Thursday, June 28, 2012

Digital Photography et al

I purchased my first digital camera in 1998, an open box, display clearance Kodak.  Originally, I wanted a digital camera for web design, photographing backgrounds, custom graphics, and, of course, chronicling my landscaping and gardening projects.  I even took some pictures of my children.  It is a given that I took a lot of  pictures of my children.

I'll be darned if I can find any pictures pre-1999, though.  They probably ended up on some floppy disk that got thrown away.  This is a good lesson to all of us to make sure to find a way to preserve digital photos as the storage media changes.

Moving on: my poor Kodak digital camera finally got dropped by one of the children.  The miracle is that it lasted as long as it did.  When I went in to Staples and other stores looking for a replacement camera silly me asked for something comparable in quality to my beloved Kodak.  The sales people suppressed laughs as they explained that digital camera technology was so far advanced from my old Kodak that even the cheapest camera I could find would far surpass its abilities.  Well, I felt silly and thrilled.  Really, that meant I could once again find an open box, clearance digital camera and be moving in the right direction.
"Take lots and lots and lots of pictures. Then take some more.  Take hundreds of pictures."
I ended up at Best Buy and purchased my next digital camera for under $100.  It really didn't take very good pictures.  I still took a lot of pictures, a LOT of pictures of my children, chickens, goats, and some plants.

That camera was again subjected to the youthful exuberance of my children and was dropped.  No more focus.  Again I had to attempt to swim in the ocean of digital cameras.  It was a short swim.  I ended up with another Kodak, another open box job for under $100, an EasyShare M340 because I like their color chip or whatever it is called.  They make good low-cost point and shoots.  Of course, my heart yearned for a Canon Rebel DSLR but those babies were expensive!

Does the camera matter that much? It depends on what you want to do with your digital camera.  If you want to chronicle family events, take pictures of your garden or dog to share with your friends and family it really doesn't matter.  If you want to head into more specialized photography such as songbirds or macros of flowers, bees, or other nature shots, a little research is necessary.  If you ever want to sell your photographs you need to invest in a camera that takes clear, sharp pictures.

How have I survived all of these years without purchasing an expensive digital camera? I process my photos on my laptop after I download them from the camera.  What program do I use to make my pictures look so sharp, intense and nearly professional? Paint Shop Pro 8.1.  Yep, an inexpensive alternative to Photoshop.  I love PSP.  I have used PSP since version 4.0.  Love, love, love it.  But sadly Jasc sold PSP to one of its competitors.  They sold out.

Corel bought up PSP and then dumbed it down to just a photo editing program.  I have not used the newer program but it probably does nicely for post processing photos.  I highly recommend it.

I am a die-hard PSP fan, though, and hold onto my PSP 8.1 and use it with devotion.  Below are some before and after processing with PSP:

Before processing with PSP 8.1
After processing with PSP 8.1

My Kodak takes okay photos.  I am again yearning for a better camera.  If I can figure out a way to make some money from a better camera I will invest.

I am looking at Compact System Digital cameras such as the Sony Nex C3 and DSLR's such as the Canon Rebel T3i with macro lenses for each.  Interestingly enough, those two cameras with the macro lenses are not too far apart in cost. 

I would love to hear stories of your digital camera choices and how happy you are with the end results: your photos.

Oh, and my one important piece of advice: Take lots and lots and lots of pictures.  Then take some more pictures.  Take hundreds of pictures.  Out of those hundreds you might get a handful that are amazing.  You just might!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Went on an Explore

Camera in hand (actually, in pocket) I stepped out my front door.  Although I didn't really have any adventures, I did go on a little explore.  It doesn't take terribly long to walk my property (where I can walk) but I am never alone.  For this little explore I had Maya, our Tibetan spaniel, and nearly all of our cats.  I felt like the Pied Piper at one point.
Aralia nudicalis or wild sarsaparilla

Not far from the edge of my yard I was so excited to find a small patch of  Aralia nudicaulis or wild sarsaparilla.  I now had the other root beer flavoring.  Backing up a little bit: I watched a very long YouTube video this morning on edible plants.  The guide was so adept at explaining how to identify each plant that I actually found several on my explore today.  I dug out a small piece of the root to bring back with me (and it is still in my pocket).  Why do I keep hearing Bilbo and Gandalf's voices in my head?

