Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Garden Junkie Goes to Heaven

For myself and 300+ like-minded people, heaven was in Iowa this past weekend. Decorah, Iowa to be precise, way up in the northeast corner of the state. Enthusiastic gardeners from across the country gathered at the Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm for the annual conference. The Heritage Farm is a magical place, a showcase for heirloom flowers, vegetables, fruits, and even livestock. Spending the weekend here gives gardener/seed savers the opportunity to connect with each other, swap seed, attend workshops, and to explore the display gardens, trial fields and orchards.

Tucked in a tree-cloaked valley, Heritage Farm is the heart of this network of seed savers who are passionate about growing and preserving the genetic diversity of plants. No matter how often I visit, it is always a treat for all my senses to wander through the plots of flowers and veggies. I always come away with new ideas for growing strategies and a few more "must try" varieties added to my already lengthy list of tomatoes and peppers.

In addition to plants, the Heritage Farm has a herd of Ancient White Park Cattle, a rare breed. Fifty calves were born this season, and on a hay wagon ride out to their pasture, we got to see some of the calves cavorting among their mothers. As all young creatures do, they were busy exploring, so it was hard to snap a photo that wasn't blurry.

Several breeds of poultry also live on the farm in the growing season. The chickens with the kooky headdresses were fun to watch but I thought the Chinese black ducks and the grey hens were especially beautiful.

The annual conference also features a wide variety of workshops presented by knowledgeable speakers. I learned something in each of the four workshops I chose. In one of the workshops I attended, author/gardener Rosalind Creasy explained how and why she dug up a 100 square foot patch of her lawn and raised $700 worth of fresh produce from it.

Meals at the conference are another treat. It goes without saying, everything is fresh and organic, and there are tasty selections for both vegetarians and omnivores. This year's conference marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Seed Savers Exchange. Check out this birthday cake at Saturday's supper. On top of being a culinary work of art, it had moist layers of pumpkin and chocolate - delicious!

All in all, it was a marvelous weekend, stuffed with enough "food for thought" (sorry, I couldn't resist) to keep me motivated for quite some time. Oh, and Decorah, for being a small town, has a lot more to offer in addition to SSE, but that will have to be another post.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Exposure, Part 2

Late yesterday afternoon the rain stopped and it seemed as if the sky was going to clear. I decided to hike down to the woods to get some more photo practice. Somewhere in my mind's recesses I knew that it would be wet down there and that after all the rain we've had this summer, the understory plants would be growing like mad. But these vague mental musings became mosquito-biting reality as soon as I reached the gate.

Not only was the undergrowth lush, wet and thick, but the creek which is normally a lazy trickle, was rushing over the crossing. It looked like a true creek, water tumbling along, with burbling, refreshing sound effects.

I wasn't in the mood for bushwhacking through a sloshy jungle, so I took a few shots at the edge of the woods and turned back to the pasture. Close to the woods is an old skeletal pick-up truck. It always attracts me with its jumble of parts and rusty surfaces, so I played around with the camera's exposure settings and various angles of the truck.

Within minutes, thunder rumbled and drops started to fall. I leaned into the driver's side of the truck for one last shot and quickfooted it back to the house.

After loading the photos onto the computer, that final shot made me laugh. It's such a mishmash of colors, textures and shapes. I'm already thinking about it as inspiration for some weaving. Just goes to show - you just never know where a muse will pop up!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Last night was the first meeting of a digital photography class I'm taking. Our assignment for the coming week is to play around with the settings on our cameras. Today's stormy weather has been an excellent chance to learn how to get a little more out of my camera. Between downpours I've been snapping shots in the backyard, changing the EV and ISO settings, and taking notes as I go. I'm already excited about being nudged out of my Automatic comfort zone. Here's some of my homework from today.

Purple Coneflowers


Narrow Leafed Green Milkweed

Daylilies and Reflection at the Edge of the Pond

Another Daylily Variety

For all of these photos I experimented with exposure settings and was pleased to learn that I could make the colors of the flowers "pop" and darken everything around the flower by choosing my own levels. It may be that my mood was influenced by the stormy surroundings, but I especially liked the brooding darkness of this pond photo.

Of course, it would be very informative (and fun even) to practice adjusting settings on sunny days too - if one ever comes round again ...