28 August 2011

I Heart Macro: Carrot-Tops

Carrot seedhead, Magdalena, NM, Aug. 2011
Photo-processing time has become rare lately, but tonight I am up very late (even later than usual) watching Hurricane Irene tear up the East Coast and awaiting news from my family and many friends around Philly and New York of how they're faring. So this week's I Heart Macro post is all about carrots -- the part of the plant we rarely see, which I had fun photographing earlier this week. In recent years I've started letting a lot of my root and leafy vegetables and herbs go to flower (despite traditional horticultural recommendations; no surprise there) because the flowers are often very pretty and unusual, they're attractive to good bugs, and the seeds help me keep the garden going on a tight budget. I find carrots especially fascinating, from the first fluffy flowers to the spiky, resilient seeds that can catch on a shirt cuff or a cat's tail and start a new carrot colony far from home.

Carrot flower, Aug. 2011
We all know that carrots have beautiful fern-like foliage that, sadly, is inedible, but when left to flower, a carrot also sends up a stalk that puts out a huge, showy white flowerhead that is busy all day long with all kinds of bees, wasps, butterflies and moths, and ladybugs. This may help explain why I never have to worry about low pollination or aphid infestations in my garden these days; in fact, I wonder if this is a bigger factor in "companion planting" (mixing herbs and flowers in with vegetables) than the specific plant combinations selected. Bring in more good bugs, and more good stuff happens in the garden -- how's that for horticultural good sense?

Pollinated carrot flowers turning into seeds, Aug. 2011
Developing seeds, Aug. 2011
As the flowers fade and go to seed, the head changes in fascinating ways, leading to the seed clusters shown at right and at the top of this post. They look so cool but also a little creepy, like a swarm of baby centipedes or something. I haven't bought carrot seeds in years, though, and having started with a non-hybrid variety I know I won't have to as long as I'm willing to "sacrifice" a few carrots every year. (Confession: it's pure neglect, or at least it was the first year I let some carrots go to seed; now I get to call it "seed saving" and feel all eco-conscious or whatever.) As you can probably guess from the photo at right, I have let more than a few carrots go to seed this year. I have had plenty to spare, though, and I just love watching the process unfold through the seasons, even all the way through winter as the seeds left out in the garden finally fall with the melting snow and plant themselves in the damp earth.

Carrot seedhead (the Mothership for part of this year's patch), Jan. 2011

27 August 2011

No Place Like Home

Ed at sunset, Magdalena, NM, August 2011
Black swallowtail caterpillar in the dill patch, Aug. 2011
Oh how I love my home, as remote as it is, and my big garden and that view out on the "ranch" are just two reasons among many. Two weekly 200+ mile roundtrips to Albuquerque are starting to wear me out a bit (hence the lack of blogging lately), but I am absolutely loving internship -- every learning, growing, stretching, inspiring, rocking moment of it. Even the "failing" moments, those times I have no idea what to say or do next, have become great learning moments for me for two reasons: I generally suck at failing, meaning I never really learned how to handle it well because it was not "allowed"; and I suck at asking for help, which everyone needs to do sometimes so as not to fail again, or worse. This week especially I got some "practice" with these as well as core counseling skills, lucky me, and it was a timely lesson because I could feel my mind oscillating between, "Cool, I got this" and "Oh crap, what would I do if that happened??"

Zinnia among the fennel, Aug. 2011
I also love the drive home; I find every one of those 120 or so miles essential for processing the day's learning experiences, for unwinding, and for letting go of all the things I couldn't control or worried about or "failed at" or whatever. The drive up, I don't love that so much because that's when I worry, and I also just want to get started on the day, but my iPod playlists and podcasts keep me calm and well entertained, and I also get to contemplate the beautiful summer landscape.

Summer is almost over. Did I really just notice last night that the sun is a bit lower and is setting earlier, that the alfalfa fields along the Rio Grande are being cut and baled, that some growers are already selling and roasting green chile? The Blogger editor wants me to spell that as "chili" but that's not how we spell it in New Mexico, and if you've never had roasted green chile, well, it is an integral part of late summer and early autumn out here. Farmers and vendors set up in parking lots and sell sacks that you can take home and roast yourself or that they'll roast in big metal hand-cranked roasters for a bit more money. That smell... well, I'll get some pictures over the next few weeks, but you'll have to come out here in person to get the full sensory experience. And good luck trying to go back home once you do....

19 August 2011

Fusion Beads Blog Bead Challenge!

August Garden necklace in brass, glass pearls, pressed glass, lucite, and Swarovski crystals
Earrings in lucite, crystal, brass, and glass
WOW did I have fun with Fusion Beads' recent blog bead challenge -- it introduced me to a color palette and materials I hadn't really worked with before, and I found myself energized by this combination. I've been ordering from Fusion Beads since 2007 and love their selection of beads and components, as well as the free shipping. I really hope they host more bead challenges because I just wasn't feeling creative lately, until I received the materials for this and started playing. Check out the other entries on their blog or Facebook page -- all of the entries are beautiful, diverse, and totally making me want to order another set and play some more!
Overview of "August Garden" set

14 August 2011

I Heart Macro: A Moment in the Garden

Ladybug on dill blossom, Magdalena, NM, August 2011
Last night I realized I haven't been taking creative time for myself lately, so I vowed to kick off this week with a morning photo session in the garden. I spent almost an hour out there and came up with so many beautiful shots that I couldn't decide which one to post for this week's I Heart Macro... until I opened up this image in Photoshop. Catching bugs, butterflies, birds, and other mobile creatures is always a challenge, so I remind myself to just keep shooting until I happen to capture the creature looking fabulous. It's much easier (and more palatable from a resources standpoint) in digital to snap the 10 or 20 (or more) shots needed to get just the right angle and movement and light AND focus; last week's butterfly shot was the 27th of 32 shots (that was one patient butterfly!), and I wasn't even sure I'd caught it in clear focus till I opened the image file. The ladybug above only gave me 5 shots before flying away, so I know I got lucky on this one.

As always there are lots of beautiful entries for this week's I Heart Macro -- check them out and leave some love!

07 August 2011

Summer Skies

Nighthawk at sunset, Magdalena, NM, August 2011
Reason #843 I love photography: I can't paint. Tonight's sunset was beautiful even if not splashy and neon, but just after the sun fell below the horizon it splashed color across the clouds that stopped me in my tracks. The texture and colors of the clouds made me think of the ocean, perhaps because my grandfather created similarly colorful, detailed skies in his oil paintings of 18th-century clipper ships. He grew up near the ocean and spent many vacations in "Down East" Maine, where his family came from, but I think if he'd ever come out west he would have found the skies here just as enchanting.

Sweeping sunset

06 August 2011

I Heart Macro: Painted Lady

Painted Lady butterfly on Liatris spicata
I'm back in time for I Heart Macro; I had to take a bit of a blogging break in part to enjoy summertime and in part to begin adjusting to two 200-mile round trips to Albuquerque per week for internship. The drive is fine except for the busy interchange from 25 onto 40 on the way up; the drive home is easy (not much traffic at 7 or 8 pm) and gives me time to process the day. And every mile, every hour on the road is completely worth it -- it is an amazing learning and growing experience.

Today I finally picked up my camera again, just in time to catch this beautiful butterfly feasting in my front perennial garden. These flowers, known as gayfeather, seem to be a buffet for all kinds of fauna from bees to wasps to butterflies to goldfinches. Summertime is divine, this year as always, and now that the rains have begun both flora and fauna are flourishing. I hope you're all able to take some time out to really enjoy your summer!