Friday, November 22, 2013

Show us some love, get free stuff!

We'll be at the Indie Craft Experience this weekend, and we can't wait! To celebrate, we'd like to show some appreciation for all our wonderful customers and the nice things they always have to say. All the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram mentions of us this weekend will be entered in a drawing for free products in December- twice if you include a photo of us, our display, or our products! We're in booth #120- head all the way to the back, and we're directly in front of the Beehive's salts and scrubs workshop (which should be excellent). And if you should decide that you'd rather buy bath salts or sugar scrubs than make your own, we'll have plenty for sale. We also have tons of bar soap and lip balm, our new Honeybee Hand Soaps, a variety of craft beer soaps, and shaving soap sets, which include badger shaving brushes and vintage milk glass shaving mugs. We're offering free gift wrap on any purchase you have us ship for you. And this is our first holiday season offering the option for "A Year of Soap," a wonderful gift for any soap lover- we'll mail a choice of seasonal soaps and lip balms to your lucky gift recipient each month all year. So get to posting! You never know which of this great stuff we'll be giving away.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What came first, the idea or the eggs?

...The idea for shampoo bars, that is, with egg yolks as an ingredient? It's a really good question, actually, and one I can't answer, as I don't remember. We've been keeping chickens for years, and while I've always heard that egg yolks are great for shiny hair, I've been squeamish about that whole raw-eggs-in-the-hair thing. It just sounds so... gloppy. But we've been getting LOTS of requests for shampoo bars, and in a solid bar of soap it's obviously not messy. Once the soap is finished, it looks like any other bar of soap, and you'd never know that eggs are involved, except for the great results with your hair!

If you're not familiar with the idea of a shampoo bar, it's a great alternative to liquid shampoo. It lasts longer, it requires very little or no packaging (as opposed to a big plastic bottle) and is better for you and your hair, being chemical-free and full of a variety of wonderful ingredients like coconut oil and goat's milk and essential oils and honey. We really load ours up with luxury ingredients like silk and vitamin E and moisturizing oils so that you get a decadent, silky, sudsy bar of soap.

Despite all the requests, we've held off making shampoo bars, because we were waiting for our new flock of chickens to lay eggs. We're very picky about what goes into our soap, and especially so with animal products. Almost everything that goes into our soap is vegan, so with anything that isn't, we verge on obsessive. The honey and beeswax comes from our own bees so we can be certain they're not managed with chemicals at any point, the goat's milk we use is local and raw, and now that our hens are laying we have eggs that come from free-range chickens that are spoiled rotten and not fed anything creepy like hormones or other animals. In fact, we may have to write a post later introducing them all- they're gorgeous, and quite fancy, except for their names being things like Biscuit and Moo shu (don't worry, it's ironic- they're egg birds, not meat birds).

Anyway, we hope to have shampoo bars ready for some of our upcoming events, but either way they're in the works and will shortly be available on Etsy. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shows and more shows

We haven't been writing for awhile- sorry! It has been crazy crazy crazy here at Soapzilla. We keep pretty busy, between making soap and dealing with all the hobbies that led us to soapmaking in the first place. It's amazing how much time it takes to tend to bees and a garden, and to harvest and dry the hops and herbs and flowers we use in the soap. Honey harvest is intensive too, but no matter how sticky and messy the place gets, you're always so giddy over the gallons of honey that you don't care.

Our soap maker became a Master Beekeeper this year, and is working her way from Association Honey Judge to Senior Honey Judge. Part of this involves entering, and winning, honey shows, and accruing points. It takes 100 points to move up to Senior Judge, and a first place only gets you 6. We're even happier about the quality of the honey and beeswax we use in our soap and lip balm now, because in just one season it won enough ribbons to get her the 100 points. Our bees happened to get their best harvesting done when sumac was blooming, which makes a dark-colored honey, so our honey soap this year is being made with what is now officially the best dark honey in the state. 

