Shooting a Total Solar Eclipse

DSC_0156_006 (3)webA couple of weeks before the Great Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017, I decided I wanted to take pictures of it. I had recently bought a new digital camera and lenses, so why not! First I went online to get tips on how to photograph an eclipse and what I would need. The most important item, after a camera with manual adjustments (check) and a decent telephoto lens (check), was a SOLAR FILTER, which is absolutely necessary to photograph the partial stages of the eclipse. During the partial stages, the sun is still exposed. Not only should you not look at the sun without SOLAR GLASSES, the camera lens should not be pointed at the sun without a SOLAR FILTER. Otherwise your eyes AND the camera can be damaged.

The first challenge I encountered was that I couldn’t find a solar filter anywhere; they were all sold out. Second problem: solar glasses were also sold out everywhere I looked. Luckily, a few days before the eclipse, I was able to secure solar glasses at a planetarium museum store, so I bought a couple of pairs and took one apart to fashion a filter for my camera lens. Not ideal but it would have to suffice.

I drove with a friend, from Miami to South Carolina, where we would watch the eclipse. We arrived a day early to tourist around. Then eclipse day arrived.  I got up early to check the weather, particularly the expected cloud coverage. The viewing location my friend and I had initially chosen was now projected to be cloudy, so we picked two alternate locations and started driving west. The plan was to go to the closer site first and access the weather; if it wasn’t good enough we would continue driving to the further location. When we got to the first site: Greenwood, South Carolina, the skies looked clear so we decided to stay there. We picked-up information about a few good viewing spots at the Visitor Center and scoped them out. We decided on a lovely goat farm called Emerald Village and set up our gear there, next to a couple who had just put-up various cameras. It turns out they had traveled from Florida to see the eclipse also.

Since the piece of the solar glasses I had taped over my camera lens was too small to cover the entire lens I masked the rest of the lens with black electric tape. This resulted in only being able to use two-thirds of the lens so I wouldn’t be able to zoom into the eclipse as much as I wanted to. I could only use a 300mm focal length. (If I had had the appropriate solar filter, I would have used a 500 to 600mm focal length). I also made a mini solar filter for the telephoto lens on my cell phone. And my friend took apart a pair of solar glasses and taped the lenses onto her binoculars.

I hadn’t had time to do test shots of the un-eclipsed sun, using different camera setting, so I tried to follow the recommendations of MrEclipse (retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak) and various other experts who published tips online. I set my camera to 200 ISO, f8. I would mostly keep it there and bracket the shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 1/160. I zoomed the lens to 300mm, focused to infinity, secured the camera on a tripod and waited.

When the moon started slowly covering the sun at around 1:15 PM, I began taking pictures and adjusting the settings as the partial eclipse progressed. This period lasted approximately 1.5 hours, though it felt like only about 30 minutes. I also tried taking some snapshots with my filtered cell phone but the sun in those photos came out overexposed. All you saw was an orange ball—no indication of the moon moving over it. I heard other voices in the crowd saying that their phone pictures weren’t any good, so I knew this was a general problem. I decided to only use the phone for people photos, not the eclipse.

I kept shooting the sun/moon with my main camera. Then as the moon got close to totally eclipsing the sun, my main camera jammed! I had no idea why. I took the camera off the tripod and fiddled with it. My new Florida friend came over and looked at it. It was very nice of him considering he was working 3 of his own cameras at the time. As mysteriously as the camera STOPPED working, it STARTED working again. So I frantically secured it back on the tripod, found the eclipse in the viewfinder and began shooting again.

Then the sky darkened as the moon completely covered the sun! The cicadas buzzed loudly. (I think that’s what they were). I took off my solar glasses. It was 2:39 PM.  I could see the stars, a planet. This was the first TOTAL eclipse I had ever witnessed. There were about a hundred people spread out on the goat farm and most everyone gasped or clapped or yelled. I frantically peeled the home-made filter off my camera lens so I could photograph the spectacular celestial event. During totality, when the moon is completely covering the sun, you have to take the filter off because it is dark and you need as much light to get into the camera as possible.

