Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Black Soap and Savon de Marseille in the Garden

By Marie-Helene Blackmore

   Affordable, easy to apply and eco-friendly, Black Soap and Savon de Marseille (Marseilles Soap) come in handy at the first appearance of pests or diseases due to their manifold qualities: insecticide, wetting agent, emulsifier and bactericide.  Effective but gentle, both soaps may be used on multiple sensitive plants and seedlings with no adverse reactions.  They are an excellent adjuvant for enhancing the adhesiveness and penetration of preparations for the treatment of plants, thereby allowing for better assimilation and less susceptibility to leaching.  Their adhesive and bactericidal properties reinforce the preventive action.  They are also an ideal emulsifier, assisting with the dispersion of oil-based solutions in water.  Made from a base of vegetable oils, Black Soap and Marseilles Soap are completely biodegradable.

Black Soap Available online in Savons d’ailleurs eBoutique, Marius Fabre Savon noir – Liquid Black Soap with Olive Oil should be diluted in warm water just before use.

Savon de Marseille Gentler than Black Soap, genuine Savon de Marseille such as Le Sérail – Antique Savon de Marseille Olive Oil is essentially use for the control of aphids.  Also available online in Savons d’ailleurs eBoutique.

Eco-Friendly Gardening

ECO-FRIENDLY INSECTICIDE
Aphids, caterpillars and other insects
1/ Recipe with Black Soap: Whisk three tablespoonfuls of liquid Black Soap in one litre of hot water, mixing well. Allow to cool and pour into a spray bottle.  Carefully spray over the upper and lower surfaces of all the leaves for optimal coverage.  Spray rather in the morning or the evening and never in the heat of the sun or when it is raining.  Repeat, if necessary, two or three days later.
2/ Recipe with Savon de Marseille: Shave a cube of Savon de Marseille on a cheese grater with large holes.  Mix a handful of the shavings in one litre of hot water, stirring until they are all completely dissolved.  Allow to cool and pour into a spray bottle.

When should it be used?  As required, throughout the year.
How often?  Where there is a substantial presence of aphids with a rapid life cycle and high reproductive rate, treatment once a week may be necessary.
Variations - Add a few drops of essential oil of lavender which acts as an insect repellent, or add 1 tbsp of canola oil, to deal with the most resistant insects.

ECO-FRIENDLY BACTERICIDE
   Some parasites like aphids will cause a type of black mould to form: sooty mould.  It grows on the leaves, makes them sticky and gradually asphyxiates them, blocking photosynthesis and causing them to drop off.  No need for a specific product to get rid of it, Black Soap does the trick.

Sooty Mould
Recipe: In a small bowl dilute three tbsp of Black Soap with five litres of warm water.  Remove the blackish deposit using a small sponge.  It will come off easily.

ECO-FRIENDLY FUNGICIDE
Black spot and other fungal diseases
Recipe with Bicarbonate of Soda: Strictly speaking, bicarbonate of soda is not a fungicide because it does not kill fungi in the same way as conventional treatment does, but its basic pH level blocks fungal growth.  Never exceed the dose of 1 to 2 tsp per litre of water as you may burn the foliage.  The mixture will adhere better if a little oil is added; in this very simple recipe, Black Soap serves as a wetting agent and already contains olive oil.  For five litres of this solution, begin by mixing in a bowl 5 tsp of bicarbonate of soda with 3 tbsp of Black Soap. Add some warm water and beat with a whisk until all is properly dissolved.  Pour this solution into a sprayer and top up with the volume of water required.

Application - Spray in the evening and especially at the first manifestation of disease.  Continue once a week during stretches when fungal diseases are likely to develop on dry leaves, for example, after storms.  Three or four sprayings will generally be enough.

ALL-ROUND ECO-FRIENDLY PESTICIDE
1/ Garlic Oil Macerate Recipe: This preparation is based on a maceration of garlic in oil.  Easy to prepare, it is primarily used as an insecticide, an insect repellent and a fungicide.  Chop up 100 grams of garlic with its skin on.  Add 3 tbsp of olive oil.  Cover and leave to macerate for twenty-four hours.
Filter through a fine strainer then squeeze the pulp to extract the maximum amount of active ingredients. Add 1 tbsp of Black Soap and beat with a whisk, then pour in one litre of water. This macerate can be kept in a cool place away from the light for about three weeks.

Application - Dilute to a 5% solution and spray in the evening (repeat regularly).
Use as an insecticide and insect repellent against aphids, mites, onion maggots and Colorado beetles. Use as a fungicide for fungal diseases such as rust, botrytis, peach leaf curl, etc.

2/ Chilli Oil Macerate Recipe: This preparation is based on a maceration of chillies in oil.  Easy to prepare, it is primarily used as an insecticide, an insect repellent and a fungicide.  Mix 1 tsp of hot chilli powder in 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Whisk until the chilli is thoroughly mixed with the oil.  Leave to macerate for a few hours and add 1 tbsp of Black Soap.  Gradually dilute with 250ml of water to obtain a total emulsion.  Pour into a spray bottle and use immediately.
Alternative Recipe with Whole Chillies: Wear gloves when preparing this as capsaicin is highly irritating to the skin and mucosal tissue.  Soak a handful of chopped hot chillies in one litre of water for twenty-four hours.  Filter through a fine cloth or a coffee filter, squeezing a little.  Add 1 tbsp of Black Soap.  Pour into a spray bottle, shake and spray.

Application - Used undiluted and as a spray, this mixture serves as an insecticide or insect repellent.  It rids plants of aphids, caterpillars, mites, flea beetles, etc. 
How often should it be used?  During periods of proliferation, regular treatments are necessary every 8 to 10 days.

* Economic tip * When you wash your floors with a solution of Black Soap, do not throw the soapy mix out: rather recycle it on the undesirables in your garden.


Photo: ©123rf Ababaka

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Spring Cleaning 101: Tips & Techniques

By J. A. Young

   Spring cleaning is a seasonal rite of passage many of us enjoy and others of us grudgingly endure.  To make the most of this great effort, cleaners should employ the proper cleaning techniques to do the job effectively and safely for the items in question.  This frequently involves using the right cleaning solution.  The following text advises how to clean a myriad of household items from books, baseboards, mirrors, floors, walls, and so forth.

   Having the tools of the trade is the first part of your cleaning journey.  Rubber gloves, dust masks, goggles, comfortable shoes should accompany a battery of brooms, mops, buckets, various brushes, rags, sponges, dusters, a chamois and a vacuum cleaner (with attachments).  You will also need to consult your pantry (or grocery or hardware store) for a many items needed to make cleaning solutions.  Household commercial cleaners may also be used, but there are many traditional mixtures that can effectively (and organically) do the job.  When stocking your supply pantry with natural cleaners, choose baking soda, lemons, vinegar and salt.

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products - Vinegar, lemon, salt and baking soda

   Before getting started, it’s a good idea (sometimes the simplest notions are overlooked) to begin at the top and work downward. It’s a sad day when you scrub the floor of grime only to watch stars of dust float downward from the ceiling fan. Also, it may be helpful to perform a dry run of cleaning—that is, wipe away dust and grime before you apply wet methods. This will eliminate extra muck from the task.
   Ceiling and walls - Cleaning the ceiling and walls can be accomplished with two buckets, a mop, a couple large sponges and a drop cloth. Fill one bucket with mild soap* and water and the other bucket with clean water for rinsing. You’ll need the drop cloth for furniture when washing the ceiling (the mop tackles this fine). Use the large sponges for the walls and baseboards (skirtings).
   Brass, copper and chrome - To clean brass fixtures or items make a paste of salt and vinegar (using equal parts). Rubbing a fine layer over the surface will prevent tarnish. Copper may be similarly cleaned. Chrome should be wiped down with vinegar and baking soda on a damp cloth. Club soda also cleans up chrome nicely.
   Tiles -To get rid of mildew on tile, use a mixture of water and ammonia. To clean grimy tile, scrub with a solution of scouring powder and water. 
   Electronic equipment - Cleaning electronic equipment can be accomplished by dampening a washcloth with isopropyl alcohol and rubbing dust and grime from the surface. Never pour any agent on the devices themselves.
   Microwave oven - To clean the inside of the microwave oven fill a microwavable bowl with water and a pile of lemon slices. Heat on high for about two minutes. Afterwards, wipe the interior clean.
   Stainless steel - A combination of baking powder and water may be used to clean stainless steel. Use a chamois to buff each item after cleaning.
   Wood furniture - For cleaning varnished wood furniture, consider using some cooled black tea dabbed on a soft cloth (a drop of furniture cream will also do the trick.) Various furniture oils available at the grocery store are suitable for furniture polishing. 
   Floor - Most all-purpose cleaners* diluted in water are suitable for cleaning vinyl. This will do for hardwood floors as well only take care not to disperse water too liberally. You can also clean wood floors with a half cup of apple cider diluted in water.
   Dusting - Dusting is best accomplished with a damp cloth or cheesecloth so that you pick up dust rather than displace it. From tabletops to books, dusting often a weekly chore. Consider toothbrushes or paint brushes remove grime from cracks and crevices.
   Drains - Equal parts baking soda and white vinegar flushed with water will freshen all your drains. To clean a stainless steel sink, vinegar is an ideal cleaner. To remove stains in the sink, rub vigorously with a slice of lemon.
   Countertops and surfaces - Mild soap* and warm water cleans mirrors, countertops and refrigerators. Use your vacuum cleaner attachment to clean the refrigerator coils. Warm sudsy water will also help you tackle the stovetop. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to clean the oven.
   Coffee maker - To clean your coffee maker, brew a pot of white vinegar (sans coffee). Then brew several pots of plain water to flush out the system.
   Major cleaning routines can usually be accomplished over a weekend. Consider setting aside some time this spring to give your home the cleaning overhaul it needs!

