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 1, 2017

Welcome Fall!

Summer is rolling to a close on a million tomatoes at my place. I've made tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, salads, and salsa. This will continue until frost. The potatoes are stored in the cellar and onions on the porch (for now). Next, I will be picking apples. The wild, old tree at the pond is full of fruit this year. 

We took the first load of market lambs, 19 of them, to auction on Saturday. They averaged 128 pounds and brought $1.49 a pound. They were less than five months old, so that is great growth.

Hope you have a wonderful fall at your place!

Sunset at our pond.

Bob uses a torch to toast Canada thistles.

Waiting for our lambs to sell at Colfax Livestock auction.

Time to pick apples!

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August 4, 2017

Fun times

Summer is such a great time to hit the road. Our extended Freese family all traveled to Austin, Texas, for the wedding of niece Jenna. It was super hot, but wonderful.

The photo below is from the Ag Media Summit in Snowbird, Utah. Thank you to the Ag Communicators of Tomorrow (college students). I love working with young journalists and communicators.

When you leave your garden for a week in mid-summer, this happens.

Meanwhile, across the road...

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July 13, 2017

How does your garden grow?

My garden is bursting with produce. The sunflowers have grown another foot since I took the photo below in early July. Mom flew out from Maryland to visit and attend the opera with Caroline and me. Three different operas by the Des Moines Metro Opera in one weekend! We had a great time. I hope your outdoor and indoor adventures are going well this summer.

My first sunflower! I also planted mammoth field sunflowers that will form giant heads of seeds later.

Black raspberry pie is my favorite. I bought this at a local farm.

Caroline and her friends enjoy playing board games on the picnic table. This game looks incredibly complicated!

Mom and I are ready for a night at the opera!


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June 26, 2017

Summer on a Small Farm

This is the summer of the Big Mow for us. Besides the lawn (small potatoes), we have alfalfa, grass hay, and, new this year, 200 acres of conservation wetlands to mow. Bob mowed weeds on that ground yesterday for 11 hours and still has 40 acres to go. When you are establishing prairie grass and forbs you must knock down the weeds the first year. 

The wetlands Bob is mowing goes back to the tree line and on out to the east, west, and north.

Luckily, we have help with some of the mowing.

When mowing next to the pond, don't get too close. This could have been a deadly rollover. 

Second cutting of alfalfa was light. We had little rain in June.

Here's a "weed" we don't mow anymore. Milkweed attracts butterflies and bees. I used to pull it from my asparagus bed, but now I let it go. Next year, however, I will pull a few of them, because my asparagus is being overrun.

Bob's bottle lambs are growing like weeds.

Dad's black raspberries. 


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June 13, 2017

Fruitful trip

Last week I flew to New York City to attend an awards luncheon. I was honored to be named to the 2017 class of Folio: Top Women in Media.

My college friend Janine Stewart, who also works in ag media, came along to support me. She asked about my parent's strawberry farm in Maryland:

"We should take the train to Philly and rent a car. We will show up at the farm and surprise everyone!" 

So we did. We ditched the Big Apple and hit the big strawberry. Mom and Dad were shocked to see me, but recovered quickly and put us to work.

Our first stop at the Edison Ballroom in NYC.

Next stop: Surprising Mom and Dad on their farm near Elkton, Maryland.

In the cherry orchard with my daughter, Caroline, who is helping on the farm this month.

Mom creates the prettiest farm entrance with her flowers.

My sister, Molly, right, owns the cherry operation and helps Dad with the strawberries.

Picking the last strawberries of the season. So sweet.



May 24, 2017

Fish and Flowers

Every spring, we create a to-do list of things that need to be done around our small farm. The electric fence charger gave out last fall. The ewes are contained by the vinyl fence around the grove, but the live wire underneath keeps tiny lambs from squeezing under. We wondered if we really needed to replace the charger. Bob let the flock into the grove and within an hour he was chasing lambs across our neighbor's lawn. We replaced the charger.

Our 3-acre pond had more algae than normal last year. I made a note to order a few grass carp. We used to have these weed-eating fish until a harsh winter killed them. I called Kloubec Fisheries and they shipped six fish overnight to my doorstep. They swam away quickly when I dumped them in the pond.

Next on the to-do list is reseeding an old field of alfalfa behind the barn. Meanwhile, the garden calls...

