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Here’s how neem oil can do double duty for organic gardeners

Neem oil. It’s a thick, tan-colored oil extracted from the mechanically-pressed (or chemically-processed) seed of the neem tree. Neem is one of those plants that is almost certainly under-utilized across most of the world. It’s all-natural and vegan. You can use neem oil for organic pest control but wait, there’s more…

Organic neem oil benefits and uses. Read more at farmstand

Don’t eat the neem

Yes, I know that the very young shoots and leaves are prepared in dishes in some countries, but long term ingestion of neem is likely to harm internal organs. Neem is toxic to children and pregnant women. Avoid ingesting neem if you are pregnant or nursing.

If you keep neem in your house, ensure that it is out of the reach of children.

What’s the “double-duty” then?

#1 duty: Use neem oil for organic pest control in your garden. I get a ton of pests in my garden in the summer. I pick them off the leaves and use all sorts of preventative measures, like broken egg shells, jute rope, copper tape and a solar-powered owl, that looks fun but is mostly ineffective.

There’s only two organic-friendly garden treatments that offer me any success. One is neem oil. The other is coyote urine. If I have to choose, neem oil smells better but not by much.

It’s not a good idea to eat a lot of neem oil, but it also breaks down quickly in the environment. I spray my plants on a day when I know two things are not going to happen.

  • First, I won’t be harvesting and eating the veggies for at least two days. That’s the half life of neem’s active component, Azadirachtin.
  • Second, it’s not going to downpour and wash away some of the protective oils. Water makes the Azadirachtin breakdown faster.

Neem oil in organic gardens

Every two weeks in the summer, I fill a spray bottle with warm water and add a cap full of neem oil. I shake it up and spray it all over my backyard garden. For my 20′ x 60′ garden, I need to fill the bottle twice.

Neem deters and kills aphids (they’re garden enemy #1 at my house), snails, nematodes (that’s too bad, I kind of like them), cabbage worms, gnats, moths, cockroaches, flies, termites and mosquitoes.

Some internet sites list Japanese beetles as one of the bugs killed or repelled by neem; however, in years when the infestation is really intense, all kinds of beetles power-through my neem defenses. It might help, but it’s no cure-all.

The great news is, neem oil is practically non-toxic to bees, birds, fish and plants! I would never harm my neighbors’ honey bees. Look how cute they are.

Looking for more technical info on neem oil? Here is a great cheatsheet from Oregon State University.

Could you use some neem? Here’s a link to 100% cold-pressed neem oil.

And a reusable, clear glass spray bottle. I never seem to have a clean one available when I need it.

Another use for neem oil

I did say neem could do double duty for you. In addition to using it in your organic garden, you can use neem oil to make homemade soap. It’s cleansing, moisturizing and deodorizing!

One piece of advice, don’t use too much neem in your soaps. It can feel a little bit heavy on your skin if you overdo it.

When I make soap, I usually use a base of olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter. Neem oil works best if it’s 5-10% of the total oils in your recipe.

Here are some tips on how to use almost any oil laying around your house to make soap. You really just need a basic recipe and a little practice with a soap calculator. I use the calculator at for all of my homemade batches.

Bonus: since a little goes a long way, one bottle of neem lasts me more than a year!

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How to make Zero Waste homemade soap!

How to turn any old oil into zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap making at its best!

You saw it first on farmstand culture. Find out: what is zero waste homemade soap, when and how to make it yourself. And, if you’re more into learning and watching rather than DIYing, read on for my personal experience with zero-waste soap making. I hope it inspires other positive, natural-lifestyle changes in your every day life.

It all started about a decade ago, before my sister and I had children. We loved the handmade soaps at Sunflower Farm Shop in Orange, Connecticut, and felt inspired to try making our own soap from scratch.

We spent about $100 on materials and equipment to get us started and spent an evening chatting, measuring and mixing up two batches of pure, chemical-free soap. You would never know it was only our first try. Those soaps came out great. My friends and colleagues asked me to make more…for years, but with kids and work and house and school and and and…it was nearly ten years before I made my next batch of handcrafted soap.

Find out how I use any old oils laying around the house to make zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap at its best!

Inspiration hit

Several months ago I looked in the cabinet and noticed a massive vat of expired organic coconut oil. Do you know how expensive those are?

We buy most of our pantry goods at an American wholesale club. Picture a legitimate warehouse, open to the public, with shelves stacked to the ceiling full of giant versions of everyday items.

Laundry detergent the size of a backpack. Whole fillets of king salmon that fill a tray so big, it is hard to carry. The coconut oil they sell is huge, approximately the size of eight normal jars of coconut oil. And, we only used half of our expired coconut oil. Ugh.

