Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I have a new camera (Sony cyber-shot DCS-HX1)

After envying the photography of other garden bloggers - especially of birds and animals - and studying other blogs on the subject of camera selection for garden photography, I decided the best thing for me would be a so-called superzoom "bridge" camera, i.e. a camera in between a DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) and a point-and-shoot compact digital camera.

I've been very happy with my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W120, a digital compact point-and-shoot camera with 7.2 megapixels and 4x optical zoom. This camera has served me well and I recommend it highly. It's easy to use, small and light, and takes wonderful landscape photos, for example for vacation photography. Up till now, all my blog photos were taken with this camera.

Old camera: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W120

What it doesn't offer is a large zoom. Since I've been so happy with Sony up till now, I had a slight preference for also purchasing a Sony bridge camera. After reading lots of reviews, it didn't seem to me that there were significant differences in quality or price between Sony and its main competitors (Panasonic, Canon, Olympus) in this category of camera, so I went for the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 digital camera with 9.1 megapixels and 20x optical zoom.

New camera: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1

Compared to my little compact Cyber-shot, this is a large, heavy camera, even though many reviewers praise how light it is in comparison to others. When the zoom lens is extended to full length, it's somewhat unwieldy to hold, so I took the advice of many websites and purchased a tripod as well (a Cullmann Alpha 2500 lightweight tripod).

So far it's paid off that I got another Sony, since the handling is very similar to my small compact camera and I could start right in. Something some people object to about Sony digital cameras is that they require proprietary memory cards and batteries. The included memory card is so small that you pretty much have to buy a large one right away (I purchased one with 4gb). This didn't bother me, since I figure it's a one-time investment, and my experience with the Sony accessories for my other camera have been good.

This camera is chock-full of features and options! Up till now, I've mostly experimented with zoom photos of birds, and macro photos of plants. I set up the tripod, hid behind a bush and trained the fully zoomed out lens onto the bird-feeding area in my garden. Here's the kind of results I've gotten so far. The first taken with tripod, the others without. You can see the difference, I think.

Great tit (Parus major) - Kohlmeise
Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Schwanzmeise (I think)

European robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Rotkehlchen
Great tit and long-tailed tits
I'm going to have to keep working on this. Above all, I need a good place to sit and wait, at least partially out of sight, allowing me to get a little closer to the birds.

The other thing I've tried so far are close-ups, i.e. macro photos. However, I don't think the new camera is a significant improvement over my small camera.

As an example, here's a photo of a  **slug** - yes, slug in February, chewing away at the sorrel. Apparently, these creatures are active at 10 degrees C (50 degrees F). Looks like I'm going to have to cross sorrel off my list.

slug on sorrel

So far, I've mostly used the "intelligent automatic" setting on my camera. But I'm looking forward to learning how to use all the manual options as well. Still, even then I doubt I'll ever achieve the kind of fantastic bird photography to be found, for example, on Sisah's, Diana's, and Carol's blogs, among others.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Early propagation of tomatoes

Finally it's February, and according to most garden calendars I can now start propagating tomatoes from seeds. Last year I didn't start until March, and that was a little late for our warm area here in the Rhine-Neckar delta of Southern Germany. By starting early, I'll have very sturdy plants by April, when they'll go into large pots along the warm south wall of my allotment cottage.

This year I decided to purchase windowsill propagation sets from the garden center, rather than just planting seeds in a hodgepodge of yogurt cups and fruit trays on the windowsill. It's not really a luxury, since they are incredibly cheap. Here are the two I bought, including biodegradable cells, propagating soil mix, covers, and even some seeds (radishes, dill and sunflowers). I decided not to go for electric heating, since we have some very warm windowsills.

