Category: October

(2015) About six months ago we decided it would be great to add a natural sunscreen to our range. Little did we realise how complex and exacting the process would be…read on

We have accumulated so much information about sunscreens that our brains have gone on strike, a bit like the feeling I get five minutes after starting a conversation with our accountant.

Here are some relevant facts to start with:

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, it works a bit like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, in other words to a lay person it’s rather confusing. An SPF 15 blocks 93.3% of UV rays, an SPF 30 blocks 96.7%, and SPF 50 blocks 98% so 30 is not double 15 as you would think, and not 30 times longer in the sun either. There are now limitations on SPF claims -50 being the highest.

ANapier Beacht present it’s not compulsory in NZ to get a sunscreen tested, but it seems a necessity to have an SPF value. Testing is available in Australia. There are 2 methods of measuring SPF: in a laboratory, which is called ‘in vitro’ & on people which is called ‘in vivo.’ At present the ‘in vivo’ system is the one with the most clout here & in Australia, but overseas it is being phased out. It seems an oddly unscientific method, where volunteers are tested with small patches of sunscreen for various amounts of time, in a controlled environment & a figure is arrived at. I’ll come back to these tests in a while.

At first it seemed quite simple, Google provided us with much data about natural oils & their SPFs. We read that Carrot Seed Oil & Sacred Basil Oil had SPFs of 40 or so. How hard could it be to make a mix with an Olive & Coconut Oil base, add some Zinc oxide (ZnO) & away we go.

We’d heard that ZnO nano particles were bad guys, we didn’t want those. We read research that criticised the chemical sunscreens, these work by being absorbed into the deeper layers of your skin, & whilst screening you from the Sun they also got absorbed into your body.  There are also reports that these products can cause skin irritaion & allergies. They are implicated as endocrine disruptors & contain skin penetration enhancers, which mean that people working with other chemicals, such as pesticides are at risk.

At first it seemed that there had been a difference between a sunscreen & a sunblock, a sunblock like ZnO works by creating a protective & reflective barrier on top of the skin, rather than inside it…but no that’s too logical, we must now call them all sunscreens.

wairarapa trip march 2015 073 (shrunk)

OK, so we’re wanting to make a sunscreen that’s a sunblock, but we can’t call it that. We started by looking at all the natural oils & butters that had an SPF rating. We combined 2 recipes, an old one by Elizabeth Francke & a more modern one we found online. There were a lot of ingredients, strong black tea, lanolin, sesame oil, coconut oil, shea butter, several essential oils, but not citrus oils. We made a batch using pharmaceutical grade ZnO. We passed it out to friends & family. It smelt rather deliciously of food, it looked like putty, it rubbed on nicely. Feedback was positive.

Next step was to get some idea of the SPF rating, this required sending a sample over to Oz for testing. We were feeling pretty optimistic. Some $500 later the results told us it was not great, only SPF9. It seems that the SPF ratings for natural oils etc cannot be relied on to give a good SPF figure, dammit!!

Back to the drawing board, we sourced a finer grade of ZnO, micronised, we put more into the recipe, we beat the mixture for longer, apparently it is notoriously difficult to blend. We sent off a sample…we waited, we waited some more,the sample went missing, we sent off another sample (tracked for $40.) We waited, we alternated between optimism & pessimism, if this didn’t work we’d give it up as a bad idea. Result: SPF12, bugger!! another$500 gone, close but no banana (Geoff points out that I should say ‘No cigar’ & that I am being very PC by not referring to smoking- purely random brain function on my part).

After more consultation we looked again at the nano particle information, we found a place in Perth that made a range of Zinc oxide nano products in plant based oils. The product is Eco-certified, which is encouraging, the base mix is a coconut oil derivative. We looked again at the information on nano particles, it seems that much of the info was from 2008 & had been revised. Both the TGA & EWG reports & Cancer Council Australia deem it safe to use, looking at present time evaluations. The initial scare was that these small particles could be absorbed through the skin, this has proved not to be the case.

ZnO forms aggregates which are larger in size, and this creates some of the confusions around ZnO particle size. There seems to be confusion generally around the nano definition & how it is interpreted and measured. Some sunscreens that have made claims not to contain any nano particles actually do contain them.