I felt annoyed and upset that we wasted the equivalent of a year’s worth of coconut oil. Clearly, we went through a coconut oil phase that faded before the supply ran out. But, when I opened it, the oil smelled fine. I was not about to throw it away. First, I made a coconut-coffee sugar scrub with some of it. A few days later, true inspiration hit…

Zero-waste soap

Back when my sister and I experimented with hand-crafted soap, we created our own recipes using online calculators. With these free calculators, you simply type in different quantities of whatever oils you have, and it tells you exactly how much lye and water you need to make your soap. 

Lye is dangerous but necessary to saponify (i.e. turn fats and oils into soap). Pretty much any natural fat will saponfiy if mixed with liquefied lye. Brilliant!

No need to waste that old coconut oil. It smelled fine and rather than eat it, I can turn it into soap! So I did. Here’s what happened…

My experiment

First, I ordered lye on Amazon. Be careful. Lye is dangerous and scary. It causes permanent burns to bare skin. Kids should never, ever be around lye. Grown-ups are barely trust-worthy around lye.

Then, I awoke our soap-making pots, measuring cups, and thermometers from their decade-long slumber. If you want to make soap, dedicate the materials to soap-making just in case there’s somehow some leftover lye or soap in them. Put labels on your soap-only cups, bowls and spoons. 

Almost there. I had gloves, but still needed a kitchen scale to weigh everything. At the end of the post, I’ll give you all the links to the key materials you need to make zero-waste soap yourself.

Creating zero waste soap recipes

I worked up a recipe for a simple coconut oil and olive oil soap, but since I found a small bottle of really old sweet almond oil, I threw that in, too. It passed my sniff test. If you find random old oils around the house, just measure how much you have and add it to your online soap calculator. Easy. 

Go through your cabinets and pantry and see if you have some old oils hanging around. Then, weigh them on your kitchen scale and enter the amounts you have into an online calculator. Sometimes, soap-makers call them either lye calculators or soap calculators. Same thing.

Here’s a good soap calculator: SoapCalc and here is a round-up post from The Spruce Crafts that mentions five others. Don’t be intimidated. The calculators look complicated at first, but once you start using them, it gets easier. If you really just want a very simple lye calculator for soapmaking, this one by TheSage is easy to use. 

Soap-making process and tips

Here is a recipe and video for cold process soap from Becky’s Homestead that inspired me to add olive oil to my zero waste coconut soap. You don’t have to add other oils. But, I like a softer bar of soap, and as she mentions in the video, coconut oil makes harder bars.

Cold process soap is made without heating the oil and lye mixture over a stove or in a crock pot; that would be hot process soap. As a beginner, I started with cold process soap-making, but it takes longer to cure (i.e. you have to wait a month before you can use your soap). 

Instead of rosemary oil, I used a half ounce of ginger essential oil in my zero waste soap for fragrance (because that’s what I had), and I didn’t add any color. 

Instead of using a mask and fan like Becky, I mixed my lye into the water outside and let it cool outside. I never open lye in the house. It’s personal preference. And, as the lye water cooled, I hid it outside away from kids and animals. 

If this is your first time bringing soap to “trace”, watch a few videos to get a better feel for the pudding-like consistency you need before you can pour your soap into the molds. 

You don’t need a fancy mold. You can use any old plastic container or even an old shoe box. TIP: line the mold with strips of parchment paper before you pour in the soap. Parchment strips make it easier to remove the soap the next day to cut it into bars. 

How to make zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap recipe

My mistake

After my soap hardened, I noticed that the outside dried lighter with some soda ash, and the middle dried darker. It doesn’t really matter. The soap works beautifully. Actually, it’s amazing how simple this soap recipe is, given how well it suds and cleans. However, my soap probably wouldn’t sell well at a farm stand. It’s not perfect. But, I think I understand my mistake.

I blended the lye mixture and oils when they cooled to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it was cold that day. And, I mixed the lye outdoors and left it in the freezing cold. I think it would be better to blend my ingredients at a slightly higher temperature, maybe 110 to 120 degrees. 

Zero waste soap-making materials

You probably already own a mixing spoon, cups and bowls. Here’s a list of the less common materials you need to make your own zero waste soap at home.

Kitchen scale
Thermometer (You need one. I use two.)
Immersion blender (Don’t use this for food if you use it to blend lye into soap.)
Long rubber gloves
Protective eyeglasses

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Leave us a comment and let us know if you made some soap. What was your experience like?

Do you have old oils laying around the house that would make great zero waste soap? I will be asking my friends and family to bring me theirs!

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Tips for Hot Process Soap Making Beginners

Once. I admit it. I bought all the stuff, designated a hand mixer and a stainless steel pot, and made soap from scratch with my sister, just once. Now the soap-making equipment sits in my basement. But, after reading this post on hot process soap making, I’m starting to feel inspired to get another batch going. It’s really a fun bonding experience, as long as you have patience. Homemade soap takes about a month to cure before you can use it. We did not use a crockpot, but I really like the idea. A professional soap maker on Twitter assures me she uses a crockpot. It’s not cheating.

Check out this pressed article from Natural Beauty Workshop for more about hot process soap. Source: Tips for Hot Process Soap Making Beginners