DSC_0160A (3)blog  DSC_0161 (5)blogI took a few pictures of the total eclipse while looking up at it and marveling. I completely forgot to bracket the shots in the excitement of the totality phase. The corona was small, then grew larger. Then as the moon moved over the sun a bit, and the sun’s rays came out one corner, you could see the effects known as “Baily’s beads” and “diamond ring”. I had seen photos of this but to see it actually happening was another thing altogether. Then more of the sun came out as the moon kept moving, and it was time to put the solar glasses back on. Totality only lasted about 2.5 minutes. I put the cover on my camera lens because I was done photographing. There was still another hour or so left for the moon to completely uncover the sun, and I just wanted to soak in the ambiance. I looked around. Some people were slowly packing up and leaving. Some were wandering around and others were watching the second half of the partial eclipse stages. A few people sauntered over to talk with us and comment about what we had just witnessed. “I’m just dazed with what I saw,” a man said to us. I stayed there with my friend until the eclipse was over, then we drove back to our hotel.

While examining the pictures afterward, I discovered that when my camera had jammed and I took it off the tripod, I had inadvertently hit the zoom lens and changed the focal point. Other settings were also altered by accident. I’m delighted with the photos that I got though, considering the technical challenges. All I needed where a few good ones and I have them. The most important thing was the experience of the total solar eclipse, itself. When I look at the pictures I remember the excitement and awesomeness of the occasion. And I smile.

 Photos & prints at

© 2017 Beatriz Portela. Images & text copyrighted.

A New Challenge

IMG_3879I started this GardeningB blog last year, after reading Elle Luna’s book “The Crossroads of Should and Must” and meeting her at our local bookstore. Several people in the audience were talking about THE 100-DAY PROJECT, a creative challenge they had just started, and that got me thinking about reigniting my creative side. I jumped in, a week or so later, starting my own 100-Day Project. I chose to blog a story every day, for 100 days, about edible gardening. It would be a challenge for me because I hadn’t written much since I had worked as a writer/producer of videos, years ago… and I had done that as part of my job, not for “fun.” I began blogging and taking corresponding pictures for this “project”, starting on May 25 and officially ending on September 2, 2015, without missing a day. I even managed to post while travelling and during a vacation on a cruise ship, with sketchy internet connections. I kept blogging after completing the project, but not every day. Now that I have had time to reflect on the 100-day experience, I would say that it was tremendously rewarding to write and share stories every day.

I had many special moments during those 3+ months of blogging. I was at a party and several people walked up to me and asked for gardening advise–people who I wasn’t even acquainted with or friends who I didn’t know were following my blog stories. One night I went to a Farm-to-Table dinner downtown. I saw my hairdresser and his partner there. When I asked how they knew about the dinner, they said they had read about it on my blog. A few people started herb gardens and planted fruit trees, telling me that I had inspired them. A couple of people began harvesting rain in barrels to water their plants. Others told me that they were motivated to taste fruit they had never heard of before and to try new recipes. I also received gifts of fruit from followers and was sent gardening tips and photos.

When I completed the 100 days, I was asked if I was going to continue writing. I thought I would. I tried to post regularly. Then I got busy with other things. The writing became sporadic. My attention shifted to new interests. I took a drawing class, began Italian classes, and I increased my daily exercising… And I’m still working, which takes up the largest chunk of my days. I tried to get back into a writing routine but I just didn’t have the time. And my creative energy was now going toward other endeavors.

When I heard a new 100-Day Project was starting in 2016, I decided to participate again. I ruminated over several days about which new creative thing to do for 100 days. What I wanted to get better at and do more of is to DRAW.  So that is what I decided to do. My new challenge is to create one drawing everyday on a mini canvas (3” X 3”) using only black and white Sharpie markers. The project isn’t about making a perfect product every day; it is about the process, the practice. What will I learn about drawing, while I am doing it every day? What will I learn about myself? Where will the practice take me?

