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Friday, March 29, 2019

Thousands of Bars of Soap

"Big Order Request" read the subject line and innocently I clicked on the message. It was from a lady in California that I've done business with for many years. Her usual order of around 20 bars a month was about to increase.... "Would you be able to make 5200 bars by June 10th?" the email continued. The current date was March 14.

As she had a certain price in mind, I did what seemed logical to me and started figuring the costs involved in creating one bar of soap in the shape she requested. As it worked out, I could make a bar of soap and sell it to her for the price she wanted to pay and still make a profit but I also needed to know whether I could do 5200 of them in under 3 months! Needless to say, another spreadsheet was created.

As it turned out, yes I could make that many by June 10th however, I had a vacation planned in May and I still work full time at another job! I replied to her email that I'd guarantee delivery of 3000 bars by June 10 and maybe more but I didn't feel comfortable committing to 5200. She responded back saying she'd work with that.

So began my 'Soaping Spring' of which I'm still deeply in the throes of.

Besides the cost and time involved in making that much soap, there were logistics that needed to be worked out. Specifically, where was I going to store roughly 800 bars of soap at a time while they were curing for several weeks?

I had a curing rack that Jeff made years ago that I use for current production requirements; it holds a little over a hundred bars.

To make up the difference I needed something else and quick. Perhaps, all those planter boxes my son made last summer that were still in my laundry room could help?

Drastic measures were needed so after I set aside a couple for my garden projects, Jeff and I began converting the rest of the planter boxes to curing racks by stapling chicken wire to the tops.

In order to meet the production goals, I also needed to make 4 batches of soap a day or one quadruple batch. This required a larger bowl or bucket. It also required 7 more molds. I had one so I needed 3 more for my quadruple batch plus 4 more in case, on the weekends, I made two quadruple batches. A trip to the hardware store for mold making supplies was in order.

Me, staring at my supplies.
Finally, I needed supplies. I need gallons of olive oil, castor oil and rice bran oil, pounds of coconut oil, cocoa butter, and lye, and many, many ounces of essential oils AND I didn't want to pay shipping costs which would drastically cut into my profits.

Luckily I knew of a handcrafter's supply shop about a half hour drive from my house. A phone call to the store and a Saturday trip down the freeway to pick the supplies up and I was off to the races! Remind me sometime to blog about how mind blowing and nerve racking it is to drive on I-5 and over a major river with 50 pounds of lye in your trunk. On second thought, let's just forget about that....

Safely back home, I've been making soap everyday now for two weeks. I'm on schedule and under budget and happy to report that my initial calculations were very close to correct! I've still got another 6 weeks of soap making to go to meet my goal but I should have all 3000 bars complete by the time I leave for vacation!

I'm not sure whether this is a one time order or will be something ongoing. After I come up for air, I'll ask. For now, I'm heads down into soap making!

I had the online store pretty well stocked before I started this project so don't be bashful, you can still order soap!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Bonsai and Pots

Last July we made our first trip to the Salem Art Festival in Salem, Oregon. It was at that wonderful festival that I purchased my pre-bonsai Chinese Elm tree.

A pre-bonsai has been partially trained and is significantly less expensive than a true bonsai. A pre-bonsai, therefore, is a great way for a beginner to learn the art of bonsai. Since I am the definition of beginner when it comes to bonsai, I purchased this book.

Purchasing the tree in the middle of summer meant there was little I needed to do besides keep it watered and fertilized. Much to my delight, I kept the tree alive and growing over the hot summer we had last year. When the weather started to turn in late fall, I moved the tree up next to the house where it sat until recently.

Over the long winter I researched new pots for transplanting the tree. Rather than purchase just any bonsai pot though, I decided to ask my friend at work if he could make one. I've mentioned Bob's work before as he's made just about all my plates and bowls (pictured). Lucky for me, he bought a kiln last fall and can now churn out the pottery any time I want he wants!

Just look at the wonderful pot he made for my tree! His work is seriously beautiful.

Alas, winter in Portland this year seemed to really hang on and we had multiple late February - early March snows, however, the weather did finally seem to turn the second weekend of March and I was more than ready to try my hand at re-potting my bonsai.

Armed with my book knowledge, I started by preparing my new pot, covering the bottom holes with some garden fabric I had already.

I then fed a couple 6-8 inch pieces of wire through the bottom small holes and through the fabric. Since the typical bonsai pot is rather shallow, the wire is used to tie the roots to the pot.

Now the fun part; I get to use my tiny tool set! After cutting around the edge of the pot the tree was in, I carefully lifted it out and used the tiny rake to gently untangle the roots.

It became more evident once the roots were untangled as to where to cut. In this case, I cut all the lanky, long straggler roots then rinsed the root ball.

I then placed the root ball in the pot around the wires. Aesthetically, it's important to place the tree slightly off-center in the pot. Next, I gently twisted the wires securing the tree to the pot.

Finally, I added soil to cover the tiny exposed roots and watered, waiting to fertilize until the growing season starts in earnest.

Some bonsai trees require very specific soil, in the case of the Chinese Elm, I was able to just use a basic bonsai soil mix.
I gave my tree a little trim to the branches and placed it back  against the house to protect it until the fear of frost is over, hopefully soon! Time will tell on whether this re-potting was successful, fingers are crossed!

**Update** I'm happy to report, my bonsai re-potting was successful!

It looks so nice in it's new pot.