The hot, humid North Carolina summer was helping everything grow. The apple and pear trees were growing heavy with maturing fruit. Growing on the fig trees were more figs than we could eat, so we made preserves. The horses were growing, too. After spending only a short time in the new pasture of lush Bermuda grass, our equine trio had clearly put on a few pounds. Vander, the biggest pig in our whole family, was barely eating half of his morning bucket and wasn't even touching the flakes of orchardgrass in his stall. We cut back significantly on Vander and Ellie's feed and hay. Mandy had put on a good amount of weight, and even she was eating a little less these days.
Mandy was scheduled for a "getaway" at Dr. Bob's to spend a few days relaxing and getting pregnant. Her being underweight resulted in her vulva being tipped forward considerably, making it possible for her own poop to contaminate her uterus. Though Mandy would likely be stitched up after insemination as to help prevent that contamination, it would certainly help if she gained a few more pounds before then. A friend commented that if you can set a beer can on "it," then you've got a problem. I didn't have a beer can handy and if I did I probably wouldn't put it on a mare's behind. It just sounds like a good way to lose your beer. I figured we'd keep feeding Mandy and let Dr. Bob's expertise make the judgment.
As with Ellie's breeding attempt, for Mandy there would be no date with a stud--no fancy dinner, no romantic movie, no hooves meeting in the popcorn bucket, no smooches and no cuddling--there would just be sperm in an express package. (One of our female horsey friends remarked that this description about summed up her recent dating experiences. Needless to say, I didn't ask for details.)
Like everything else on the farm, I was growing, too. At 34, I'm sure I'm done growing up. (Kimberly would probably say I stopped growing up at age 12.) To avoid growing out, I've started riding my bike. Living in the country gives us miles and miles of quiet roads, and the early mornings have been cool enough to take a nearby eight-mile loop without suffering heatstroke. It's a short ride by most cyclists' standards, but I figure the exercise can't hurt. It takes me through some beautiful farmland and gives me time to ponder the ever-growing to-do list.
On that list was dealing with the overgrown garden beside the barn. We'd been putting off exploring it for fear of finding more fire ants, snakes or just a lot more work. I know at one point there were beets, radishes and a mess of fire ants. I didn't know what else--if anything--was growing, but I hate the idea of wasting food. We recently found out our buddy and former wood-burning neighbor, Nate, owned a bit of land and a big steel building about a mile away from us, beside Jack and Claudia's property. There he kept the supplies and machines for his landscaping business. He loaned us a walk-behind tiller for the garden.
Kimberly used a mower to trim the grass and weeds between the rows, and I followed with the tiller. Then, hunched over our hoes, we began clearing out the weeds and grass from between the plants.
"I hope you're hungry," Kimberly said, with a hand on the small of her back, wincing as she straightened up.
"Holy cow," I said, also wincing as I slowly stood up. It was the first time I'd really looked around the garden. I hadn't paid much attention to it while I was tilling. I'd seen a patch of bright green, yellow or red here and there, but had remained focused on steering the tiller. Now, as I took in the entire garden, I realized we had a market's worth of vegetables to harvest... immediately. As a former city boy and current gardening ignoramus, I think I'd have been more at ease if a stork had landed beside me, handed me a little bundle and said "Here's your new baby. Bye now."
"I guess we'll eat what we can, and what we can't, we can," I said, giggling like a 12-year-old. "Get it?" Kimberly frowned at me. "I hope you didn't have any plans for the rest of this weekend," I said. "We'd better go get some bags, jars and vinegar."
"Well, there'll be a little less work if we eat some of it now," Kimberly said, picking a ripe tomato and biting into it. "Oh, wow!"
She handed me a tomato and I took a bite. Juice ran down my chin. It was amazing. It was the most "tomato-y" tomato I'd ever had and it was warm with the day's heat. With a little fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil you could make a killer caprese salad. Or, like us, you could just stand in the garden and eat them off the vine. That's pretty good, too. After eating a few more tomatoes I felt slightly better about the work that lay ahead. I figured if the other fruits and vegetables were as good as the tomatoes, it might be worth all the work.
We picked pounds of tomatoes, yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, carrots, jalapenos, potatoes and an absolute mess of radishes. I've never seen so many radishes. We filled the refrigerator and kitchen counters with our fresh, garden bounty. Despite the great harvest, more food was on its way. The squash plants still had blossoms, the cucumber vines had lots of baby cukes, and there were more 'maters and hot peppers soon to ripen. Fortunately, the large patch of watermelons and cantaloupes wouldn't be ready for a few more weeks.
We spent the remainder of the weekend making pickles, canning tomatoes, slicing and freezing squash and carrots, and sneaking around the neighborhood, leaving bags of radishes on people's doorsteps. It was a little sad, but we couldn't eat them all and they needed good homes. At least Vander, Ellie and Mandy helped us take care of the carrots that wouldn't fit in the freezer.
A few days later, we trailered Mandy to Dr. Bob's. We were so preoccupied with getting Mandy to Dr. Bob's and talking about the future foal that we didn't realize we were headed to Dr. Bob's several hours earlier than scheduled. His front gate was locked, so we looked around for another entrance. We found a gate at the rear of a pasture, though it was on the opposite side of his property from where Mandy, her feed and hay needed to be and we would need to move everything by hand. I offered to take Mandy and navigate the series of gates, goats and guard dogs on the way to her private pasture. Kimberly found a wheelbarrow for the feed and hay, which she figured would be easily transported.
Mandy remained calm and quiet as I led her through several gated pastures containing goats and guard dogs, who recognized me from our past visits. It took a little orchestration to prevent the escape of any animals, but I finally got Mandy to her pasture and headed back toward the trailer. Past the goats, at the top of the hill I found a rather frustrated Kimberly, dripping with sweat, dragging a bag of beet pulp through a spot of grass. We have a two-wheeled barrow at home, and Dr. Bob's small, single-wheeled barrow proved difficult to maneuver over the rutted, rock-strewn areas of the path to the barn. After dumping the wheelbarrow over several times, she had abandoned it and hand-carried/dragged/kicked the hay and the bags of feed.
"Boy, that looks like good exercise," I said. Kimberly stared blankly at me. "Say, how about I grab that for you," I added, "unless you got it. I mean, I respect your being an independent horsewoman who can do things for herself." Kimberly continued her silent, blank stare as the sweat ran off her face and neck, further soaking her shirt. "Or," I said, "I can just get that bag--how about that? Here we go, okay, yes, I'll just grab this bag for you... honey."
I grabbed the bag of beet pulp, threw it over my shoulder and headed for the barn. I set it down in the barn aisle beside Mandy's bag of grain and hay. Kimberly wheeled the barrow into the feed room, and we went to check on Mandy before leaving.
Mandy is so reserved; it was hard to tell what she thought of Dr. Bob's farm and the other horses. She was grazing quietly--apparently content with the accommodations. If the rest of her stay goes as easily, when we return she might be pregnant. I know things go the way they're supposed to, but I've got my fingers crossed anyway.
We said "goodbye" to Mandy and started our drive home. We made a few, quick stops before getting on the highway. We're hoping Dr. Bob's neighbors like radishes.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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