Monday, June 30, 2014

Harvesting and Drying Spearmint and a Peek at my Patio Garden

One of my outdoor projects this year has been starting, and keeping alive, my first little patio garden! Since me and my family live in an apartment, and we live on my college campus to boot, plant-growing space is limited. So, when I started thinking about fun projects, I thought of tending to a small garden!
My little garden: orange dahlias, patio tomatoes, dill, spearmint, and Kiddo's hen and chick!
While doing some research on my little plants, I quickly found out that I need to be harvesting my spearmint NOW! Spearmint, and other mint plants, do really well if harvested three times a year: Spring, Summer, and early Fall. Since the first day of Summer was last week, I figured I needed to get on the ball and start working on my Spearmint plant!
Before the harvest...
I brought my little Spearmint plant into my kitchen and, with kitchen shears, gently removed most of the long branches of leaves. I made sure to leave about 2-4 inches of branch on the plant for regrowth. While most mint plants can take a good hacking and grow back stronger, since this was the first season for my spearmint, I took a caution approach and left plenty of plant to grow back.
... and after the harvest!
 While still on the branches, I rinsed the leaves thoroughly in cold water then patted them dry with paper towels. The leaves were then removed and placed in my dehydrator. I think I ran it for about 2 hours and 30 minutes before the biggest leaves were fully dry... It didnt take long at all by dehydrator standards!
Washed, dried, and ready to dehydrate!
There are other ways to dry herbs as well. If you prefer, you can dry your herbs in a warm oven. Or, if you love the traditional way, you can bundle your herbs and hang them upside down in a dry, cool place to air dry for 4+ weeks. I opted to use my dehyrator with my herbs, since I am short on space and time.

I cannot wait to bust these little herbs out in some soap!
post signature

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Roundup: Week of June 27th

Another week, another roundup! Ready to catch up on all of the week's happenings?

There's new goodies in my Etsy shop:
Marigold Mint Soy Wax Tarts

Creme de Menthe Lip Balm

Spearmint Lip Balm

Honey Lemon Ginger French Milled Soap

And two new videos on my YouTube channel:

I cut my Oatmeal Stout Soap:

And I made some Candy Corn soap:

And Wednesday was my Mom's birthday! Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Grandma and Kiddo enjoying play time together!
post signature

Monday, June 23, 2014

Photography Insights

One of my biggest struggles over the past few years has been my photography. I've used many different cameras, different set ups, different backgrounds and lighting, and after almost 3 years, I think I finally stumbled upon the perfect setup!

Here's a look at one of my old photographs, taken with a simple point-and-shoot camera in a poorly lit lightbox, edited in GIMP:
It isnt a horrible photo... But I want to see better!

And here's an example of my new photography, taken with a D3200 Niko HDSLR in a well lit room on a rustic-looking background:

So happy with the results! 

So, here's some little tidbits of advice that I can give on product photography:
  • Try to find a well-lit room with lots of natural lighting, but make sure the lighting is not direct!
  • I've never had success with white backgrounds. They always came out gray for me. Experiment with different backdrops and settings!
  • If you are going to have objects in the background, make them relevant and small. I always put a few towels, washcloths, or soap dishes in the back of my pictures, but they are always out of focus, far away, and I never let them upstage the product I am photographing.
  • Play around with photo editing software. I use GIMP, which is open source and free to use. I also recommend checking out this YouTube Video, which is a walk-through of how to edit your product photos using GIMP.
  • Think about investing in a good camera. I was able to take some very nice-looking photos with my basic point-and-shoot camera, but using the Nikon has changed things dramatically! 
  • The Macro setting on your camera is YOUR BEST FRIEND!! 
Got any extra tips? Share them in the comments below!

post signature

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Roundup: Week of June 20th

This past week has flown by! What a busy bees me and my little family have become... This Summer is going by so fast! Keeping myself busy and occupied has been the best medicine so far...

So, what have I been up to?

Well, I've got one brand new soap on Etsy:
Green Apple Soap
 I also have a new scent in my soy wax tart line:
Sandalwood Soy Wax Tarts
 I've brought back some old favorites:
Candy Corn Lip Balm
Yuzu Sea Salt Soap
And I made a new soap! Here's the video of me making my new Oatmeal Stout soap with added french green clay and bentonite clay:

I've also been working my tail off on my new lip balm photographs. Last weekend I took over 380 new photos just for my lip balms! I hope to have all 32 flavors up on Etsy by July, to keep checking my lip balms to see what's new! And make sure to come back to the blog on Monday and look for a new post all about my photography!

post signature

Monday, June 16, 2014

Drying walnut shells

I've always been around black walnuts, since the black walnut trees grow freely and abundantly in east Tennessee. As a kid, they were a toy, something to kick and throw. But now, looking at these nuts through the eyes of a soap maker, I can really see the potential! So, back in October, I went to my husband's family farm, grabbed up a few bags of freshly fallen walnuts, and headed home to make a great soap additive!
To clean, dry, and shell your walnuts:

1. Start off with a freshly fallen walnut, still in the green "fruit". While wearing gloves (the fruit will stain your skin!), peel away the softened fruit, revealing the walnut underneath.

