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

September 21, 2015

Happy Fall!

There are still tons of apples on the tree at the pond. Bob is using the fruit picker pole to snag the highest apples and those hanging over the pond. I have two huge bags of apples waiting for me to cook down for applesauce. I will make another apple crisp, too.

The market lambs are growing like crazy. You would never know it's fall. Our pastures are as green as Ireland.

Plop. Another apple hits the pond. The snapping turtles will enjoy them later.

Bob feeds the lambs at dusk. They are five months old and weigh 120 pounds or more. That is good daily gain.

Lots of green grass for our ewes in the pasture.

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September 16, 2015

Hay Fever

Somehow, somewhere, Bob found more hay to bale and a corner of the barn to house it.

Besides a fourth cutting of alfalfa at our place, which was green, wet, and heavy when stacked in the barn (we'll use it quickly), he baled the empty industrial park lot to our east. That grass hay was full of weeds, but will make decent bedding.

Bob says he can't help it. He has hay fever.

I'm looking forward to the end of the growing season.


September 9, 2015

Killing thistles and picking apples

Early fall is such a busy time on a farm or acreage. There is so much to harvest and so much to kill.

We started with the thistles in the pasture. Sure, the yellow flowers were full of bees, but those noxious weeds had to go. We cut them and threw them in the wagon for the burning pile.

Speaking of bees and weeds, Bob decided he had had enough of my pollinator patch. He mowed it down, leaving one flowering stalk.

Next, he mowed around the pond and saw that the old apple tree had fruit this year (it only has apples about every three years). Boy, did it ever. I picked two large bags full and made applesauce. I will pick more this weekend.

I don't know the name of this type of thistle. Do you?

My pollinator garden earlier this summer. Check out the freaky yellow spider in the flower. He hid and killed the bee when it landed. Bees can't catch a break these days.

All that's left of my weed patch.

I've never seen our tree, or any tree, so laden with apples.

Mickey waits for a bite. Bob took this photo of his daily lunch companion.

Here's another photo by Bob. This farmer's granddaughter, a gymnast who trains at Chow's, was running the cattle chute gate.


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September 1, 2015

The Barn is Full, but Bob Keeps Baling

Bob finished plugging every nook and cranny of the hayloft on August 13th (above). It was our 32nd wedding anniversary, so I remember the date.

Last week he baled the west half of the pasture and filled two baskets and five racks. That hay was sold or stored in the machine shed.

We have had a wet summer, and rain makes hay. Our sheep will not go hungry this winter.

Bob and his hired help, John, needed supper in the field. I work in Des Moines, so I raced through Culvers on my way home.

"Doing a lot of this tonight," was my Twitter caption for this photo.

A hay basket broke on this gravel road, spilling the contents. Bob stacked the bales on the side and Caroline and I waited for him to return with the flat-bed trailer.

An old farmer stopped to give us this stool sample.

Hay rack selfie.

August 25, 2015

Landscaping with Sheep: Step by Step

All the rain this summer turned my (so-called) landscaping into a jungle. Vines covered the lilacs and bridal wreath spirea on the west side of the lawn, even climbing the nearby evergreen to the top. I could see poison ivy hiding in some of the bushes. Ugh.

Bob decided to call in the big guns. He fenced off portions of the yard and let the ewes have a feast. Once they finished, he ran the chain saw and I used the loppers and rake to clean it up. Here are the steps.

Step 1: Let the "little lambs eat ivy."

Step 2: Clean up what's left.

Step 3: Move the ewes to the next patch -- lilacs overrun by Virginia creeper.

Step 4: Cut back the lilacs to a small patch and let the ewes eat the discards.

Step 5: Fence off the bridal wreath bush and let the ewes eat away.

Step 6: Fire up the chipper.

Step 7: Continue chipping the twigs, trees, and defoliated vines and bushes.

Step 8: Dump the chips in the washout area of the pasture lane (after adding a few more branches).

Step 9: The chips slow water down during heavy rains.

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August 19, 2015

Tomatoes and Peaches!

I have tomatoes coming out of my ears. That's okay. BLTs and Caprese salad every other night. Yum.