Weighing up the pros & cons, it seems that the Zinc oxide with nano particles is a safer option than a chemical sunscreen which is absorbed into the skin.

  • As  ZnO forms a physical barrier it is ready to go as soon as you apply it, you don’t have to wait 20 minutes.
  • ZnO sits on the surface of the skin & is not absorbed into it. Points of  potential entry would be through damaged skin.
  • In cream form, rather than spray or cosmetic powder there is no chance of inhaling it.
  • The finer particles have a much bigger surface area & are more effective as a sunblock.
  • The finer particles do not whiten the skin so much as the larger grades, so consumers are more inclined to use appropriate amounts.

The risk of sun damage far outweighs the risks of not using a sunscreen. The Cancer Council Australia has good information on the topic, and comments that if a product is labelled whether or not it contains nano particles, then the consumer can make up their own mind.

So we’ve come full circle, & have decided that on balance we feel that ZnO nano particles dispersed in an oil base offer a reliable way of getting a good sunscreen, with consistent results. We were sent a sample of ZinclearXP65COCO & made two batches which we sent back to their lab to be assessed. The ZnO is dispersed 65% in an oil base called Coco caprylate/caprate, which is derived from coconut oil. The product has Eco cert & Natural Products certification. It is biodegradeable.

The latest results from Dermatest  are below:

(28/2/2017) This was a preliminary test, and we hope to get a full testing in the Spring of 2018

Here are the results & explanations for the values:


Sunscreen #1




Critical Wavelength 






(≥ 0.33 for UVA requirement)



 The estimated in-vivo SPF value for the  sunscreen is 34.8 

Critical Wavelength– The critical wavelength is an additional requirement for UVA logo, it must be equal or higher than 370, both your samples passed the specification at critical wavelength of 373.

 UVAPF and UVAPF/ SPF – For European regulation, there is also a requirement to provide the consumer with a minimum level of UVA protection in relation to the SPF. This should be “UVA PF” or at least 1/3 (0.33) of the SPF to carry the UVA seal. 

 The good thing about Zinclear XP65COCO that you used for this formulation is that it has high Zinc Oxide loading and it’s already in a dispersed form. As long as you are consistent with your technique in mixing Zinclear with the bulk and in homogenising the emulsion, you’ll achieve good SPF rating.

Meantime we have done the best we can, & all the other ingredients in our recipe are user friendly, even the emulsifier & preservative are Eco certified. We have included lanolin as a water protector, but we make no claims that this is water resistant (that requires more tests & more $$).

Other things to consider when looking at sunscreens are:

  • The balancing act between skin protection & getting the Vitamin D you need.
  • Other ways to protect yourself including avoiding the hottest part of the day, wearing a hat & light clothing.
  • Using the appropriate amount of sunscreen  as recommended, re-applying as needed, especially after swimming.
  • One rule of thumb is a teaspoon per body part or area: 1 teaspoon for your face, head, and neck; 1 for each arm; 1 for each leg; 1 for your chest and abdomen, and 1 for your back and the back of your neck, although you won’t need so much of our sunscreen, your skin shouldn’t look white once it is rubbed in. Regardless of which SPF you use, apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to allow it to adhere to skin, then reapply at least every 2 hours—more often if you’re swimming or sweating excessively.

There’s lots of info online, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so check it out & make your own choices. Below are a few of sites we referred to:

Ne’er cast a clout

‘Ne’er cast a clout til May is out’ was the bane of my life, as a small child growing up in the U.K. My Mum rigidly would abide by this rule, & so would not let me swim or even wear summer clothes until June. (Clouts in this case being clothes.) In fact there is some argument that the May in question is May flowers, otherwise known as Hawthorn, although I must admit it still seems most likely to be the month of May. I used to get so frustrated at being kept away from swimming that I would often feign slipping & falling into the water, arriving home dripping wet & blue lipped.

As I was looking up this phrase I solved another of life’s small mysteries, I have pondered on the old rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’ thinking that in England there were no nuts around in May, apart from those ignoring the ‘clout’ rule & frolicking in the freezing seas! Apparently it’s ‘knots of May’ meaning little bunches of Hawthorn flowers.