Bracket or shelf fungus growing on a felled tree

Fungus in relation to Virginia creeper

Down the hill from my backyard I found these little fungi on a felled tree.  Next step will be to identify and determine if they are edible.


This was my most exciting find today: mullein.  Mullein is a miracle herb.  I use it to make a tea for me and the children anytime we come down with any type of upper respiratory infection.  One cup of that stuff and the sinuses are flowing and on their way to healing.  So far I have purchased tea bags and bulk mullein.  I was thrilled to find this grows here in Connecticut.  Next to research if it is transplantable and where it would be most happy.  Mullein requires some type of tea bag for steeping because of the small hairs on the leaves.

Silene latifolia or White Campion

I didn't really find this today, but thought I would include it in this post.  This is growing with a bunch of other weeds in a small flowerbed against the goat house.  I identified it as Silene latifolia or White Campion after seeing it posted on a Facebook plant identification group.  I highly recommend joining a few of these types of groups.  The pictures and comments posted on identifying the plants is extremely educational.  I feel as though I am getting a crash course in plant identification. Apparently the roots of White Campion can be boiled to make a soap of sorts.  I just think it is pretty. 

By the way, my use of the term went on an explore comes from a sweet story called: Only Opal: The Diary of a Young Girl by Opal Whitely and Jane Boulton.  Another version is called Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart by Opal Whiteley.  I highly recommend both books.  So sweet and so sad. Opal is a little girl who is unloved and neglected.  She finds joy in her little explores, an escape from the pain of life.  I can relate so very much.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


The 4-5 acre man-made pond was dug around a stream that ran through the property.  When we bought our house and property, there were two beaver lodges on the pond and the spillway was easy to maintain (kept the pond at a 10-foot level).

Years later the beaver had two more lodges and had even spread to nearby property creating new ponds by damming up other streams.

Here is a short video showing a beaver tail slap as he tries to frighten me away.

One of 4 beaver lodges

One of many trees taken down by beavers

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday stroll

I have one! Finally, I have one.  I can't wait!!!

Container garden tomato -- first one!

And I have no idea what kind of tomato this is.  Sigh.  My kitties, though I love them, played with my markers when I put my seed trays out to harden.  Now as my tomatoes are growing it will be so exciting to finally see what they are.  

[Update: this is a Moskovich early tomato.  Now I really can't wait to taste the first one.]

The pole beans are growing so fast that I need to figure out how to make a bigger trellis for the driveway container garden.  The good news is that I am hoping this means we will have lots of tender purple beans to eat.

Cosse Violetta Pole Bean vine

Our wild blueberries are beginning to ripen.  Each year I have gotten a handful and the birds have gotten the rest.  Not this year.  I broke down and bought netting.  I am thinking blueberry preserves, blueberry frozen yogurt, blueberry pie.  Yep, those are MY blueberries.  Lest you think the birds will be starving, there are at least 40 other bushes scattered around our property that the birds can feast on.  The 7 or so bushes at the edge of the yard are for people.

Netted wild blueberries already ripening

I have one lone kale plant.  I planted at least 20 seeds and one germinated.  Boy is it tough getting plants to grow from seed here in Connecticut. Where I come from in the south you put a seed in the ground and have fresh veggies in a week.  Okay, not quite, but 3-5 days for germination on most (except parsley and carrots which must go to hell and back before germinating according to old wives' tales).  Most of the plants that I started indoors are doing wonderfully, but a lot of what I sowed directly in the ground did not come up (not counting the lettuce and spinach which do beautifully) without multiple sowings.  I'll need to figure out if there is a way to increase the germination rate of seeds.  Probably just wait until June 1st to plant anything.  But I'm impatient! 

This was an accidental capture.  It isn't super amazing but it is kind of amazing.  I felt like a nature photographer when I saw this shot.  Too bad I was using an $80 camera.  

