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.

August 1, 2013

Funny animals

I just edited reader entries for a Funny Animals photo contest and decided to show you some of my own photos from the past week.

The county fair always provides plenty of funny animals, and by that I mean humans. This horse wandered the fairgrounds for four days. I posted the photo on our Facebook page and got lots of captions from readers. My favorites:

Deep-Fried Hay on a Stick, please.

Howdy neigh-bor! I'd like an apple with a side of horseradish.

Can I get a funnel cake with extra sugar? Hold the cake.

Hay! Quit horsing around and give me my corndog!

I would like a wheat grass smoothie please!

This crossbred gilt was the grand champion market hog at the Warren County Fair. Also impressive: Her "eyebrows."

Caroline and Mario watched the hot air balloons from the front porch last night. Then she tried to pick him up.


July 30, 2013

Hot air balloons!

Our town is hosting the National Balloon Classic this week, which means mornings and nights where 100 balloons fly over our small farm, scaring the sheep. I was in the garden the first morning they went up and the newly-weaned lambs raced back and forth in their pen, crashing into fences. We quickly threw some hay in the feeders to distract them.

The balloons are beautiful as they glide over our pastures. Here are some photos. Come to Indianola and see them!


July 26, 2013

County Fair veggie tips and tricks

The vegetable show was the big attraction at the Warren County Fair last night. No it wasn't -- that was the figure eight races. But there were some anxious moments as judge Barb Osborn, Iowa State University, placed the top three entries in white and red potatoes. My red potatoes won the class! Whew.

Here are tips on showing veggies.

Never let your zucchini get this big unless you are entering a giant zucchini contest. MIne weighed 4 pounds, 4 ounces and placed third out of five.

The ideal zucchini size for show is 8 inches long, uniform width and color with no blemishes. The plate third from bottom won this class easily. I placed third.

You can see the beets in the background. My beets were smaller, golfball-sized, and won the class. Large beets can be woody.

The key to onions is not size as much as condition. Pull onions two weeks before show time and let them cure. If the stems aren't dry at the show they won't do well. The largest onions here did not place because their stems were green and wet. My plate (bottom middle) placed third. They were very small, but dry.

I won the largest potato contest for the second year in a row with this 10-ounce spud, but it was nothing compared to last year's giant at 1 pound, 1 ounce.

I also won with my red cabbage and peaches. A key to cabbage is keeping a few outer leaves for display, as long as they don't have insect damage . Size matters, but one cabbage was so big it split -- a no-no.

Good luck at the fair!

July 25, 2013

Ready for the county fair!

The vegetable contest at the county fair is tonight, so I've been digging potatoes. The red spuds are the best I've ever seen, but my white potatoes and onions are late and small. I'm entering Brussels sprouts for the first time. I found that it takes a lot of plants to harvest five uniform, firm, large, sprouts free from insect damage.

My other first-time entries are beets and zucchini. I talked to a seasoned gardener at the fair last night to get his tips on what to select. Here they are:

1. Zucchini should be no more than 8 inches long. Cut the stem long and even. If you harvest the night before the show, keep in a plastic bag in the fridge.

2. Beets can be as small as a golfball and no bigger than a baseball. They must be the same shape and size. Leave the taproot on, but trim the leaves to 2 inches.

3. Select your entries by lining them up from largest to smallest. Choose the five closest in size. Don't be afraid to select five that are smaller. It's all about uniformity.

Good luck at the fair!

I lined up these potatoes on a towel on the living room floor last night from largest to smallest and picked the five closest in size.

You don't want WOODY beets!

My kohlrabi looked great earlier (above), but got too big and woody by the fair.

July 22, 2013


Our wonderful cat, Marvin, died on Friday, age 18. We got Marvin when he was four from my friend Natasha. He had bitten her young daughter when she pulled his tail. Marvin was a large neutered male with claws, so he wasn't the perfect cat for toddlers. We weren't sure how he would do on our farm, but he quickly became a part of the family. His favorite spot was on Bob's lap. He loved any man who visited, often leaping into their laps when they sat down (scaring a few). He was a guys' cat.

Natasha says he got his name because he looked like Marvin the Martian with his antenna whiskers. You can see that in the photo above.

Marvin's ear was mangled years ago in a fight with a coon. After that we always made sure he was in the house at night. His best friend was our other cat, Mario. Mario wandered around our house in a confused state all weekend, looking for Marvin.

It's so sad to lose a pet. We will miss Marvin.

Marvin is inspecting the sheep herd from an upstairs window.

So relaxing.

This is the last photo I could find of Marvin, taken in April at his favorite spot.


July 18, 2013

High Heat Hay

It hasn't rained in three weeks, so Bob has been making lots of hay. He likes the heat index to be about 100 degrees when he goes in the hayloft. Here are some photos of the various equipment.

Bob calls this a hay turner and says they aren't used much any more.

Our hay basket eliminates stacking a rack in the field.

The bales still have to get on the elevator and in the barn.

This grass hay was sold by the rack to a horse owner. Grandpa drove the tractor and Bob racked. He learned a lesson that evening: Hydrate. He didn't drink enough Gatorade and had terrible leg cramps later.

Nice rack.

July 15, 2013

Getting seriously dry

After a wet spring, the drought is back in full force for our Iowa farm. You can see the state of our grove below. We turned the sheep in there on Sunday and they could find very little to eat. All the rain has been going east and turning my parent's fruit farm in Maryland into mush.

The corn and soybeans in Iowa are starting to show drought stress. We could be in for it again. #Drought2013

  • Tags:
July 12, 2013

Wonderful Walnut Trees

I was filling the water tank at the well the other evening and found myself staring at the magnificent walnut trees in our grove. In the 26 years we've lived there I haven't fully appreciated their beauty. The size and scale of these 100-year-old trees is impressive.

Walnuts are my favorite tree. I grew up on Walnut Springs Farm in Maryland, and my father built two corner cupboards for my house from walnut on the farm.

As you would imagine, we have fat squirrels.

This squirrel barks at me every time I try to sit in the yard and read.

July 10, 2013

American Gothic comes to town

For the next six months we have the most amazing sculpture in our town of Indianola, Iowa. You should make a trip here to see it. The sculpture, by New Jersey artist Seward Johnson, is titled "God Bless America." I think of it as American Gothic by Iowa's most famous painter Grant Wood. The statue has moved around the country the past few years and arrived here from the Dubuque Museum of Art. I took this photo with my nephew Chris Wertzberger to show you the height. Amazing.

  • Tags: