Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is an Executive Editor for Meredith Agrimedia, including Living the Country Life and Successful Farming. She grew up on a fruit farm in Maryland (see and has an agricultural journalism degree from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Bob, a veterinarian, live on a farm in Iowa where they raise sheep, hay, corn, and soybeans.


Twitter: betsyfreese

July 2, 2014

Around the Acreage

Stormy weather makes beautiful clouds. All the rain means green lawns, lots of weeds in my garden, and broken limbs for the chipper -- but it beats drought hands down.

Here are some more photos around our place.

We redid all the brick, concrete, and landscaping on our porch. Worth the money.

David Ekstrom took this photo of our grove. The sheep have had plenty of grass this year.

These peonies are done blooming, but I had to show you!

Celebrating outdoors (when it's not raining) is why we love summer!

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June 24, 2014


My cabbages are already huge and it's a month until the county fair. This guy will likely split by that time. I can still enter it in the Largest Cabbage contest. I don't water my garden, so the fast growth is due to timely rain and heavy use of sheep manure compost in the black Iowa soil. I also mulched with straw around the cabbages and potatoes.

I dug two hills of new potatoes, below. Yummy. The rest of the potatoes will sit until the fair. I'm expected a bumper harvest. (If you want to get hungry, scroll down to see the 15 Ways to Use New Potatoes below the photo.)

I posted this photo on the Living the Country Life page on Facebook. Here are some of the ways readers would cook potatoes:

  1. Pop them in the oven with a little olive oil, salt & garlic.
  2. Hash browns for breakfast.
  3. Fresh beans, potatoes, bacon, and onion all mixed together.
  4. Cook new fresh green beans and then add the new potatoes on top.
  5. Hamhocks and snapped green beans with those new potatoes.
  6. Creamed peas and new potatoes.
  7. Potato salad.
  8. Steamed with a little pepper and salt, butter.
  9. Fried new potatoes.
  10. A big pot of green beans, new potatoes, cornbread, cole slaw, sliced tomatoes.
  11. Garlic mashed potatoes.
  12. Cook potatoes with carrots and onoins in the oven.
  13. Potato soup.
  14. In a shrimp boil.
  15. Fresh green beans, onions, and some ham bits.
June 20, 2014

Too much rain

I visited farms in northern Iowa this week and saw many flooded fields and swollen creeks. It's always either too much or too little rain. Southern Minnesota just set the record for June rainfall. More is falling.

The creek above is actually a drainage ditch that feeds into a lake 2 miles away. The farmer has lovely grass buffer strips that help to clean the water running off fields. Without this grass the water would have even more sediment than it does now.

Below is a field near Kensett, Iowa, This was taken a day before another 3 inches of rain fell. I image the whole field is under water today.


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June 16, 2014

Making Hay

Bob finally baled the first cutting of alfalfa (mixed with a lot of wild mustard) and the kids stacked it in the barn. First cutting is never the best hay, but you have to get it off the field for the prime second crop to grow. Now it can rain!

Wear a mask if you are stacking in the hayloft.

June 11, 2014

Charlie and his Lamb

Bob took a sick lamb to the vet clinic today and Charlie the clinic cat became the caregiver. What sweet animal bonding. Charlie makes a fine nurse.

"It will be okay, little lambie," says Charlie.

Let me hold your hoof and give you a kiss.

Thanks to Jenni Stumpf for sending me these pics.

June 9, 2014

Berry Picking Time!

The strawberry picking season is in full gear at my home farm in Maryland, Walnut Springs Farm, The weather has been beautiful and customers abundant. Dad is still recovering from a fall a few months ago, using a cane and tiring more easily, but he's doing well.

The bad news is that a frost in April killed the buds on my sister's sweet cherry trees, so there will be no cherry picking this year.

Red and black raspberries will be ready later in June, and blueberries in July. Always visit the web site before coming to the farm, or call 410-398-345. Picking days and times vary due to weather.

June 2, 2014

10 Things I'm Enjoying

1. Fresh mint from my garden, added to a cool lime drink.

2. Blooming irises.

3. Sitting in the yard with a stack of magazines or good book.

4. Watching one of my kids mow the lawn (Nowlan, this time).

5. Fresh asparagus from my garden.

6. Fresh spinach salads with lots of bacon.

7. Watching the lambs bounce around the grove.

8. Rain and green pastures (although Bob is anxious to make first cutting of alfalfa).

9. Seeing and hearing lots of cardinals this year.

10. My coworkers at Living the Country Life and Successful Farming! (Annual Wild Pants Day)


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May 30, 2014

Growing Potatoes

I planted potatoes on Easter weekend and they are growing well. This week I hilled them and then covered them with straw. The red potatoes are already starting to bloom. I will leave them in the ground until late July when I will dig them all, sort, and enter them in the county fair. I may not be able to wait that long on the red potatoes. Boiled new potatoes with butter and salt. Yummy.

May 27, 2014

At Dusk

Every evening we call the sheep into the barnyard and lock the gate so coyotes don't kill them overnight. Most of the animals come running (we give them a bit of alfalfa). See how fast they run here:

A few rebel lambs climb the compost pile, above, and force Bob to shoo them off and chase them around the pile.

An occasional lamb or ewe doesn't come running because her head is stuck in the woven wire fence. (The grass is not greener over there, silly animals.) For this reason, someone has to walk down to the pasture and check the perimeter. Freeing them requires tugging, pulling, and sometimes loss of an eartag.

I took this photo at dusk from the pasture looking up to the barn. That oat field does look inviting.

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May 22, 2014

Down at the pond

I'm on the north shore of our 3-acre pond. It's lovely this year, with no signs of drought.

A goose made a nest on the south side. I scared her off when I walked by. I'm afraid the babies will be eaten quickly by the fox that walks through our barnyard every evening.