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

August 11, 2014

State Fair!

I took a tour around the ag side of the Iowa State Fair on Friday and then worked with Caroline in the Iowa Sheep Industry Association food stand. Food options included a Greek sandwich with seasoned lamb on warm pita bread, a lamb kabob with onions and peppers, and a leg-of-lamb sandwich with thin slices of fresh grilled lamb. Everything was delicious. I was surprised at how many people came up to the stand to ask for a sample of lamb. They had never tasted the meat.

If you get a chance, visit a fair near you and eat some local lamb, pork, beef, or poultry. Support your farmers!

I checked out the new machinery from the sky ride.

These FFA kids had their muscle-bound pigs trained well. I've never seen wider swine.

The attentive audience for this dairy show was behind the camera. These cows were perfectly trained.

Caroline gets a close look at the second biggest boar at the fair.

Give fresh lamb a try!


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August 5, 2014

Keeping Up Appearances

The last time we painted our house, Bob rented a cherry-picker and hired a neighbor to help him. That was probably 10 years ago. It's a big job -- we have a tall house with 100 years of paint to scrape. This time we hired a crew of college kids. They are on day four with another to go. I think it was more house than they originally expected.

We feel the pressure to keep up appearances with all of the new construction around us. At the bottom is a photo of our neighborhood taken by James McConnell from a hot air balloon. We are the 36-acre farm (red barn) in the middle. We used to be surrounded by corn fields and pasture.


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July 31, 2014

Hay, hay, hay

We've had no rain in three weeks, so Bob has been Crazy Hay Man. He even baled alfalfa at two neighboring acreages.

Warren and Caroline are stacking grass hay in our pasture above. Here are some other photos of the action.

The old rake still does the job, although it broke one busy day and Bob had to stop and weld it back together. Insert choice words.

Strong women at the Indianola Vet Clinic helped Crazy Hay Man get the crop in the barn.

This is second cutting of alfalfa. Prime stuff.

Can you tell how late in the day he was playing with his hay? Hay, that rhymes.


July 25, 2014

County Fair!

Our wonderful Warren County Fair (Iowa), now in its 158th year, is underway and I entered vegetables and flowers this year. I was most nervous about the flowers, because I had never entered before. Here are photos and captions with some tips.

This was my assortment of flower entries, plus basil. The fair provides the glass vases, so you just have to get the flowers to the fair without crushing or breaking them.

The pink phlox won; the medium dahlias and basil were second.

Competition was tough in the daylilies, and my entries did not place. I learned good tips (you really need two flowers blooming on the day of judging, plus lots of unopened buds).

Three of my glads got blue ribbons and one got a red. Only one other person entered, which was disappointing. We had a champion glad grower in the county, but he moved to Colorado. Glads should have at least seven blooms and one-third of the plant unopened.

These were my vegetable and fruit entries. The butternut squash are not totally ripe, but you take the produce at the stage it's in. I will still eat these.

My entry in the Largest Cabbage category is weighed (12 pounds). I placed second out of three, and might have won the class if I hadn't trimmed the outer leaves. Even if they are full of insect holes, it doesn't matter in this class.

There were 10 entries in the Giant Squash competition. My zucchini was third.

The judge took the longest time deciding the red potato winner (my husband, Bob). I placed second. Bob tills the garden and provides all the sheep compost, so he enters a few things.

I won the white onion class, but did not place in yellow onions. The key with onions is DRYNESS, not size. Pull them weeks before the fair so they can dry out completely. The judge eliminates any onions that have even a tiny bit of moisture in the tops.

The Largest Potato contest was stiff. My red potato is being weighed (17 ounces). Bob's white potato (directly above) won at 17.2 ounces.

It was another great year at the fair!


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July 21, 2014

Yukon Gold

Potatoes! Who wants potatoes? Come get your potatoes!

What possessed me to plant so many? Actually, I didn't plant any more hills than in past years, but we got so much rain, and added so much sheep compost to the soil, each hill produced half a basket of spuds.

I grew the Yukon Gold variety for the first time this year and they are huge. Below is the crop I dug yesterday before the heat wave hit. I have three times that many red potatoes. Crazy. Tonight I'm sorting by size to find five of each variety to take to the county fair.

July 18, 2014


My gladiolus are fabulous this year. We have had a lot of rain and that makes big blossoms. I am hoping to enter a few in the county fair next week, although most plants have a curve in the top, which would keep them out of the running. They sure brighten up the kitchen!

(Thanks to David Ekstrom for taking these photos.)

July 14, 2014

Berry Good Vacation

Bob and I visited my folks on their farm in Maryland last week and had a great time picking and eating raspberries and blueberries, among other activities. The fruit crops, including strawberries, were great this year -- except for my sister's sweet cherries, which were killed by frost.

Dad (above left) has recovered well from a head injury he suffered in a fall last winter. He can't do everything he used to on the farm, but he can tell someone exactly what to do. 

Here are some photos from our visit.

Dad, Bob, and Harvey tell tall tales in the yard.

Dad tilling a former strawberry field so he can plant a cover crop.

Mom takes a spin in a 1930 Ford Roadster. Both models have aged well. (Mom is younger and prettier.)

Bucket of black raspberries. Not blackberries -- black raspberries. These are almost impossible to find in the store. They are hard to grow, but worth it.

These are my cousin Jen Arter's blueberries. YUM.




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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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