I started my project on April 19th and have been posting my drawings, with explanations, every day on Instagram (@gardeningB) and Twitter (@superbMiami). If you want to follow along with me, please do! I think you can link to Instagram at the bottom left side of my website or here. I will also share my experiences on this blog, every couple of weeks or so. Wish me luck dear friends! And if I can encourage you on your own creative challenge, please let me know. ♥ The pictures on this post are of my first drawings on mini canvases.

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What to do with Cabbage

Cabbage & Veggie Soup

What to do with the cabbage I received in my CSA share this week? I decided on making a healthy soup; and I also used some of the other vegetables I received from the local farms in the recipe. The soup is very easy to make, with nothing fancy—just fresh veggies, chopped up and thrown into a big pot, covered with water and simmered. I used an 8 quart (7.6 liter) pot.


  • 6 carrots, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • half a head of cabbage, ripped or cut into small pieces
  • green beans
  • bunch of scallions, diced
  • 2 to 3 cups of chopped tomatoes
  • water
  • preferred seasoning, to taste


Put the carrots, onion, green pepper, celery and mushrooms into the pot. Add enough water to cover the veggies. Put the lid on the pot and simmer. Then add the cabbage, green beans and scallions. Keep adding water as needed to keep veggies covered. Lastly, add the tomatoes. Keep pot covered and simmer until the veggies are tender, approximately 45 minutes. This soup is flavorful and doesn’t need any extra seasoning. You can serve it as it is, or enhance further.  I added an organic no-salt seasoning, made by Kirkland, which contains a whole bunch of herbs including garlic and pepper. It added a little “kick” to the recipe. Expect 10 – 14 servings.

Veggies received this week

New Papaya Tree

IMG_3330My newest papaya plant is full of fruit. This tree is only 7’ tall so the fruit will be easy to pick once they are ripe. Papaya is also called lechosa and fruta bomba in Spanish. In Australia and some countries of the Caribbean, it is called papaw or pawpaw. The mature fruit can weigh up to 20 pounds!

Making Dehydrated Treats

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Dehydrated Star Fruit

I have wanted a Food Dehydrator for some time and had begun researching which one to buy. So when I read my sister’s email a couple of weeks ago, “What do you want for Christmas?” I replied with a model number. Sure enough, Santa promptly delivered the much-anticipated Food Dehydrator… thanks to my sister & her husband! For my first batch, I sliced-up fresh star fruit, papaya and banana. These fruits were all from my trees. I also sliced some fresh carrots; and lastly I added some frozen string beans. I assembled all the pieces on the trays, stacked them on top of each other, put on the top, set the temperature and turned the gizmo on. I checked the progress every few hours. It was not a quick process. I was surprised that it took approximately 12 hours for everything to be fully dried.

Of all my friends and family who tasted the assorted foods I dried, most people liked the star fruit the best. It just had a great texture and taste. It was a huge hit. The papaya and banana were also excellent. Now for the failures: the carrots felt and tasted like leather; and the string beans had a strange chewy consistency. I’m not sure what I did wrong with the carrots. As for the string beans, I’m going to try fresh beans next time, instead of frozen, to see if this makes a difference.

Happy New Year everyone. Make it a great one!!!!

My First Persimmon

IMG_3129 (2)I only discovered persimmon when I was visiting my brother Carlos, in Sacramento, California, 13 months ago. He had a basket of it on his kitchen counter that his neighbor who was growing it had given him. Carlos had never tasted the fruit either. So we sliced one open and ate it. I was astonished at how good it tasted. So Carlos gave me a few of the precious bounty and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

When I saw persimmon trees on sale at my local nursery this past May, I took one home, even though persimmons don’t usually fruit well in south Florida. The variety I purchased– Fuyu Persimmon– is bred for our hot climate and is supposed to need less cold days to develop fruit. The little tree had three tiny persimmon growing on its’ limbs, which the saleslady told me would fall off because the tree was still too small to fully develop the fruit. But I held out hope that they would grow large enough to eat.