May Flowers (shrink)

The whole point of this meandering introduction is that I have rediscovered the beautiful Hawthorn & become quite devoted to it’s ancient energy & powerful medicinal properties. Giles has cleared the the blackberries from around the base of a young tree that has self seeded in our gardens, & now it is standing tall & proud, wreathed in it’s lovely white flowers. There are a couple more big trees on the other side of the creek, one must be 10 metres high at least, & then as we walk the local roads we have seen more huge specimens. For some reason they have had a profound effect on me, perhaps a distant memory from my childhood, or some older ripple of recognition. The sense of antiquity & benign presence is very strong.

I have collected several basketfuls of knots of May, & made batches of hydrosol which I am taking for my heart arrhythmia, & I’ve spread some flowers out on trays in the drying caravan for later use. I have made a special effort to talk to the trees & thank them for their gifts. (Check out info on my blog about making Hawthorn fruit leather)

While I was trying to find out about Hawthorn hydrosol I found a beautiful website called which has some beautiful images of the Hawthorn tree throughout the year.

Apart from communing with the May trees, we have been very busy in the gardens, we are about 2/3 of the way through weeding the herb/vege garden, mulching with cardboard & leaf mulch as we go, & most of the house gardens are pretty much tidy, wow!  Everything has erupted with great speed & vigour, the place is many shades of green, with Wisteria, Roses, Robinia , Lily of the Valley & other plants wafting sweet smells around the place.

Robinia Flowers (shrink) Wisteria (shrink)

We have planted all of our seed potatoes now, plus some of the staking & bush tomatoes, Chillies, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Basil, Sunflowers etc etc the greenhouse is still pretty full with more plants waiting to be planted out. The orchard is almost over the flowering time, except for the apples & pears, & hundreds of tiny fruit are showing already.  Have also included a photo of our first pick of Artichokes & a pick of Asparagus, I just love the way the textures & colours of these go together.

Asparagus & Artichokes (shrink)

Northland in October

It’s been so long since I put an entry into the blog, I’m not sure where to start.

Our son, Giles came back home, after living in wellington for 8 years, & then heading overseas. Since he has been home we have been undergoing a transformation, we are now the “Team at Millstream” & have a new website & blog, we’ve completed the changeover to new labels & undertaken an ambitious new project designing a new range of tins with beautiful retro kiwi labels with matching postcards. We have found a number of outlets for these, but as yet have decided not to sell online, because we want the shops they are in to have the benefit of being exclusive.

Retro NZ Tin StandThe reason I’m telling you this, is that the new tins were the impetus for Geoff & I to do one of our rare sales trips/ holiday escapades. The first leg of the trip from home to Taupo went smoothly, towing our old caravan & we anticipated getting through the Auckland traffic well ahead of rush hour. Just outside of Tokoroa we had a mishap (understatement of the year!) suddenly there was a strange juddering, we pulled over thinking we had a flat tyre on the caravan, imagine our surprise & horror to discover that on one side we had no wheel at all. It had vanished into thin air, leaving four snapped off bolts & the caravan lurching sickeningly onto one side. All our happy thoughts dissolved in a second & dire thoughts replaced them.

where's the wheel goneprecariousCaravan

While we waited for AA to come to our rescue we scouted the other side of the road for the errant wheel, eventually finding it, in one piece up against a fence in some undergrowth, it was so lucky that it hadn’t caused an accident as it sped across that very busy road. The AA  tow truck   man  was unphased, he hooked the caravan up onto the deck, hanging precariously off the back, & took us back to Tokoroa. After visiting several garages who were too busy to help, we found a kindly gentleman at Pit Stop Garage who sent us off to buy bolts, then proceeded to check out the axle & brakes, & replace the wheel. Half an hour & $70 later (including bolts) we were back on the road, limping a little & a bit nervous, but definitely counting our blessings & grateful for acts of kindness from strangers.

DSCF1605Kiwi mail boxeshundterwasser toilets

Luckily we stayed a night at my Aunt & Uncles, & had all the materials we needed to repair the body work & internal framing that had been munched. Once we had that sorted we headed cautiously northwards. We spent a night at Mangawhai Heads, which was quite nostalgic for me, since we lived near Te Hana when we first came to NZ in 1976, & Mangawhai was the first beach I saw here. We drove along the coast, through Waipu to Whangarei, then on to Paihia, via the toilets at Kawakawa. Kerikeri then across to Rawene, then turned south again through Dargaville, Kaiwaka (my old stomping ground, where we lived for some time in a community, back in 1978) & then back onto familiar territory. Although we cut the trip a bit short, to avoid shaking the caravan too much we had some lovely times & met a lot of helpful & friendly people. I think I may have overcome my dread of marketing, although Geoff is a natural & doesn’t stress at all.