My irises were especially lovely this spring. The grove is in the background.

The bag of six grass carp before I set them free in the pond. 

Bob found the one tiny window of warm, dry weather and made the first cutting of alfalfa. It has rained ever since. 

We are feeding nine bottle lambs this year. Craziness, but we can't stop now. Poor, little buggers. 

Peonies on the kitchen table.


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April 27, 2017

Around the Acreage

Spring is in full bloom around our small farm. My happy place is in a lawn chair next to the lilac bushes. The only problem is the orphan lambs see me sitting there and start bleating for a bottle.

Teaching the smallest orphan lamb how to take a bottle.

All lined up for a feeding from homemade bottle holders. It's not pretty, but it works great.

These heritage white lilacs smell divine.

We shot a Facebook Live video for Living the Country Life  in my garden while I planted butterfly habitat.

Found this chicken while visiting farms in northeast Iowa.

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April 13, 2017

Baby lambs have arrived!

We have 25 new lambs and counting this week, so the barn is hopping. Bob makes sure they all get off to a good start by milking the ewes and giving each lamb a belly full of colostrum through a stomach tube. Any weak triplets may get a bottle, too.

One ewe with triplets wasn't eating, so we let her outside the barn into the green grass and sunshine. She recovered and is doing better.


March 28, 2017

Good Neighbors

Our dear neighbor Bill Hulen died at age 82 last week. Bill and his wife, Sharon, lived next door for 30 years. We moved to our small farm in 1987 and realized quickly that we hit the jackpot. Bill and Sharon were kind, generous, and understanding.

Bill helped us get into the sheep business. When we went on vacation he fed our flock. When we were lambing he came over several times a day to assist the ewes while Bob and I worked. 

Bill and Sharon loved to garden and shared all their produce with us. Bill's gourds and tomatoes were tremendous. 

The best thing Bill and Sharon did for our family was spend time with our three children. Our kids knew they could walk over there if they wanted to talk. "I'm going over to Bill and Sharon's," they would say, often after they got into trouble or were frustrated. I'm not sure what they talked about over there, but it always helped. Bill was a retired high school teacher and coach. He knew what he was doing.

Our oldest son, Nowlan, summed it up best: "Bill was the nicest neighbor anyone could ask for. It meant a lot that he was always there for our family, whether that was to lend a hand with the sheep or listen to my stories - as a child and as an adult."

Good neighbors are better than gold.

Bill (right) and Bob walking through our alfalfa field a few years ago. 

Bill made us a birdhouse from a gourd.

Bill was a sheep whisperer.

Bill and Sharon (front) joined us for a picnic.


February 24, 2017

Moving a mailbox

For the first 20 years we lived on our small farm in Iowa it didn't bother me that our mailbox was on the other side of our road. The only thing across from us was a field of corn and the road wasn't busy. In fact, the area was wild enough that coyotes built dens in the field and woke us up at 3:00 a.m. feeding their yelping pups.

Eight years ago, the land was sold for development. Quickly, a huge retirement home went up directly across from our lane. Our mailbox looked like it was a part of the retirement complex and we often got their mail by mistake. Next, several medical clinics went up, followed by a giant YMCA. A hotel, gas station, and restaurant are being built now. So long, coyotes.

Traffic on our road is intense. Crossing to the mailbox during the evening commute was impossible. I started waiting until 8:00 at night to get a safe gap in the cars and trucks. Our older neighbors had it even worse, as their acreage is directly across from the medical clinic and YMCA. They were scared to get their mail, too. They had called the post office a year earlier and been told they couldn't move their mailbox. The route was set. 

A few weeks ago, I called and asked for the postmaster. I told him we were risking our lives to cross the road, and we must move the mailboxes to our side. He said he would check with the driver. The next day, he called to say we could make the move. Thank goodness. We didn't waste time. February has been so mild that the ground wasn't frozen and Bob could dig the hole. 

Life is full of small victories. Not having to cross the road to get the mail is one of mine. I wrote about it on Twitter and immediately heard from someone who said, "How do I get that done so my 87-year-old father doesn't have to cross the road?" Talk to the postmaster and insist, I said.

When Bob was digging the hole, the letter carrier pulled up with our mail. "I'm so glad you are doing this," he said. "I don't know why we didn't make this change five years ago."

Welcome to our side of the road, Mr. Mailbox.


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