Now that honey show season is over, it's time for autumn craft shows! Soapzilla will be showing off our craft beer soaps at the first annual Ponce de Leon Beer Festival - and we greatly enjoyed the Great Atlanta Beer Fest, especially the part where we got to drive our truck on a sidewalk and into Turner Field (craft beer aficionados can find our craft beer soaps at Ale Yeah in Decatur and Roswell if you're not the festival type). We'll also be at the Holiday Bazaar at Serenbe Stables this year, which we're looking forward to (because everything about Serenbe is awesome anyway, so a holiday bazaar PLUS Serenbe PLUS Santa? Epic).

And possibly the most fun of all, this year we're happy to be participating in the Indie Craft Experience Holiday Shopping Spectacular, which, if you've never been, is indeed spectacular. Awesome music, a well-stocked bar, and the most perfect holiday shopping EVER for those who prefer to give unique, hand-crafted gifts in lieu of mall fare. We usually set aside that day to go and shop, not to mention just people-watch and have a good time, but if you couldn't tell, we're thrilled to actually be a part of it this year. And if we haven't sold you on it yet, the first 250 people through the door each day get a swag bag filled with all kinds of goodies from the vendors. Soapzilla's contribution is 500 (!) cute bags with soap samples and an event-exclusive coupon code you can use for any direct purchase (i.e. from us, and not one of our retailers). Actually, we kind of feel bad for the other vendors, because we assume that making 500 of anything might be hard on the hands- but with good soap, cutting and smoothing 500 samples did wonders for our hands. Soapzilla for the win!

Come out and see us at one of our events- and keep an eye out for new stuff. We have some great things in the works!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cold process soap variations

There are SO MANY variations on cold process soap. It's crazy! People ask me what kind of soap I make, and there are so many ways I could answer that half the time I don't even know what to say. And that's not even counting the non-exactly-strictly-cold-process soaps I cover in this previous blog post. So I thought I would run down a few of them here for the soap-curious :)
  • Regular! "Regular" cold-process soap doesn't mean plain and  boring. It's just not one of the specific variations below. It can be solid or layered or swirled, colored or fragranced, with any number of additives. For more details on cold-process soap, what it involves and how it's made, see our other blog post on the subject.
  • Silk Soap has an extra-luxurious, silky texture because I dissolve real silk into the lye solution before I blend it with the oils. 
  • Milk Soap substitutes milk (often goat's milk) for water, and while it can be tricky to make, the result is worth the effort. Milk soaps are gentle and moisturizing, and a lot easier to manage than
    soaking in a whole pool of milk like Cleopatra :)
  • Craft Beer Soap explores (you guessed it!) craft beer. You can read more about the process here, but by using craft beer instead of water in the lye solution, and using ingredients and additives that reflect the attributes and flavor profile of the beer in question, you end up with a great-smelling soap with all the fragrance notes of a good beer and none of that boozy smell. And the ingredients, hops in particular, are great for your skin!
  • Honey and Beeswax Soap is my first and favorite soap. Using honey and beeswax from our own bees, these soaps are fantastic for the skin and are especially good for those with skin sensitivities that keep them from using many commercial soaps. 
  • Specialty Soaps are soaps made with a specific purpose. Some of ours include Jewelweed soap, because Jewelweed is a natural and extremely effective poison ivy remedy, or our Citronella/Peppermint/Lemongrass/Grapefruit soap, which was specially requested by a customer because of those essential oils' insect-repelling properties. 

Of course, there are many more kinds, but these are some of the main ones. We come up with new
ideas and get requests constantly, so there's no end to the new varieties we try out!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

American Girls like to make stuff :)

We're excited to be one of the guests at American Girl Camp this week at Little Shop of Stories! If you're not familiar with them, Little Shop is a local children's bookstore and has the highest concentration of awesomeness in the known universe. They have one summer camp per week during the summer, often themed on books. This week's camp is based on the American Girl books, so each day they learn about and do activities from the times of different American Girls, like making teepees and planting victory gardens. They also do tons of fun crafts, so we're going to teach the campers how to make Soapzilla lip balm!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Honeybee swarms

A swarm in a holly tree
I know we focus a lot on honeybees, but since the honey and beeswax are such a big part of our soap making, it's hard not to. Plus, spring is such an exciting time of year to be a beekeeper! The bees are building up the colony after the winter (when they hunker down and conserve energy), any new bees you've ordered are either being delivered or are ready to be picked up, you go over all your equipment, and most exciting of all, it's swarm season! One of the services a beekeeper performs is rescuing bees who have swarmed. Things are settling down now after a crazy spring, but I'm still getting a lot of questions from people who want to know more about how it all works.