Northland 120Boathouse Cafe, RaweneBush, Northland

Highlights were:

The Quarry Arts Centre in Whangarei, where we explored all sorts of eccentic buildings & admired beautiful art works & some exquisite wood turning.

Haruru Falls Motel & Motorcamp, just north of Paihia, a blissful spot on the edge of the water, lots of bird life & quiet.

The Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa

The Stone Store at Kerikeri with it’s authentic shop

The Boatshed Cafe at Rawene, the best seafood pizza ever, & such a cool spot, lovely staff too, even though they were rushed off their feet.

The bush drive from Opononi to outskirts of Dargaville, beautiful.

Matakohe Kauri Museum, haven’t been there for 30 years, it has grown so much. Love the life sized models, all the figures are replicas of local people who’s families are part of the history of the place.

Bush drive from Tirau to Rotorua, very special we’ve never been on that road before.

Best of all: arriving safely in our own driveway.

If you want to source our tins, you’ll have to go visiting:

The Cream of Matakana, at Matakana,  Country Trenz, Town Basin Whangarei

Ancient Kauri Kingdom, Paihia,   The Stone Store, Kerikeri

The Kauri Museum, Matakohe,   Rotorua Museum

Art Deco Trust, Napier,     Gallery at the Mission, Greenmeadows

Arataki Honey, Havelock North

Spring Obsessions

Planting time is upon us, so too is the time of weeds & abundant lawns!  Geoff has got creative this year with frost protection, so we have planted out our tomatoes, some eggplants, & curcubits etc that are big enough, the rest are slowly growing in the greenhouse.

The onions we put in earlier are starting to bulk up, & we’ve filled any gaps with some plants we’ve grown from seed, 3 or 4 seeds  in each cell, this is another experiment, apparently they will just make room for each other, & this is a lot later to plant them so we shall see. I’ve planted seeds of carrots & beetroot, parsnips & Carouby peas & cumin & Nigella. Also planted out some more Florence Fennel, & some Whitloof Chicory plants, (which we hope to eat next winter.)

We’ve finally, after 20 years, built a soft fruits house, which will keep the birds out, hopefully! It has a row of Redcurrants in it, these cropped amazingly last year, but they all went before we could pick them, so we’re looking forward to exploring some new recipes for currants, Summer Pudding is top of the list. We’ve also got Raspberries, red & golden, I’ve wanted to try the golden ones ever since I saw them on that brilliant TV series ‘The Victorian Garden’, years ago, why don’t they re-run some of those great gardening programmes? there’s such a dirth of good TV. Strawbs of course & a Guava & American Cranberry. We’re also experimenting with a fig in a pot, which may end up in a half barrel later.

Spring harvest is underway, so we’re getting creative with lots of Asparagus & Globe Artichokes, plus greens. Just onto the last of our eating spuds, they are sprouty but not too wrinkled to eat, garlic is just holding out. We have broccoli, fennel, & the last of the parsnips & celeriac to eat. The last of the leek plants have gone to seed & were too woody to eat, there’s a few late leeks that might amount to a meal yet. Early summer is often a time where ther’s not a great variety of vege, too early for the ones that take a while to ripen. We’ve planted a brassica patch, which we can net if needbe to keep out the Cabbage White Butterflies.

We’ve had a visit from our daughter, & our 2 beautiful grandchildren. How did we ever mange to bring up our family, it seems an exhausting business, of course 20 years makes a difference! Now, being Gramps & Nanny is a whole lot of fun, luckily we’d kept all those books from when Giles was little, they are like old friends. We had a lovely picnic by the creek & introduced Tahlia to Eli, our tame eel. He’s been in the same spot for 6 or 7 years & has grown to impressive proportions

Spuds, Iris & Good Smells

We are feeling very pleased with ourselves, we’ve planted our potatoes! Some years we haven’t got around to it until mid December, not recommended practice!

Most of the spuds have been chitted, to produce strong sprouts prior to planting ( see Aug diary) but we decided to add some extra Agria, so put in the last of our eating potatoes, saved from last season &  sprouting.

