The backyard garden roars

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Today, I made my first batch of chili for 2020, the mildest Texas chili I have ever made, but also one of the better batches, according to Jeri. She asked that the next batch is made the same way, which is more than fine with me, if I followed a recipe. I do not measure most of the ingredients put into chili, except for cumin which is measured precisely, so an exact match is unlikely.

A key ingredient in our chili, also a key ingredient in our stir fry, goulash and Bourbon Street beef and pork, is a blend of the herbs, spices and seasonings grown in the backyard garden. The things grown change from year to year as we experiment. Every one has been good, however, the current batch may be the best yet.

The current blend includes green bell peppers, Cajun red bell peppers, cayenne pepper, hot Hungarian pepper, hot Portugal pepper, habanero chili, jalapeno chili, Serrano chili, dill, two kinds of sage, sweet basil and purple basil. I have no idea how much of any ingredient is in there. But I did take care not to add too much cayenne pepper or habanero chili. That could quickly make it too hot. Both Jeri and I enjoy hot food, and it is heart healthy, yet keep in mind the idea is good taste not the ridiculous challenge of enduring hot spices.

Several years ago my late brother, Greg, gave us a dehydrator for Christmas. I think it was Christmas. That got this spice blend started. Every fall that runs for several days drying the spice blend ingredients.

Once all has been dehydrated, it is ground into fine powder by a small, hand held electric coffee grinder, another old gift from my brother. This is used to make the various ingredients into a fine powder. Some, not a lot, well ground Himalayan pink salt is added for flavor and as a preservative.

It is all collected into a gallon-size plastic bag and blended thoroughly.

So for the first time ever, I have no changes planned for the garden this spring, which is not so far away.

That is, except for the reduction of a 2 foot by 8 foot section where seasonings will be replaced by either grape vines or raspberry bushes. They will be mainly for the birds, just like the blueberry bushes Jeri planted several years ago.

At first the blueberries were intended for our own consumption. We both really enjoy blueberries, and blueberries are a super food (loaded with good stuff). But the birds got them even before they ripened fully. Then we started putting up screens to keep the birds out, but Jeri did not spread the screen on a frame so the birds landed on the screen and ate the blueberries.

Then before erecting a frame to keep the screen from touching the blueberries we had a change of heart and decided to remove the screen and leave the berries for the birds. We could not grow enough of them to come close to the amount we eat anyway.

Somewhat surprisingly, robins are the primary blueberry eaters. I thought the Baltimore orioles, which have become very common in our neighborhood, would really go for them, but they seem to prefer the grape jelly we use in the oriole feeders.

With the current frightening decline in North American birds, it seems the best thing to do with our yard is whatever seems best for the birds. Toward that end, and to help pollinators such as bees, also having problems, we are putting in at least three wildflower beds, and maybe as many as five. I purchased the soil for these beds last fall when they were marked down in price and the bags have been laying in the backyard since.

That soil awaits the placement of several heavy stones that are being used to return the small spring stream that flows along the edge of the backyard to the babbling brook it was when we moved here. The stream sings again, and we had far fewer biting insects that when the stream flowed through calm pools over mud bottom.

Mosquito larvae were abundant in the calm water. I certainly was not going to spray insecticide into the water, but I did flush the larvae out a few times with the garden hose high pressure nozzle.

The English language will never make sense until hose is spelled with a ‘z’.


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