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 24, 2014

New rams!

It's time to cross up our good Dorset ewes with some Hampshire genetics. We love the white-faced females, but their lambs are more musculer and the meat more flavorful when a Hamp ram is the sire.

Every few years we buy two rams from Dean Houghton in Polo, Missouri. He evaluates his sire lines for meat quality traits, as well as growth and performance.

Dean delivered two yearling rams and we will keep them isolated from the flock until November. Welcome to our little farm, boys.


September 19, 2014

Corn Coffin

Caroline's art class at Iowa State University built a coffin shaped like an ear of corn. You can read about it here, and watch a video. Once it is finished it will be on display at the school before being auctioned off. This would be the perfect choice for an Iowa corn farmer, right? But it's going to be too nice to actually use as a coffin, I think.

Caroline and the coffin designer / visiting professor.

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September 15, 2014

Pond spillway

Our pond went over the emergency spillway last week, the first time that's happened. We had 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. Another storm hit us last night.

The grass in our pasture has never been more lush in September. Our ewes love it.

Our pasture this September looks more like April.

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September 11, 2014


We had 6 inches of rain on Tuesday and it sent Middle River over its banks and into the mature corn at our farm. It has retreated today, leaving mud, sand, and silt. I hope the crop is still able to be harvested without too much trouble. Bob has just about given up on making third cutting of alfalfa. It's been ready to cut for a month, but the rains come every few days. More rain is due tomorrow. Here's hoping for a dry fall!

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September 9, 2014

Tillage radishes are growing

I challenged readers to a "Biggest Tillage Radish" contest this fall. I planted a few seeds in my garden in August. The plants are up and growing. I'll wait until November to pull them for measuring. The goal of tillage radishes really isn't to grow the biggest, but to grow a uniform cover crop. They break up soil compaction. You can see more info here:

We grew a whole field of radishes and turnips last fall. (That field is in alfalfa this fall.) Our sheep grazed there in November and December. They ate so many they were burping radishes. They also got a little fat on them.

If you grow a big radish or other cover crop this fall, send a photo to



September 2, 2014

Harvest time

Janis Gandy, our copy editor, made these delicious apple desserts for the office. Yummy.

My harvest this week was butternut squash. Some of them aren't fully ripe, but the squash beetles killed the vines. I will cut them in half, clean out the seeds, bake them and fill with brown sugar and butter.

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August 28, 2014

Straighten a tree, farmer style

My peach tree fell over two months ago during a storm, but didn't die. I propped it up on portable fence panels. The tree was heavy with fruit, so I waited until after peach season and after we got several inches of rain to straighten it altogether. Nowlan pushed it up and Bob used steel posts, rubber panels from an old hog barn, and cable to hold it in place.

How to straighten a tree using random farm material:


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August 26, 2014

Seeding alfalfa and oats

Bob seeded alfalfa with a nurse crop of oats on Aug 14th. It only took a few days, thanks to rain, for the crop to emerge. You can see the difference a few days makes in the photos below.

Why the oats? Grasses provide better snow catch and insulation than alfalfa stubble alone, so alfalfa crowns are better protected from winter injury. See more here:

These photos were taken just a few days apart.

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August 18, 2014

Fresh Produce Tour

Last week I visited research farms in Woodland, California, as part of Seminis (Monsanto) Vegetable Seeds Field Days. It was fascinating to learn how seeds are bred, grown, processed, and marketed. I'll share my photos with some veggie and fruit tips.

We tasted dozens of tomatoes in a quest for the perfect variety, which turns out is a matter of taste. Some are sweeter, some firmer, and some have more acidity.

In general, cherry tomatoes have the most flavor punch.

These tangerine-colored tomatoes were my favorites in the field.

We tasted several types of watermelon picked fresh from the field. The melon on the right is an Extended Quality Watermelon, grown for the "cut market" and food service industry. It has less leakage than the traditional seedless variety on the left.

In the U.S., 80% of the watermelons sold are seedless varieties (being cut in the photo). However, Central and South America still prefers seeded (left). Some people swear that the old-fashioned seeded watermelons have more flavor. To see if a melon is ripe, look at the bare spot on the rind where there are no stripes. That spot should be yellow, not white. However, it could be overripe if it's yellow.

Melon breeder Jeff Mills is holding an Orange Beauty personal-sized melon, traditionally grown for the French market. It's being introduced to the U.S. in Sam's Club as melorange. Delicious.

Cucumber breeder Nischit Shetty is holding the ideal size pickling cucumber, a 3A, grown mainly in the Midwest U.S. It can be machine sliced and diced, or pickled whole. They are harvested by machine. Smaller "gherkin" cucumbers have to be harvested by hand every day, and are too labor intensive for U.S. growers. They are mainly grown in South America and Asia.

These are sweet banana peppers in a research field. They are great for frying, pickling and cutting into pepper rings for salads and sandwiches.

If you wonder why red tomatoes in the store taste bland, it's because they are picked at this ripeness for shipping.

This was a small part of the fabulous vegetable aisle at the Nugget grocery store we toured in Davis, CA.

Squash breeder Bill Johnson confirmed what I feared: "Zucchini are not vitamin packed. They are really just bags of water." Pick them every day and don't let any get too large or the plant will stop producing new squash.

For more information on vegetable and fruit varieties, go here:





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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