Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Quick Project..
...Thinking Outside the Garden

I am in the midst of reorganizing my art studio, so today's post will be rather quick as nearly every room in this house is crawling with art supplies.  A new addition to my studio is a clock.  I hesitated to put one in (and in fact still haven't put batteries in this one), as worrying about the time seems at odds with the creative process.

This project was relatively simple and takes a simple, small clock and makes it look more grand.

When I lived in Upstate New York, I had turned my whole lawn into a garden. I'll take a morning of weeding over an afternoon of mowing any day of the week. Even though I haven't had a garden in 9 years, I couldn't bear the thought of tossing my favorite trellis. I simply painted it red to match the storage containers in my studio and hung a clock that I found at Goodwill.  I like the clean look, but if need be, the wire trellis is perfect place to hang small tools or display photos and clippings.

Many times our lives change and we have things that no longer serve their original purpose. Look at the structure of the item and see if you can't re-purpose it, and if inspiration doesn't strike, stores like Goodwill can benefit from your generous donation of cast-offs.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Infinite Varieties...
...Strength in Diversity

I read an article on the Irish Potato Famine today.  Using DNA samples from dried leaves stored in botanical collections (leaves that were more than 160 years old!), the scientists were able to sequence the genome of the offending pathogen and determine not only was it not the strain believed to be the culprit but that it also no longer exists.

As amazing as this is to a science geek like me, what caught my eye was the reason why the blight decimated the Irish potato crop and why the pathogen no longer exists.  Virtually all of the potatoes planted in Ireland were a variety known as 'Irish Lumpers'.  This variety was highly susceptible to the blight.  According to the article this strain of blight circulated around the world for 50 years after the famine and then disappeared, partly because people stopped planting lumpers and partly because they began to breed disease resistant varieties.

A similar event occurred in this county in 1970 when a corn leaf blight decimated the U.S. commercial corn crop.  Once again, a lack of genetic diversity was part of the problem. Fortunately for the home gardener and small farmer there are numerous heirloom varieties of seeds out there.

Anyone who has planted a garden knows that some vegetables do better than others due to a variety of factors, from precipitation to disease.  Why not increase your odds of success by planting multiple varieties of your favorite vegetables?  As an added bonus you will get a bigger variety of flavors. As an example, there are 100s of types of tomatoes in various sizes, shapes, and colors. Some are grown for eating raw, others for cooking.

Even the apartment dweller who is limited to container gardening or a couple of pots of herbs on the windowsill can experiment.  One year I grew three different types of basil, each with unique qualities.

No green thumb?  You can still support bio-diversity by shopping for multiple varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables.  Sadly, the breadth of most people's apple experience seems to be the Red Delicious, the Golden Delicious, and the Granny Smith (maybe a McIntosh if you're feeling adventurous).  Go a little crazy next time and try something different.  Personally, I think Cortlands are the best pie apple on the planet.  Why not buy 3 or 4 varieties and do a side by side apple tasting? It's a good lesson for the kids and much better for you than a slice of cake!

Not sure where to start?  Organizations like Seed Savers Exchange are good resource. Many living history museums plant heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. Some even sell seeds, but at the very least they can point you to various sources. Your local Cooperative Extension Service is also a great resource for finding out what grows well in your area as well as handy 'how-to' information. You can also check out local greenhouses and nurseries.

For those who prefer to buy rather than grow their food, try local farmers' markets, health food stores, and ethnic grocers. The Internet and your local library can also offer a wealth of information for figuring out what to do with those odd looking tomatoes or that apple variety you've never heard of.  Not only might you discover some new favorites, but you will be helping to create a healthier ecosystem -- sounds like a win/win to me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spring is Springing Up...
...Don't Miss Out

This is my favorite season of the year. After being cooped up all winter, the weather is starting to turn pleasant (albeit a little more slowly than I'd like). We are getting to that part of spring where things start moving quickly. The crocuses have given way to daffodils, hyacinths, and bluebells.  Hard to believe that over a two week period the blossoms on this magnolia tree have bloomed and are already starting to rust and fall to the ground.

(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved

Magnolia Blossom
(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved
They say no two days are alike and in no other season is that more true than in Spring. This ginkgo tree near my building came to life with the recent spike in Chicago temperatures (it was in the 80s on Tuesday and Wednesday).  These two pictures were taken on Monday and Tuesday -- what a difference a day makes:

Ginkgo Bud on Monday....
(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved way to Ginkgo Leaves on Tuesday!
(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved
Spring is a fickle and fleeting season, so take the time to enjoy it in all it's glory, each and EVERY day. Overnight a tree can go from barren to budding, and before you know it, it is in full leaf.  Part of the reason I love macro photography is that it allows us to look at the little details of our every day surroundings. The pistils and stamens of flowers and blossoms are incredibly delicate and detailed. The shapes that Spring leaves make as they unfurl are absolutely graceful and the palette of Spring is every bit as diverse as the most spectacular display of Fall foliage.  

Over the course of this past week I have shot more than a thousand images which I am whittling down for you, but in the meantime, check out your own surroundings.  Enjoy those vistas, but look closely at the tiniest of details: the center of a flower can be just as breathtaking as a range of mountains or a dramatic sunset!

(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved

Yellow Tulip
(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved
(c)2012 Eric E. Paige, All Rights Reserved