Photo: ©123rf/Geografika

* Savons d'ailleurs recommend using Marius Fabre Savon noir - Liquid Black Soap with Olive Oil for all household cleaning duties.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Making of Marseilles Soap - A Traditional Process that has Stood the Test of Time

By Marie-Helene Blackmore

Did you know that genuine Marseilles Soap is still made today in the same traditional way as it was centuries ago?

Marseilles Harbour
Marseilles Harbour

Pasting (empâtage)
   In the cauldrons of the soap factory, the master soap-maker prepares two types of soap: white and green.  The former consists of coconut and palm oils, the latter of mostly olive oil and, in smaller quantity, other vegetable oils such as coconut and palm. The master soap-maker closely monitors the cauldrons where the soap is cooking (one for the white soap, the other for the green).

Preparation of the alkali solution that will be added to the vegetable oils.
The pasting (l'empâtage) is the first step in the process of traditional soap making. Vegetable oil and alkali are mixed and heated until it has the consistency of a paste

   The vegetable oils is mixed with an alcali (generally it will be sodium hydroxyde). Sea salt is then added.  The mixture is first boiled by steam circulating in a coiled tube at the bottom of the cauldron.  Through chemical reaction, the alkali transforms the mixture into a paste and the salt purifies it.  This takes about eight hours. 
     
Cooking and Washing (cuisson et lavage)
   Cooking involves boiling the paste for four hours at approximately one hundred degrees while frequently removing the used alkali (a process called "épinage").  A series of washes then begins.  Salt water is sprayed over the top of the paste.  The water being heavier than the soap paste, it sinks to the bottom of the vessel, taking the impurities with it in its fall.

To reach the boiling point faster, the cauldrons are heated with steam. 
The last step of the Marseilles Process (procédé marseillais) is the liquifying (liquidation) - the soap paste is rinsed with water to remove impurities and achieve its 'Extra Pure' status.

   This step requires continual vigilance on the part of the Master Soap-maker: the paste can boil over at any time.  That's when he has to stir the paste with a long paddle to prevent this.






   Finally, the master soap-maker checks to see whether his soap is ready by putting a drop of soap on his tongue. If it tastes sweet he can proceed to the next step, if not, the paste needs to be washed again. Once this process has been successfully completed, the master soap-maker covers the cauldron and lets the paste rest for thirty-six hours.

Pouring into the Moulding Tanks
While the soap paste is resting, the soap-makers are busy on the floor below preparing the huge rectangular pouring tanks which will be filled according to the amount required to meet the orders.  They powder the tanks with talcum and line their walls with paper. Pipes connecting the bottom of the cauldron to the tanks are then meticulously positionned over the tanks.


