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

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.


May 20, 2014

The lambs are happy

We sent the sheep to pasture this week, but not before a rainbow touched down behind the barn.

In preparation for the foray into grass we vaccinate and worm every animal. Caroline arrived home from college just in time to help. Literally, the minute she stepped out of her car we told her to put her boots on and come to the barn.

Worming the ewes.

Vaccinating the lambs

Worming the lambs. Fast little suckers.

Our cute babies at one month old.

May 14, 2014

It's Wild Mustard

This invasive weed is wild mustard (sinapis arvensis), not leafy spurge. I brought a few samples to the office and research showed it to be wild mustard. Bob was right all along.

It's not great news, however, as the weed has taken over both alfalfa fields and spread into the pasture. The seeds are toxic and cause gastrointestinal problems if consumed in large quantities by our sheep. No wonder they don't like this plant.

The good news is that the field is full of bees and other pollinators right now.

A weed is just a plant out of place.

More information here:

May 12, 2014

The Scourge of Leafy Spurge

Two years ago, a pretty yellow plant infested one of our alfalfa fields. We called it mustard, but it wasn't mustard. The sheep refused to eat any part of it. We dug up that field last fall and planted a cover crop of turnips and radishes, and then oats this spring.

Now the pretty yellow plant is blooming in the alfalfa field behind the barn. It's also in the north end of our pasture. I walked through the pasture yesterday with Caroline and her boyfriend, John. His dad farms in North Dakota. John immediately identified the invasive species as leafy spurge, a much-hated plant in the Plains.

This morning I researched leafy spurge and I don't like anything I see. Here are some links with good info:

This noxious weed from Europe and Asia is destroying pastures and it very hard to control. Guess we better start attacking.

UPDATE: This is not leafy spurge, but wild mustard (Bob was right). See more here:


Leafy spurge (yellow plants) in our pasture

May 8, 2014

What's Up?

The tulips I planted last fall have finally bloomed! Well, at least a few of them have bloomed. The majority either didn't come up or only have green leaves, no flower. I posted this on the Living the Country Life Facebook page and many readers said their tulips had the same disappointing results this spring. It was a long, hard winter.

Roses also took a hit, at least in the Midwest. I thought my two small bushes were dead, but I see a little green leaf on one of them now.

My lilacs are blooming well, however! What a wonderful smell. I sat under these branches last night well past dark (reading on my iPad). Ahhhh.