Bumblebee partaking of Evening Primrose
This is a bumble bee that was feasting on my evening primrose.  There were actually several partaking with my blessing.  I just envisioned all of those wonderful evening primrose seeds I was going to harvest.

Not sure if this is the same bee pictured above, but this one seemed drunk on evening primrose nectar.  He also didn't seem to care one whit whether I watched or not.  He was determined and focused.  I admire that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It has been over 6 years since I did any vegetable gardening.  I had just begun to learn gardening for the New England region when I became too ill to continue.  So now I feel like I am relearning everything (not sure how much I knew and lost, either).  

The good news is that my grey matter seems capable of learning all over again and I am going for it.

Backyard beds June 14, 2012
My tomatoes are thriving and blooming.  So excited at the promise of fresh, organically-grown tomatoes.  The basil plants attract slugs and are growing but are very holey.  

In the far bed my carrots are finally growing after a second sowing.  I will not bother growing carrots in the future most likely.  They are inexpensive to purchase and take up a lot of space that I think would be better used for more garlic now that I know how well it does in that particular spot.  

My sugar snap peas (on left trellis in rear) are finally blooming.  I am pretty sure we will never get these in the house but will be a favorite "snack from the vine" kind of treat for all.  

Suyo long cucumber
 I have been disappointed in the cucumbers that I planted: Suyo long cucumbers.  They only seem to germinate at 50% and then are not doing well in our cool New England spring weather.  This is when I really wish I had a greenhouse.  Really and truly.  I planted an oriental cuke because I buy the hothouse cucumbers vs. the more common cucumbers when I shop.  This experiment might not be a success.  I will sow some more seeds and wait for warmer weather.  They might just take off when we get another week of higher temps.

Over 100 slugs
Yesterday, I went out in the rain and collected over 100 slugs from my gardens.  Next time I will wear rubber gloves, though.  Slugs can carry a parasite that causes deadly meningitis.  I sure did a lot of hand-washing yesterday.

These slimy guys do a lot of damage; they seem to prefer basil and lettuce to most everything else.  But I don't want to share my lettuce.  So the slugs must go.  

I had a thought this morning while doing my rounds: is there some type of substance I can put on the ground around my garden beds to keep the slugs from climbing the wood frames?  After a quick search I found that lava rocks, copper strips, and diatomaceous earth can all be used as a slug barrier.  Hmmm, I have a huge 50 lb. bag of DE in my basement.  That will be my afternoon gardening task.  I'll let you know how well it works.

Sugar pumpkin
Finally the pumpkins are growing.  Finally! We had an early spring, then a heat wave, then 4 weeks of fairly cool, wet weather.  Temps have been mostly in the 60's to low 70's during the day and in the 50's at night.

Now we need to see some warmer weather so my heat loving plants can start really growing.  

I have had no luck with the pepper plants.  The one plant that I had in the driveway grouping attracted slugs which ate it to a single, leafless stem.  It finally succumbed.  The seeds I planted in my front garden haven't even come up.  I think I might try to plant some inside and see if I can get them to germinate and give them a little head start before transplanting.  I knew peppers would be a challenge in New England but I was hoping I could grow some because we eat a LOT of red, yellow and orange bell peppers around here.  The boys love them raw, sauteed, in their eggs, well, in pretty much anything.

Sugar snap pea
Oh, the beauty of a pea blossom.  Took 10 tries but I actually got a decent closeup.  A camera that can take closeups and macros is on my wish list (when that million dollar check comes in the mail -- I can dream, can't I?).  

Considering this is my first season gardening in a very long time, I feel fairly successful.  Gardening is all about experimenting: failure and success both teach.  

Thank you for sharing my garden with me today.  How does your garden grow?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Foraging . . .

When I became ill with Lyme disease and co-infections in 2006 it brought me to a place where I could no longer keep my dairy goats or continue gardening.  When I did not recover after many treatments I stayed in the house and even refused to walk on the grass unless absolutely necessary.  A couple of years ago I once again underwent treatment and began to recover.  I was bitten by something and possibly re-infected.  My doctor fussed at me and told me that I needed to stop getting re-infected.  That is pretty difficult when I seem to live in the epicenter of the Lyme epidemic just a few miles from Lyme, Connecticut.