I also had a bumper crop of peaches from my little tree. I froze several bags and made peach crisp four times. Yum.

It's a delicious time of year.

Tomatoes, basil, mozzarella. I squeeze a lemon over it and call it good.

I use the Peach Crisp recipe from allrecipes


August 12, 2015

Chicken Health Care

Bob got a chicken emergency call the other night, and it wasn't a disease issue with a flock. It was one pet chicken. He explained the cost to the owner up front and she readily agreed.

This hen, named Louise, was three years old and perfectly tame. It stood or sat on the exam table without a squawk or flapping of wings. The owner, a young woman who owned a small backyard flock, smoothed the hen's feathers and talked to it.

The problem was an infected rear end. The cause was unknown and I will spare you the details, but it was gross. Bob wasn't sure he could save the hen, but he cleaned the wound, flushed it with saline, and gave antibiotics. He also put a mixture of honey and iodine in the cavity. Honey has antimicrobial benefits.

The hen recovered and her wound is healing nicely. She stayed overnight in the clinic and went home the next day.

A few days after I wrote the post above, I got this photo from the vet clinic:

August 5, 2015

Family Fun and Celebrations

When your grown kids come home to visit, you fire up the old John Deere and bale hay until the sun sets. That's Nowlan and his childhood friend Tyler on the rack.

In other family news, our niece, Brittany, got married over the weekend and the reception was held at a celebration barn near Solon, Iowa, built by Dick Schwab. Very cool place!

The stone work leading up to the back of the barn is amazing.

Matt and Brittany arrive through the back doors. Congratulations!

Looking up from inside the front doors.

I climbed the overhead staircase to get this shot, looking toward the front doors. That's Bob on the right (looking my way), with his sister Verna and her husband, Jeff.

Looking toward the back doors. That's owner Dick Schwab on the stairs.


July 24, 2015

It's Fair Time!

Our county fair is this week, and I'm showing flowers and vegetables. Our family was also in charge of working the pork producers' food stand one night, so Caroline came home to help. Our oldest son, Nowlan, also came home for a visit and helped me dig and sort potatoes. Here are photos from the week.

Cramming my flower entries into the Prius took some engineering. Nothing got crushed on the way, thanks to Caroline.

My Mandevilla Sun Parasol won a blue ribbon, as did my hybrid tea rose, purple zinnias, gold daylily, and impatiens.

Nowlan sorted all my potatoes by size, shape, and condition (I had a lot of bug holes this year). He did a great job, because I won the white and gold categories.

Competition was fierce in red potatoes this year and mine did not place.

My giant white potatoes won the class.

Working the pork stand. (Caroline never stopped moving.)

The view from the counter.

Speaking of pork, the hog show is the largest ever this year with more than 300 entries. Pigs are three to a pen, but they don't mind.

I'm back in the show!

The funnel cake options are out of control!


July 20, 2015

Amazing Skittles Art

Caroline just completed a fascinating art project in our farm shop. She made a self portrait (of sorts) as a collage made out of 20,000 Skittles. This is an Iowa State University focus grant and the final result, once framed, will hang in the Memorial Union next April. I hope the candy survives!

Caroline first drew her portrait to use as a guide, and then researched all the possible Skittles colors. Unlike M&Ms, you can't buy individual colors of Skittles, so she had to buy an assortment of flavors and sort the colors. She made her hair blue to contrast with the yellow background.

She painted an outline of the picture on two sheets of plywood and positioned a camera on a ladder.

She starts attaching Skittles to the face first. She quickly realized how much glue the project is going to take.

The face is almost done.

Time to work on the green shirt.

The shirt is done.

The left board is done. The background was originally going to be yellow, but Caroline decided orange accents would make it more interesting.

Finishing the hair.

Finishing the yellow and orange background. She is now weeks into the project. Some of the color on the face has started to fade and ants have sucked the sugar out of some Skittles. The shop is struggling to stay cool in July heat. Caroline researches and tests clear coatings and finds one to spray on the collage.

The project is complete! (Frame to come later.) We carry the two halves into the house for safekeeping.

I tease Caroline with this comparison.

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