here on Thompson Street Farm.  This week I was the speaker at a local garden club here in town and I have to say what a wonderful group of ladies! I understand there are 5 garden clubs in town, and this particular club has been together for over 30 years.  Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience there was sitting in that room! How cool!

After my presentation on growing micro-greens, a sweet woman asked about how I made my soaps. She identifies handmade soap to her childhood elderly neighbor, Mrs. Jones, peddling her soap door to door.  Apparently her soap was extremely harsh that one lost a few layers of skin when using it. I’m guessing from the age of my new friend, “Mrs. Jones” learned how to make soap between World War I and the Depression. In those days, there weren’t a lot of choices for oils other than animal fats and other moisturizing ingredients – which explains the harshness of her soap.

Commercial Soap

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Today there is a world of difference between commercial soaps and handmade. Technically commercial soap is not real soap but a detergent that is created from petroleum based products .  Yes, the base ingredient in commercial soap is petroleum oil!

My Decision to make Handmade Soap

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(Lavender Soap made with lavender grown on our property)

When I began researching how to make soap it was out of necessity.  I had been purchasing a goat’s milk soap from an independently owned health food store for my daughter.  My daughter had a stroke before she was born and as a result she is missing 80% of her right brain, so we had many health issues to deal with.  She is also a beautiful redhead with extremely sensitive skin.  It didn’t matter which commercial soap I used, her skin was as red as her hair and irritated – similar to the reaction to Mrs. Jones soap!

Perfumes were also a huge problem for my daughter.  It is not uncommon for children that have severe brain damage to have an over-reactive sensory system. I can only explain it as standing in front of a speaker at rock concert 24 /7.  The brain’s sensory system is on overload it can’t filter out and dial down what’s going on around them. If you stop and think about it, our world is pretty noisy. For Katie as a baby, sound, smell and textures was magnified a billion times over.

Its an understatement that the early days for Katie were painful – everything bothered her. For example, my husband loved Irish Spring Soap, but when he came near her she would become overwhelmed and started to scream and cry.  We went through a period of time when I dumped every commercially made product including the toothpaste and toilet paper and we went O-Natural!  Thankfully, Katie is much better thanks to years of therapy.

The Decision to Make My Own Soap:

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(Pine Soap – pine needles are harvested from our own pine trees and now that I’m becoming a herbalist, I’m adding my own pine infused olive oil to this soap!)

When Wholefoods moved to town our small independent health food store went out of business and that ended my source for handcrafted goat’s milk soap. The good news is soap making had become popular and with YouTube at my fingertips, I decided it was time to take control of our soap supply and learn how to make soap.

When I started my research I had a basic list of requirements:

  • The soap had to be moisturizing, have a great lather but be a firm enough that didn’t melt into a pile of goo in the shower.
  • Ingredients had to be mild enough for daughter’s sensitive skin.
  • Oils for the soap had to be found in the grocery store and had to come from the plant world.
  • Scents need to be from the plant world (correction/clarification from original posting: I do use fragrance oils if essential oils are not available, too expensive, or I happen to like the scent!).

I knew I wanted my soap to have at lease 2 oils that were great for skin, olive oil and coconut oil. After weeks of research, my first generation master soap recipe was born and it was a Mediterranean inspired blend using 4 oils and raw goats’ milk.

  •  Olive oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
  • Coconut oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
  • Canola Oil – creates a stable lather and a great skin conditioner.
  • Safflower Oil – creates a wonderful lather and is a great skin conditioner.
  • Herbs, flowers, vegetables and goats milk had to be either grown by me or acquired by a local farmer that shared my socially responsible beliefs.

During my research, I learned there is a minefield related to certain common ingredients in soap making. The biggest one is palm oil, and the atrocities associated to the destruction of rainforests to meet the worlds demand for palm oil.

I admit, my soaps are not for everyone, but I can honestly say I try to be socially conscious and intentional on where my ingredients are sourced. It is important to my daughter’s wellbeing and to me. I want to create a product that is safe; with no chemicals or preservatives.

New Sea Salt and Mineral Clay Inspired Soap with Avocado Oil

sea breeze 1

I have to say I have the best customers! They are intelligent, well-traveled and socially conscious and they are challenging me to take my social responsibility even further! Over the summer I heard a few concerns expressed about how canola oil is grown and processed. Canola oil comes from a plant called rapeseed and most of the crop grown in the world is from GMO seed. Since I refuse to use GMO vegetable seeds on my farm it was an easy decision to do the right thing and switch out that oil and substitute it for sunflower oil.

In addition, I did some more research on the benefits of sea salt and mineral clays in soap.  Out of that research I created a new 4 oil sea salt soap using avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in vitamins A, B, D, and E.  Sea salt is known for its relaxing properties and is a natural detoxifier as well as some of the mineral clays that I use – Dead Sea Clay, French Green Clay, Bentonite Clay and Moroccan Clay.

So  I say to my new” Garden Club Friend” – try my soaps, I think you will be pleasantly surprised just how good you will feel! Please check out my entire line of soap on website online store.

honey cinnamon carrot

(Honey, Cinnamon and Carrot Soap – I purchase my honey from a local farmer. Although I might get brave and purchase a hive in the coming year.)