I finally plateaued after long-term treatment and decided, with my doctor, to stop antibiotics.  I have been better and I have been worse since that time.  One thing I decided recently was to stop hiding away in my house.  The political controversy caused by the CDC and IDSA guidelines have created an atmosphere of patient abuse and negligence.  So it is quite possible that I will continue to decline over the next few years.  I spent a few years waiting to get well, waiting for healing, waiting for a cure.  I am sick of waiting and from now on I plan to live as much as I can for as long as I can.

This long-winded preface leads into my current interest: foraging.  While a few years ago it would have become a passion because that is how I am, I step out my front door nearly every day to explore my property with curiosity.  Honestly, I have not left the perimeter of the yard yet.  I haven't needed to.  Eventually I will head farther out into the woods, explore the bog, and enjoy the pond.  For now I find something new each day to excite me just a few feet from my front door and make sure I spray on my peppermint oil spray  before heading out.

One of my childhood friends who now lives in Maine shared her delight in enjoying wild strawberries.  I sure wished I had some of those around here.  So what do I find this morning when making my rounds with my camera? Wild strawberries peaking out of the thick brush near my front vegetable garden.  Oh, the delight!

Wishing my camera took decent close-ups I took this shot of my tiny patch of wild strawberry plants, excited to see them blooming.  This is a promise of delicious, juicy berries in the near future.

I stepped back a bit and looked to the right and saw even more plants peeking out from beneath the shrubs.  I decided to grab my pruners and clear away a little bit of the brush so the berry plants could get more sun.  The more I cleared the more plants I found.

I was giddy as a schoolgirl as I continued to clear brush and overhanging tree branches.  Pleased with my first efforts I kept pulling out ferns, cutting some unknown shrub away, and pulling out grass.  My wild strawberry patch was looking good.

It seemed that no matter how much I cleared there were more berry plants growing beneath the brush and among the ferns.  I was tiring but kept up.

Here is my cleared wild strawberry patch.  They continue beneath the ferns to the right but I didn't want to destroy my fern patch so I stopped.

Stepping back for a final evaluation I was thrilled with my new wild strawberry patch and knew that in the next month or so I will be picking and enjoying even more sweet, juicy berries.

What do I mean more?

Yes, those are ripe blueberries in mid-June.  I just plopped every ripe berry I found into my mouth last evening.

This morning when I went back I found many more nearly ripe and the ripe ones did not make it into the house.  Yum!!!

Foraging is beginning to taste really good!

Friday, June 8, 2012

No Farther Than My Own Backyard

I have always loved a good explore.  I don't go far these days but I really don't need to.  I can step out my front door and spend an hour at the edge of my yard and in my poor flower beds looking for treasure.

Yesterday I took a picture of my evening primrose patch noting that the buds looks like they were on the verge of opening. 

To my delight I found several first blooms this morning.
In the gravelly area between our driveway and our neighbor's driveway I found a nice surprise: wild daisies.  We had a huge area closer to the pond covered in these happy flowers our first year here but they were mowed down before they could go to seed (I cried).  I am so happy to see them coming back, and maybe someday I will buy enough seed to replant that clearing.

The pears are looking healthy and disease free this year.  Last year we got very small but intensely sweet fruit.  This year I thinned the tiny pears when they first appeared so that there were only one or two per branch.  Can't wait to taste these sweeties.

 I was so excited to discover a few milkweed plants.  I believe they are common milkweed but won't know for sure until the flowers open.

Milkweed is an edible plant with medicinal uses as well.  This handful of plants is growing in our old chicken yard among the debris: chicken wire, 2x4's and other rotting framework.  Because I refused to purchase and use pressure-treated wood when we built the chicken yard (2001), I can burn the wood in our fire pit.  I have decided to clean up this area and allow the milkweed to spread.

My most exciting find so far is not just one, but three sassafras trees, very young and very small.  I am in the process of figuring out whether I want to move them or create welded wire cages to protect them from deer.

So much beauty just a few steps from my front door.