Take Better Bird Photos

the handbook of bird photographyWhat’s a birder to do, once we’ve checked off all the easily seen local birds? I, for one, can’t afford endless trips to exotic places. I don’t have time to chase rarities (which is why I missed the Red-necked Rail at Bosque last month). And I don’t keep year lists, or county lists (or even state lists).

How do you maintain your interest in species you see trip after trip? I turned to photography. There’s always the possibility of a better photo—a different pose, interesting behavior, surreal lighting. The more I practice, the better I get, although I have a long way to go before my photos are gracing the cover of National Geographic!

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The Other Geraniums

Geranium_XG-CoSpgsCO_LAH_9512We’re all familiar with the iconic red geranium in a window box or flowerpot. While they live on indefinitely in warmer climates, a hard freeze turns the succulent stems into mush. However, there is a whole group of other geraniums that are completely hardy here in Colorado. Not only are they perennials, they’re also well-behaved, drought tolerant, have neat, attractive, compact foliage, and beautiful flowers. Interested?

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Spinach

spinach_dbg_20100417_lah_2909True confessions… I am allergic to spinach. Very sad, I know. So, I don’t grow it. Everything I’m about to tell you about spinach cultivation I learned from such wise gardeners as David Whiting, Colorado State University professor and State Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program, and Diane E. Bilderback, one of my favorite garden writers (and, along with Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, author of my favorite veggie gardening book, Garden Secrets).

The first tricky thing about spinach is when to plant it. Being extremely day-length sensitive, it is sure to bolt when it receives 14 or more hour of daylight per day. You can squeeze in a crop as soon as the weather is warm enough (and thankfully, spinach is relatively hardy), or wait until days are getting shorter again and plant for a fall harvest.

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My Favorite Cucumbers

cucumber-greenhouse-2008sept08-lah-314Sliced onto a green salad, garnishing Thai food, chopped and added to chicken sandwich spread, pickled on a burger, or just sprinkled with salt and munched as a snack, cucumbers are as cool as, well, a cucumber, and the perfect food for the hot days of summer.

Cucumbers hail from hot and humid southeast Asia, a climate that couldn’t be more different from high, dry Colorado. I’ve often imagined a baby cucumber seedling popping its cotyledons out of the ground, only to be hit with the cold, dry winds of spring. Realizing cruel fate has somehow caused it to end up in Colorado, it immediately despairs, shrivels, and dies!

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My Favorite Summer Squash

zucchini-home-2008sept23-lah-250The fun thing about growing any kind of summer squash is that no matter which variety you choose, you’re likely to be blessed with a bumper crop. Not only that, but zucchini tastes a lot like patty pan which tastes a lot like crookneck which tastes a lot like the new globular introductions. It’s hard to go wrong.

However, there are subtle differences. I’ve trialed a number of varieties. Surprisingly, some varieties succumbed to a heat wave, hail storm, or torrential downpour, while others persevered.  Others took too long to produce a crop. I find the days to harvest given in the catalogs have little in common with what actually happens in my garden, probably because our nights are so cool.

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My Favorite Beans

pole-beans_colospgs-co_lah_4953If you planted green beans in May, and your garden survived our huge hail storm in June, you should be looking forward to your first harvest this month. While we sweat and complain about the record highs, beans like it hot and they’ve been growing like crazy.

There are hundreds of bean varieties, and even catalogs that specialize in beans of all sorts. I’ll share my favorites. Which ones are yours?

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My Favorite Eggplants

eggplant_dbg-co_lah_9256Eggplant Parmigiana, Moussaka, Moroccan Eggplant Salad, Baba Ganoush… there are plenty of delicious ways to eat eggplant. Growing it in Colorado is a whole different story. A native of warm and humid southeast Asia, it takes a bit of persuasion to convince this tomato family member to thrive in our cool, dry climate.

As Colorado gardeners, we have all sorts of tricks to modify the microclimate around our plants and extend a too-short growing season. Cloches, cold frames, copious use of plastic and accessories such as Wall ‘ O Water are all helpful. However, choosing the right varieties can mean the difference between crop failure and Ratatouille. (For more on how to grow eggplant, see the CSU Fact Sheet on “Peppers and Eggplants.”)

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