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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 www.strawberryfarm.com) 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.

Email: betsy.freese@meredith.com

Twitter: betsyfreese

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: http://strawberryfarm.com.

"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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February 15, 2017

Demonstration Day

I was asked to send in a recipe to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Calvert (Maryland) Boys and Girls 4-H Club. They are creating a cookbook from past and present members. 

You can tell by my outfit and hair that this photo is from the 1970s. I made that recipe dozens of time in preparation for Demonstration Day. I dreaded that day every year, but it did give me wonderful practice at public speaking and I have used the experience in my career.

7 Layer Bars

 

1/4 cup butter

1 cup of graham cracker crumbs

1 cup shredded coconut

1 cup chopped nuts

1 6-ounce package chocolate chips

1 6-ounce package butterscotch chips

1 can sweetened condensed milk

  • Preheat oven to 350° degrees F.
  • Melt butter; pour into the bottom of a 9 x 12 baking pan.
  • Pour graham cracker crumbs over butter; pat down.
  • Add the coconut, nuts, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips in layers.
  • Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk over the top.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes until top is golden.
  • Cool completely and cut into bars.

Speaking of public speaking, my husband, Bob, and I visited our oldest son, Nowlan, in North Carolina and sat in on his genetics demonstration to high school students.

I title the photo above, "When Mom makes you stand in front of your research poster for a picture."

 

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January 20, 2017

Shop work on special project

Our farm shop is home to an exciting project this month. We are providing work space for the Des Moines Metro Opera to paint the set for the opera Soldier Songs, to be performed at Camp Dodge on January 27, 28 and 29. This one-act opera by American composer David T. Little, is a multimedia event that combines elements of theater, opera, rock-infused concert music and videography to explore the loss of innocence and the difficulty of expressing the truth of war. 

Adam Crinson is the set designer, and he has been living in our shop and painting the set pieces. We have really enjoyed watching the process happen and getting to know Adam. 

Every spare inch of the shop is full of set pieces.

The final set will look something like this. (Illustration by Des Moines Metro Opera.) I can't wait to see the production!

 

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December 28, 2016

Field Work

I visited my parents on their Maryland farm at Christmas and helped Dad cover the strawberries for winter. First, he used his Haybuster to blow on old straw. 

Next, we covered the rows with white tarp and anchored with sand bags. This is done mainly for deer control. The deer were eating the leaves and punching holes in the black plastic.

A lifetime of farming shows in Dad's hands at the kitchen table.

Mom and Dad prepare a hearty breakfast.

Happy New Year to all! 

 

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December 14, 2016

Getting Cozy on the Farm

The first snow of winter is greeted with joy. The tenth snow not so much, but for now we enjoy. I bundled up and grabbed photos of the sheep, who were not fazed by the white stuff and looked at me as if to say, "Where's our fresh hay?"

My daughter, Caroline Freese, held a pop-up art sale in my dining room last weekend.

This is Caroline's latest piece of art -- a collage portrait of her best friend, Lauren, in a snow storm on Welch Avenue in Ames, Iowa, made entirely of pieces of costume jewelry.

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