I placed the new tree along the side of the house until I could figure out where I wanted to plant it in my yard. Then I sort of forgot about it. By the time I began to pay attention to it again, it had dried out. All the leaves had fallen off, but the three tiny persimmons still clung to the tree. I promptly planted the tree and began to faithfully water it. Leaves grew back. Then one immature fruit fell off. Then the second immature fruit fell off. But the last remaining fruit (pictured) tenaciously hung on and did eventually grow large enough to eat. Can’t wait till next year’s crop!

The Perfect Peppermint Bark

AIMG_3476One of our much anticipated holiday traditions is the making of Peppermint Bark. It started with my mother who purchased some Bark, which she shared with us, about 6 years ago. Everybody loved the sweet treat. Then the following year she read a recipe in the newspaper and decided to hand-make Bark for the family. The first batch was a little too thick and difficult to cut, but yummy anyway. The next year, she collaborated with my brother-in-law John to produce a fantastic Bark. The year after that, John enthusiastically took over the Bark making completely, tweaking the recipe with his top-secret ingredients. He has been perfecting it every holiday season since. Here’s this year’s formerly secret recipe:


  • 10 oz. dark chocolate
  • 5 oz. white chocolate
  • 5 oz. Hershey Kisses (candy cane variety)
  • 4 to 6 candy canes


Cover a large cookie sheet with wax paper. Melt the dark chocolate and pour onto the lined cookie sheet. Smooth it out into a thin layer with a plastic spatula. Put it into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to harden. Melt together 3/4 of the white chocolate & all the Hershey kisses and pour on top of the hardened dark chocolate layer. Smooth out to cover completely. Break up 4 – 6 candy canes and sprinkle on the top layer. The final artistic touch is to spoon the left-over white chocolate on top. Put it back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to harden. Remove from the refrigerator and cut the Bark in squares with a pizza cutter or knife. Place the squares into a holiday tin. Put the tin in the freezer for 10-15 minutes for the Bark to harden completely. And now it’s ready to eat!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

The Papaya Whisperer

IMG_3354 (3)I am so thankful to my gardener for helping me cut down these large papayas from my very tall papaya tree. I just couldn’t maneuver the fruit-picking pole between the high hedges and the electrical wires to get at these beauties. He got them easy…although a fourth papaya was accidentally knocked into the yard of my NeighborWithCameras. We weren’t able to retrieve it because there is a wall protecting their side yard from mine, not to mention the security cameras trained on us. I hope they are grateful for the tasty treat that fell out of the heavens onto their grass!

Pasta with Collard Greens

IMG_3376 (2)I wasn’t fond of collard greens so when I saw a big bunch of them in my CSA box, I thought I’d incorporate them in a pasta dish. I started with the recipe in the newsletter and modified it a bit. First of all, I added more garlic. My motto is that if you add enough fresh garlic to any greens, they will taste better. So here are the ingredients:

  • 12 large collard green leaves (stemmed & ripped-up)
  • 1 red onion (chopped)
  • 4 garlic cloves (chopped)
  • olive oil
  • half of a fresh cayenne pepper (chopped finely)
  • ground black pepper (optional)
  • pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat rotini noodles)
  • parmesan cheese (optional, omit if vegan)

Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil in a deep skillet. When the onion has just turned tender and translucent (in about 5 minutes), add the collard greens and cayenne pepper to the skillet. Add a little water to the pan and simmer until the greens are tender (about 10 minutes), stirring frequently. Add fresh ground black pepper, if you wish. Cook the pasta in a separate pot. When the pasta is done, you can serve it on plates and add the collard greens mixture on the top, as I did, or blend it with the noodles before serving. If you eat cheese, sprinkle shaved or shredded parmesan on the dish. Serves 2-4 people.

For someone who had never liked collard greens, this dish was a tasty revelation! I also loved the extra zest the cayenne pepper provided.