People get SO freaked out at the idea of a swarm of bees. It brings to mind "killer bees" and seventies horror movies. But all it really means is that a beehive has reproduced- and people should be less afraid of these bees, not more, because the lack of honey to protect makes swarming bees incredibly docile. If you think of the hive as an entity (rather than the individual bees), it makes sense that the way a colony reproduces is to swarm. They do this a lot in the spring, mostly because, as the colony builds up its population, the hive can begin to feel cramped. The  bees produce a new queen, and the old queen takes about 60% of the hive and flies off to find a new home. This leaves the new queen with plenty of room. The queen and her bees land on a branch or a wall or almost anything, really, and then they hang out while scout bees look for new digs.

Wall cavity after bees are (mostly) removed
Now, ideally, this is when someone notices the swarm and calls a beekeeper. The beekeeper will come out with a whole bunch of equipment, like ladders and buckets on poles and hedge clippers, and collect the bees. Sometimes the bees are really high up or difficult to get to, but generally, it's not too terribly hard to collect a swarm this way. Beekeepers LOVE to get these calls, because they save the bees (bees left unattended may find an unsuitable living space, which we'll discuss in a moment, or they may die of exposure) and also, they get to take the bees home and try to start a proper colony in a hive.

Of course, more often, the bees are not collected by a beekeeper. They sometimes find a place to live that's ok, like a hollow space in a tree, but often they find a place that seems ok to them but is awfully inconvenient to people. Then they build a colony in a space like an attic or inside a wall, and you don't notice until one day you're mowing the lawn and wonder why all those bees are flying in and out of that little gap between your wall and the air conditioner.

A frame full of brood comb
Then you have to call someone to extract your bees. This is very messy, involves a lot of work, and is best left to someone who knows what they're doing (as opposed to trying it yourself). Some people just call an exterminator, but aside from the fact that we need all the honeybees we can get, you're still going to have to cut open the wall or ceiling or what-have-you to remove the bees and honey, because dead bees and brood smell REALLY bad, and the honey and wax will attract pests like mice and ants.

However, a brave homeowner who helps out with the extraction will be amply rewarded, because a cutout is SO. COOL. It can go in a lot of different directions, based on where the bees are located and how they've built the colony, and how long it's been there, but the beekeeper will basically cut an opening and remove the comb (with various cutting tools) and the bees (with a modified vacuum. Yes, I'm being serious - a vacuum). The part of the comb with the brood (i.e. baby bees) is placed into frames and set into a deep (which is what the bottom box of a bee hive is called). We take that brood box home, and empty the vacuum contents onto it, and go from there. The homeowner can expect a fair number of lost bees wandering around over the next few days, but they dissipate over time, since they can't reform a colony without the queen and brood.

Beekeepers generally will not charge anything to come rescue a swarm, but a bee extraction requires specialized equipment and a LOT of work, so expect a charge (ask up front what it will be). Also, a bee swarm, by definition, has a queen, which is what makes it possible to establish that swarm as a colony. In an extraction, the queen bee may not be captured, or she may be killed or damaged, so the bees that the beekeeper takes home are not nearly the incentive that a swarm is. Still, do please call someone (you can google your local bee club or association for references) as soon as you notice the issue; colonies only get harder to remove the longer they stay. And since they can contain tens of thousands of bees, it's better to remove them to a safe place, even though honeybees are far more docile and less prone to sting than, say, wasps or yellow jackets. They will definitely still sting you if you're bothering the hive, and if that hive is in the wall of your garage, for example, then you run into a major conflict of interests.