About 2 months ago we scattered compost & sheep manure over the areas intended for spuds. Today we cleared off the surface weeds, well Geoff did,  & dug trenches, each  had some extra manure added, then the seed potatoes were put in, spaced at about 15 inches, 40 cm apart, the rows are about 1metre apart. Plant them sprouts up, as they have been sitting in their trays. Handle them gently, you don’t want to knock off the sprouts.

Then the spuds were covered with enough soil to cover them up.


We’ve found that by starting with a trench, we can get more growth & 2 or 3 moundings, all this helps to produce a good crop, as the spuds form above the parents tuber, on the stalks. This is the second year in this spot, so next year we’ll move them to a new position.

The last two weeks have been an unfolding of Irises. What beautiful things they are, finely marked & coloured. & many are scented too. We have both sorts of Orris Iris, I. pallida & I. florentina, which are hardy & reliable. We haven’t ever made Orris powder, mostly because it takes 2 or 3 years to mature & develop it’s fragrance. I’ve decided that next time we have some middle rhizomes with no sprouts I’ll have a go. Our Bearded Iris like full sun,well drained soil & to have their rhizomes exposed to the sun. The best time to split them up is February. We also have one variety of Siberican Iris, a lovely blue, called ‘Caesar’s Brother’  which is happy with wet feet, but seems just as obliging in the garden beds. We have a Japanese Roof Iris, I. tectorum alba, which handles the shade quite well, but is obviously happy in hot dry positions too, if it grows on roofs. It is reputed to have been used as an ingredient in face whitening preparations.

Our Asparagus is up, in amongst the grass, & as the plants are over 20 years old, we’re happy to get a good feed & enough to give away. Of course if we were keen we could lavish more attention on it, but it’s not high on our list of  ‘to do’ jobs.

Our Wisteria have recovered from the frost, & are full of flowers, their perfume wafts around the garden, it seems that the longer flowered varieties don’t have such a heady fragrance.


Diary Entry

Yesterday was a beautiful day, Geoff & I spent some hours working in the herb garden. We’ve been sorting out the Arnica & Hypericum beds. The Arnica is dormant all Winter, it spreads by runners, so grows much like a ground cover in early Spring. In the small spaces between plants dozens of tiny weeds pop up, & it’s a painstaking job getting them out. It’s important to keep on to the weeding now, so the Arnica can get a good growth burst, without being checked, & in the Summer that should give us a good yield of flowers.

The Hypericum is almost the opposite, its has crept across the garden & started to invade other plants, so we have dug up the wanderers & buried a length of wood in the ground as a barrier. We used to have a problem with beetles eating the roots of it, they were introduced to keep the wild plants at bay, as it’s classified as a noxious weed. The last couple of years we’ve been beetle free, so the Hypericum patch is robust & lush. To grow it here, we had to get permission from the council, we have to make sure it doesn’t spread, & cut off any seed pods & destroy them.

Last evening I wandered around with the camera, taking some shots I could use here. Over night there was a heavy frost, there were quite a number of casualties, the Walnut tree, Magnolia. Fig, some Salvias we were hardening off, some poor things got hit about 2 weeks ago, & their second lot of tender growth has been burnt, the Tree Dahlias, Cannas, Daylilies. I was pondering on the resilience needed to be a garden … & a gardener, many life lessons get learnt dealing with the (mostly) temporary blows the garden suffers. We learn about optimism, perseverence, loss, following a dream, success, time management, patience, resilience & budgeting! The sense of the seasonal flow is reassuring, if not this year then maybe the next, or maybe it will take 5 or 10 years, no matter, the seasons will come & go, each with their own magic & wonder. (I can see there’s a frustrated philosopher hiding in me.)

When we moved to Millstream, our house was in the middle of a sheep paddock, it’s hard to believe now, 20 plus years on, as we are surrounded by trees & shrubs, shade loving plants, how we yearned for those in the early days. Planting potential trees, less tha a meter tall, we had no way to envisage what we were creating, & we were very amateur gardeners then, so it is with delight that we watch the young leaves unfurl on the tall deciduous trees around our garden, & with a familiar sense of loss & hope that we view the damage left by the frost.

Photo of Arnica below.