2. Once all of your walnuts have been removed from the green fruit, soak the walnuts in a cool water bath. Make sure to use a stainless steel tub, since the walnuts will stain. Stir the walnuts to help remove any excess fruit.

3. Next, hang your walnuts in a mesh bag for two weeks, which will allow the walnuts to cure.

4. After your two week wait, use a hammer to break the tough walnut shell, revealing the nut. You can save and eat the nuts, but we are going for the shells. Break your walnut shells with the hammer until they are small pieces (dime size or smaller).

5. Finally, put the walnut shells in a heady duty food processor and grind them until they are a fine powder. The finer the better!

Store your walnut powder in an air tight container until ready to use. Suggested usage rate in soap is 1 tbsp per pound of oil.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Roundup: Week of June 13th

I've been keeping super busy this week! I've got loads to share with you!

I have a few new soaps listed on Etsy:
Lavender Goats Milk Soap
Black Raspberry Vanilla Soap
I've also uploaded two new videos to my YouTube page:

The first is a video on making lip balm

And the second is a video on making wax tarts:

My items have been featured in treasuries
Treasury by SweetSign
Treasury by GoingtoGround

And I ordered new business cards this week! I love the new design... so sleek! It really makes my products pop! They should be here in about 2 weeks or so. What do you think?

post signature

Monday, June 9, 2014

Business Notebook (Or, how I hoard business articles!)

Before school ended last month, I realized that I had "prints" that I needed to use up before the semester ended. Every semester, part of our tuition goes towards prints on campus, each sheet costing 10 cents to print in black and white. While I used up about half of my prints on schoolwork, I still had a good amount of prints left, which do not roll over to the next semester. So, to prep for my inevitable comeback to SecondSpringSoaps, I began printing off business and soap making articles!

I ended up gutting my school notebook of notes, papers, and graded assignments, and used the three ring binder and its dividers to create neat little sections of my "business notebook."

I started off by printing some really great business articles from the Wholesale Supplies Plus Handmade Magazine! I went through their most recent issues and printed off everything that caught my eye.
I also went to some of my favorite soaping blogs, like SoapQueen, and printed new recipes that I have been anxious to try!
I went to Handmadeology and printed some great articles on tips for selling online.
And my final stops were to Etsy's Seller Handbook and Zibbet's Blog to print off blog articles that would help me with my comeback!

I also went through my school notes and copied down all of the ideas that I had jotted in the margins and saved any "ideas" pages that I had hastily written while brainstorming. I'm in the process now of whittling those notes down to the best of the best, and I've got some really great stuff here: Loads of great ideas for blog posts, scent blends, and soap designs!

Now that everything is organized and all of my articles are slowly being read, re-read, and digested, I am so thankful that I had the foresight to use up my prints in such a productive way!

post signature

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Roundup: Week of June 6th

It's been a slow week at SecondSpringSoaps. After my recent loss, I decided to take a few days and rest, recoup, and try to get used to what I am calling my "new normal". Focusing on my Etsy shop has been a pleasant and calming way for me to find my way back to normal, and it has been a wonderful distraction.

I was able to take out the time to list two new wax tarts:

Fig and Sweet Almond Soy Wax Tarts
Wild Honeysuckle Soy Wax Tarts
And I relisted a few oldies, but goodies:
Citronella Soy Wax Tarts
Tea Tree Beeswax Lip Balm
I am also in the process of editing photos to list new bath bomb varieties and my new soaps that I talked about here. I'm also working on three special new products that I hope to have up by July, including single-use wax tarts, bath truffles, and new wooden soap dishes!

Just trying to keep busy over here...

post signature

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Jasper and Flint

I am not really sure how to start this post.

On Thursday, May 29, 2014, my twin boys, Jasper and Flint, were born at 19 weeks gestation due to silent dilation of my cervix and preterm labor. They passed away shortly after.

It has been a long 5 days. I am so thankful for my husband and my oldest kiddo for giving me a reason to keep going. I am thankful for my family, who cocooned me this weekend. I am beyond thankful for my amazing nurses and doctors at Johnson City Medical Center for trying their hardest to save my boys, holding my hand, and grieving with me. I am thankful for my friends who are supporting me. And last, I am thankful that I got to spend the last 19 weeks being the mother of those amazing babies.

We are getting through, slowly but surely.

I've noticed every color in the sky this week.

post signature