All that being said, new colonies are fun fun fun for a beekeeper. It's often hard work, rescuing bees, but it's all worth it when you get the colony to thrive in a good home. Nothing makes me happier than relaxing on a sunny afternoon out in the bee yard, watching happy colonies of bees do their thing.

P.S. If you're in the metro Atlanta area, absolutely feel free to contact me for your swarm issues. I'm always happy to answer questions, and more bees= more colonies= more soap and lip balm.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Botanical soap ingredients

I talk a lot about bees and the hive products we use in our soap, but I do also get questions about the botanicals. One of the reasons I got into beekeeping (and thus soap making) in the first place was because of a natural progression from gardening, and I still spend time in my garden every day. I used to be a professional gardener, and became a Master Gardener for my county in 2007.

Whenever possible, the botanicals in Soapzilla soap are home-grown in my own garden. It's kind of the same reasoning as using my own beeswax: if I plant and tend the garden, I can be sure that the plants are totally chemical-free and of good quality. You hear so many terrible things about every kind of ingredient under the sun these days, that it just seems prudent to use what you produce yourself when you can. Plus, it's really satisfying, and I love working in the garden anyway.

So without further ado, here are some of the ways we use home-grown botanicals in our products:

The fig tree, just starting to leaf out. 
Figs! Our figs are white Marseilles figs (as best we can determine; the tree is probably older than we are) and are very sweet, which adds sugar to the soap, increasing lather. We put the figs in a food processor and use them in cold-process soap. Fruit in general makes for an interesting texture, but figs are great because the seeds are a great, gentle exfoliant. The most popular soap using this ingredient is Brown Sugar Fig, which we generally make in autumn.

Strawberries have a similar effect, but with fewer seeds and lower sugar content. But they really have a unique effect on the texture of the soap.

Roses are my first gardening love. The first plant I learned to take care of was a red rosebush I found growing in my jungly backyard when I bought my house over ten years ago. Since then I've learned to prune and fertilize (no chemicals, don't worry), hybridize and start cuttings, transplant and trellis. So I love using them in soap- the dried petals as an added touch on the surface of soap that's scented with rose oil, and rose hips in lots of ways. They can be used the same way as the petals, or ground up as a beneficial exfoliant throughout the soap, or rose hip tea or rose hip-infused oils can be used in the soapmaking process.

Hops, drying.
Hops are a fun one for me. My husband and I are home brewers (he makes the beer, while I focus on wine and mead), so we grow several varieties of hops for beer-making purposes, but hops are also fantastic for your skin. I use them in beer soaps for the fragrance and exfoliating properties and the skin benefits, and have had some recent requests for shampoo bars with hops, because they're good for hair as well. Hop tea and hop-infused oils can be used too.

Herbs are versatile as soap ingredients, too. We grow lots of them anyway, because we love them, but you can use them in tons and tons of different soap styles and combinations. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, sage, basil, parsley, a billion kinds of mint (more or less)... yum!

Lavender is one of those plants that I used to dismiss as grandmotherly and useless- you can't eat it, right? I don't feel like making sachets and doilies, people! But two things changed my mind and turned me into a lavender addict. One: I was given a facial as a gift, and the... technician? facialist? what do you call those people? Anyway, she used lavender oil and massaged my face and scalp and it was one of the better tactile experiences I've ever had in my life. Two: my favorite little French restaurant has homemade ice cream, and they have a honey & lavender flavor. I'm a sucker for anything honey, so I tried it, and now I can't smell lavender at all without my mouth watering (or walk past that restaurant without getting some of that ice cream). So lavender in soap became irresistible, and I use lavender flowers from the garden to make a french milled soap with lavender essential oil. It's a glorious bar of soap for a bubble bath or for washing one's face.
A baby artichoke!

We're always trying new things, so you never know what else we'll figure out is great in soap. We grow lots more fun things- artichokes, asparagus, grapes, tomatoes, Italian stone pine, various plants with useful flowers (like violets or echinacea) or leaves (like tea camellia or bay laurel), et cetera. If you can eat it, odds are that eventually I'll put it in some soap!