Thursday, 30 August 2007

First gig ... heehee!

I have been a bit slack with my blogging in the last couple of weeks, but this is why!

I played my first gig on Monday at The Night Owl in Cheltenham, which means I got to play on the same stage as Jimi Hendrix (he played there in 1967).

I don't have a band at the moment so I had to make do with my own guitar playing, and all the other instruments were on an iPod! It worked though ... the audience loved it and so did I.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Green bean gallery

Caseknife, introduced before 1820

Caseknife pod. Shaped a bit like a caseknife, presumably.

I just had a comment asking what had become of my Spagna Bianco, so here it is. It does appear to be botanically a runner bean but instead of the characteristic long thin runner pods it has ... er ... these. There are only two or three beans per pod by the look of it but they will be huge, round and plump like butterbeans.

Purple Prince

Coco Bicolour, an old climber of French origin

Nun's Belly Button, a very old dwarf variety with several variants

Brighstone, from the Isle of Wight but of uncertain origin. Lovely purple flowers.

And after green beans you get other colours. This is Dog Bean.

I noticed some dark beans among my harvest of Mrs Fortune's last year which were almost totally purple instead of the usual tan with purple whorls. It was only three beans in the whole crop. I planted them separately to see whether they look different from the usual plants. And they do! They have more purple on them, the flowers are darker pink, and the pods develop a much deeper blue mottling. I don't think they've crossed with anything, I think it's more likely to be a spontaneous mutation or a hidden gene expressing itself. I will watch them with interest.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Garlic joy

Freshly harvested bulbs of Solent Wight garlic

As it's been a very strange season weather-wise, it's difficult to make any judgements about produce from the garden this year. One plant which always seems to be a rugged survivor is garlic. My crop was afflicted with the worst outbreak of rust I've ever seen (a fungus which chokes the leaves with rusty orange spots). It was so bad that for the last month or six weeks most of my garlic plants have appeared to be dead. The foliage was so rust-choked it just died off completely, and even the main stems looked like dry sticks, straw-coloured with smutty spots. You wouldn't think anything would survive being reduced to that state. But under the ground, the bulbs were still thriving and growing.

That's not to say I've had a perfectly good garlic harvest. Most of the bulbs are smaller than they should be, and some of them have burst out of their bulb wrappers so they won't be any good for long term storage. But in terms of having enough to replant next season, and plenty more to eat, it's been a perfectly adequate harvest.

Take the Solent Wight in the picture above, for example. It's a softneck Artichoke (I think) variety, very popular in the UK in recent years as it has been bred for our climate (from French stock). It's supposed to produce large long-keeping bulbs. Mine are not large, but then I've never had especially large bulbs from Solent Wight in my garden, for some reason. The white outer wrappers are thin and see-through like tracing paper and as you can see, the clove skins underneath are extremely beautiful colours! I don't remember them being this beautiful last year, so maybe the growing conditions have intensified the colours. The flavour is pretty good even straight after harvest, plenty of taste to it but not overly hot or strong.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Solent Wight was the only garlic variety I grew this year which was completely unaffected by rust. The plants remained completely clean for weeks while all my other garlic was choked solid. There was a very small amount of rust on the uppermost leaves by harvest time, but it was very minor.

Persian Star garlic, which originates in Uzbekistan.

I've harvested a few bulbs of Persian Star too, but not all of them because they seem to be later maturing than my other varieties and some are not quite ready. This is a Purple Stripe hardneck variety, but it probably needs to mature a bit more before the purple stripes become apparent (the planting stock I got from Patrick was certainly streaked with purple). It has eight fairly equal sized cloves around a central stem and a classic garlic bulb shape. We had some for dinner and the flavour was hot and spicy. It's difficult to judge garlic flavours on a single tasting because they vary so much with different growing conditions and harvest times, and even then they can change continually during storage. When eaten soon after harvest my Persian Star had a slight coarseness in its flavour, but it was probably harvested prematurely so I will allow the rest of the crop to mellow in storage for a while and see how it develops.

Still my favourite garlic at the moment, Music is a handsome and reliable variety with a wonderful rich flavour.

And no it's not just the name that made this one appeal to me! This is my third crop of Music from home-saved bulbs, and although it's not the most brilliant harvest because of the atrocious weather, it's proving itself to be a very sturdy and reliable variety. It seems to have originated in Italy and then developed in Canada, and it's a hardneck Porcelain type. The cloves are huge and plump with pretty pink-violet skins, and the outer bulb wrappers are smooth, porcelain-translucent and usually streaked with silvery purple. The flavour is fantastic, and this is the variety all my friends pester me for. It does change in storage though ... I harvested a bulb in June and we ate half of it and it was very nice. Last Sunday we ate the other half and it nearly blew our heads off. It had developed an intense heat during its time on the kitchen shelf, though it still maintained its sweet musky Music flavour.

On the whole the Music bulbs this year are smaller than they should be and less elegant and porcelain-like. They are also producing some small extra cloves within some of the bulbs, which they have never done before. So I think they have been a bit perturbed by the weather. I often find that smaller bulbs taste better than big ones though, so I'm not too bothered.

One disadvantage of Porcelain garlics is that they don't usually store for more than a few months. However, I'm amazed to say I have a single clove of Music on my kitchen shelf which is now one year old and still firm and healthy! I haven't the heart to eat it now, and as it has a fine and healthy set of root buds I will probably try replanting it in the autumn. There is probably a good reason for its long life ... with garlic there is a trade-off between scape removal and bulb storage life. If you remove the scapes (flower stalks) you get bigger bulbs but they don't last as long. With last year's crop I left some of the scapes on until they were almost mature, which compromises bulb size but gives them much better storage properties.

Oops! This is what happens when you leave garlic in the ground too long! They burst out of their bulb wrappers. This year I'm blaming it partly on the extreme wet weather through June and July, which made the cloves swell very rapidly and push each other apart, though in doing so they've reached a much more impressive size. Bulbs in this condition will not store for too long but that's OK ... I will use these for replanting, since they are literally bursting with vitality!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

My new album is released today!

Mind The Gap album cover

I'm not very good at blowing my own trumpet (although I can play my own guitar) but I'm too excited not to mention this. Today is the release date for my first solo album, Mind The Gap, which I've been working on for more than a year.

I suppose the genre which fits my music most closely would be psych-folk, or folk noir. There are quite a few traditional British folk songs on it but for the most part I do them in a very non-traditional style! Psychedelic guitars mixed with more traditional instruments like fiddles, mandolins and celtic harp, and ghostly voices. A lot of it is kind of dark and haunting and it's music to fire your imagination rather than to bop along to while you're doing the ironing. Some of the songs I wrote myself. And there's a Pink Floyd song on there too!

And of course there had to be a song about gardening. My neighbour is very keen on horticultural powertools, which is fair enough (I enjoy doing most garden jobs by hand, but I appreciate not everybody does) and as I have a home studio I often get my recordings spoiled by whining leafblowers or spluttering hedgetrimmers. One day I got so pissed off with it I wrote a song called "Leafblower" explaining exactly what I'd like to do with that wretched piece of machinery.

Anyway, if anybody is interested in getting a copy it's available now from The Lost Records for £9 plus p+p (or $11.99 if you're in the US). At the moment that's the only place it's available from but it will filter through to other outlets over the next month or so, such as the iTunes Music Store.

Or if you just want to have a listen out of curiosity there are some song samples on my website,