A friend who has been growing tomatoes for years gave me some seeds year before last. For over twenty years she has removed the seeds from the choicest fruits of her best plants and saved them for the subsequent year. Following her example, I harvested seeds from my three favorites of the plants I grew from her seeds. The seeds along with their gelatinous surrounding substance are placed on aluminum foil, allowed to dry (making them stick on), labeled, folded to keep out the light, and stored. I don't know the correct names of the original varieties, and after so many years of selection and propagation, the plants may not even conform to them anymore.

We call them "paprika", "peach", and "oxheart" tomatoes. The peach tomatoes are large and yellow (even their seeds, in the lower left-hand corner of the foil above, look yellow), the oxhearts are huge and meaty, and the paprika tomatoes are long, pointed and firm-fleshed. From last year's harvest:

peach and oxheart tomatoes from last year's harvest

sliced peach tomato - delicious!
paprika tomato
So I'll be propagating these three again. However, later in the summer most of my oxheart tomatoes developed some kind of blight, as did my neighbors' tomatoes as well. Since I have my tomatoes in pots under an overhanging roof, meaning they don't get rained on and have no contact with garden earth, I was less affected than others, but some of my tomatoes still looked like this:

For this reason I want to try some allegedly resistant hybrids this year, in addition to our own "heritage" tomatoes. This hybrid, Delizia F1, claims to be resistant to tomato tobacco mosaic virus (TMC) and to fusarium wilt, two widespread tomato diseases.

I've also ordered bush tomato seeds (Balkonstar, Lycopersicon esculentum) from Dreschflegel, a cooperative of 14 farms that produces and markets organic seeds. Many thanks to Sisah's blog for introducing me to this link, even though I ended up ordering more than I'll probably be able to plant (besides the tomato also paprika, pumpkin, zucchini, and lentil seeds, something I've always wanted to try).

Does anyone have any experience with disease resistant hybrid tomatoes?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What gardeners do in the winter Part II: Study their blog statistics

Those of you who use Google's blogging tools are probably aware of the great statistics they provide on every blog. In case you're not, you can find them by going to your dashboard (most easily by clicking on the "B" in the upper left-hand corner of your blog), and then clicking on "Stats" in the "Manage Blogs" menu. Then just start clicking around and exploring how many views you've had, your traffic sources, your audience, referring sites, etc.

I was astonished to find out that the single search term which has brought the most visitors to date to my blog was "bean weevil". In turn it's not surprising that my post on bean weevils is the number two most-viewed post I've written, although I don't regard it as one of my most amazing posts. Since "bean weevil pictures" was also a frequent keyword, maybe people were just looking for images of weevils. Are these all people who keep lizards as pets and are looking for bean weevils to feed to them? As I discovered while researching for my weevil post, there are places where you can order live weevils online to this purpose. Somebody even got to my blog by searching for "butterfly farms with reptiles in Germany". I'm not sure which post they landed in, but it must have been either the bean weevil post or the post on Buddleia (see below).

Here are my top five most viewed posts:

Designing a traditional herb garden

What could be worse than slugs? Bean weevils!

A visit to the Schwetzingen palace gardens

Pruning the espalier fruit trees

Lantana and butterfly bush (Buddleia): Invasive species everywhere?

While looking through the sites that refer to my blog, I found some interesting blogs whose owners I thanked for the referral, and then reciprocated by linking to theirs. Intriguingly, there's a tattoo website ("tattoo designs vault") that apparently refers to my blog, although I couldn't find the link on their site and think it might be a scam.

Today, for example, I have had more views so far from Latvia than from anywhere else. Thank you any Latvians who may be reading this! Altogether I've had the most all-time views from the U.S., closely followed by Germany. Most viewers use Internet Explorer, followed by Firefox. But there are a significant number who use Chrome, Safari, and Opera. One percent of my viewers got there from an iPad, but the vast majority was using Windows as operating system.

So if you haven't done so yet, be sure to take a look at your blog stats - it's great fun.

Something else I'm sure many gardeners do in the winter is to nurture blossoming bulbs on their window sills. Here's my current favorite, and it smells even better than it looks.