   In order to be certain that the pipes have been correctly installed, a soap-maker turns on the tap, slowly at first, to release the liquid paste which is still warm (60°).  Using a trowel and some of the paste, he also takes this opportunity to seal down the paper bordering the edge of the detachable plank of each tank.  This operation ensures that each tank is leak-proof.

   He then turns the tap on full, for the liquid paste to be released more rapidly into the tank.  It looks strangely like molten lava.  The soap paste is filtered at the pipe outlets as it enters the tank, to remove remaining impurities.  When the tanks are full the tap is turned off.  The soap-maker levels the surface of the hot liquid soap with a smoothing tool (a kind of long-handled spatula).  The soap then dries for approximately forty-eight hours.  It cools down and gradually hardens.

Cutting
   A large number of equal rectangles are traced out with a soap maker's compass on the surface of the hardened soap.  The soap is then cut up into six-sided blocks with parallel surfaces, and taken out of the tanks using either a wooden shovel or by suction. piled onto trucks by the soap-makers.  It is taken to an automatic square-edge cutting machine set with evenly spaced steel wires.  The blocks are mechanically pushed through the wires in order to obtain bars first, then cubes or rectangles of soap, depending on the nature of the orders.

After eight to ten days resting in the moulding tanks, the soap paste is cut into large blocks.

The blocks are then cut with a wire into smaller bars and cubes.





Drying
   These cubes or rectangles of soap are stacked evenly on wooden racks with a space between each soap.  The racks themselves are placed on trolleys which are then exposed to the mistral wind to speed up the drying process.  Approximately ten days, or even a fortnight, are necessary to dry a thickness of about one centimetre of soap.



Stamping (Estampillage)
   The last step entails marking the soap (stamping on the name or brand) before it is sold.  With a regular, automatic gesture, the soap-maker places each block of soap in the centre of a soap press mould which, as it closes, prints at once the six faces of the block of soap with mandatory information such as the soap-maker logo, the ingredients, weight…  Alternatively, the soap-maker will hand stamp each of the six faces of the block with a heavy hand-held brass stamp.


   As we have just seen, the creation of an authentic block of Marseilles soap requires numerous manual operations. This three centuries-old process seems to have stood the test of time at the last remaining traditional soap factories such as Savonneries Le Sérail and Marius Fabre.

Photos: ©Marie-Helene Blackmore
Images: ©Louis Figuier, Les Merveilles de l'industrie ou Description des principales industries modernes - Furne, Jouvet (Paris) - 1873-1877





Monday, 6 October 2014

Pamper Your French... avec Cécile!

By Cécile Couper


  It is Spring! C’est le printemps!

Claude Monet "Printemps" (1872). Oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA.

   What is the origin of the word “printemps” and why is it so different to the english word “spring”, when “automne” is so close to “autumn”?

   The word “printemps” originally from Latin “primus tempus” (first time, first season) has been in use in Old French together with its variants “printans”, “tamps prim” and later “prime vère” from the 12th century. Nowadays only the word “printemps” remains in use in French to designate the season while the word “primevère” relates exclusively to the primrose flower.

   In English, various forms of the word “spring” are found in many Germanic languages and can be traced back to the ancient root “sprengh”, meaning "rapid movement." In the 15th and 16th centuries, such expressions as “spring of the leaf”, “spring of the year” and “spring-time” came into use to describe the season after winter and before summer—the period of the year when new growth "burst forth." In time, these expressions were shortened to simply “spring”. However, the connection with Old French is evident when looking in 15th century England, when the season also was called “prime-temps”, after Old French “prin tans”, “tamps prim” (French: “printemps”) as previously mentioned.

   In French, in the figurative sense, “printemps” means young age. The expression « être au printemps de sa vie » means to be young. You will often hear family members, with a little touch of humour,  celebrating their grandmother or aunt’s advanced age with expressions such as  "cette jeune demoiselle vient de fêter ses 90 printemps »: this young lady has just celebrated her 90th birthday! Ah oui, les Français sont des charmeurs!


   If you like this story and would like to improve your French, do not hesitate to contact Cécile for ‘à la carte’ tutoring programs tailored to your specific needs, independently of your level. Discover the pleasure of online one-on-one French lessons on days and at times that suit you (Mobile: 0407 070 467 or email Cecile).