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

July 13, 2016

Restoring a Wetlands

A portion of our 400-acre Iowa farm floods almost every year when the nearby river comes out of its banks. This flooding has become more frequent in the past decade. Changing weather patterns and farming practices upstream may be the cause. Last year, the river flooded our farm in December – that is crazy. This spring, the land flooded after the corn was planted, so about half had to be replanted. You can see the lighter green corn in the drone photo below.

In April, we enrolled the most flood-prone 200 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It will be restored as a wetlands. Seeding work begins once the crop is harvested later this fall. I will document the process as we go along. It's going to be interesting!

The bottom half will be wetlands next year. On the far horizon is the Principal building in Des Moines. Bob and I, plus David Ekstrom, the drone operator and photographer, are standing at the top of the terraced hill by the farmstead.

Bob and the conservation planner look at the damage flooding has done to the bridge.

Preliminary plan of the wetlands area.

Walking out into the short corn.

Another view of our beautiful terraces. This part of the farm will remain in production agriculture - soybeans next year.

July 7, 2016

Beauty of summer

Storms that blow in and drop a half inch of rain in July are beautiful. 

These soybeans in northern Iowa are as good as they can be. I love visiting farmers this time of year.

Here's another booming crop - zucchini! I've learned to pick them early and often.

Dismount. Stuck the landing. (I can't wait for the Olympics!)

Love my lilies, especially this peachy-pink variety.

Summer means fireworks, hot nights, outdoor activities, and dog fights. This was the first of two late-night surgeries from two different dog fights in town. Everyone went home fine in the end. 

I think buzzards are beautiful. See the one emerging from the trees? These were flying over the hay field while Bob baled. They know snakes and rodents are often available for dinner during this activity.

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June 28, 2016

The finer things in life

We are not traveling anywhere for vacation this summer. A staycation in my backyard in Iowa can be pretty sweet. My garden provides veggies for every meal, the yard is perfect for reading on a nice day, and the opera is in town! 

A bee in my milkweed.

Caroline went to opening night at the opera with me. I bought her strawberry dress in a vintage store for $20. It's from the 1960s. Love it!

It's worth a trip to Iowa to see our wonderful summer operas. Check it out:

Next to an ocean beach, this is my favorite place to read. My only complaint is biting flies when the air is still. But that can happen on a beach, too.

My garden changes every week. The lettuce is done, so I planted butternut squash in its place. The onions are starting to fall over, so I will pull them to dry soon.

Bob started creep feeding the lambs and they are growing like weeds. They haven't been weaned yet, but the ewes are getting very thin nursing twins and triplets, so it's almost time. 

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June 22, 2016

Summer fun!

Caroline came home for Father's Day and Bob put her to work. Be sure to watch the video of her stacking hay in the pasture. It already has more than 135,000 views.

He also decided to worm and vaccinate the lambs for Father's Day.

This lamb got stuck under the hay rack. Baaaad idea. I got him out.

Love this photo Bob took of clouds before a storm.

Some folks call these ditch weeds, but I love them. They cover our old root cellar and have probably been around since the house was built 100 years ago.

This old house.

I took this photo through a knothole in the barn door as Bob took a photo of the lambs.

This was taken by Bob. Can you see the knothole in the door?

Morning on the farm.

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June 13, 2016

Bumper crops

A balloon flew over the barn as Bob was baling the last stretch of hay in the pasture.

It was a beautiful day to bale hay. Three days later, quite unexpectedly, we got 2 inches of rain in a thunderstorm.

These racks of grass hay smelled wonderful. Bob enlisted the help of two boys who had not stacked hay before. They learned fast and did a good job.

Wiring in an empty trailer next to us sparked in the high heat over the weekend. That's our alfalfa field.

My pollinator patch of milkweed has multiplied this year. It's starting to crowd out the asparagus, so some of these may get yanked, despite the butterfly benefit.

Happy sheep in our grove.

This is a beautiful photo of my parents' fruit farm in Maryland, taken by my cousin Harvey.


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May 31, 2016

June gardens

We had a lot of debate on the Living the Country Life Facebook page about whether these are peonies. They are. The plant is about 100 years old and a single form peony.

Bob found a stack of old straw in a corner of the hayloft and I'm using it to mulch my garden.

We found these tracks in the mud near the barn. Coyotes? Dogs? (We don't own dogs.) We have foxes, but these prints are too large.

My peaches are growing, but the leaves suffer from peach leaf curl, a fungus that hits during wet springs. We need to treat with a fungicide after the leaves fall in November.

A hot air balloon floats over our pasture.

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May 23, 2016

Timing is everything

This almost never happens, but Bob was able to rake and bale (small square bales) the first cutting of alfalfa on a sunny, hot, windy day in May. The hay was down for five days and never got rained on. Usually the first cutting is delayed until June because of frequent rains, gets hit by a storm or two while down, and ends up good for nothing except round bales of poor quality. It could be a fine year for hay.

The garden looks good, too. I spent the weekend hoeing weeds, hilling potatoes, and spreading straw for mulch. We also started to vine the peas and tomatoes. More work to go there.

Bob has a note of caution for anyone who fishes in a farm pond. See the lamb below who got his feet entwined by fishing line. Carry out your trash!

See the fishing line wrapped around his hind legs? Bob spotted it just in time, as it almost cut off circulation.

The fishing line is in the forefront. The lamb was fine after treatment. Please do not leave fishing trash around ponds. Besides livestock, wildlife can be injured.

Our garden has lettuce, kohlrabi, kale, onions, peas, potatoes, squash, asparagus, red raspberries, basil, and tomatoes. 

Raking first cutting of alfalfa.

Be sure to pick up our new issue on newsstands or here. You will love it!


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May 19, 2016

Spring Sunshine

Our small farm is green and growing! Bob was able to mow the first cutting of alfalfa last night. It was choked full of invasive wild mustard. We are going to need to reseed our fields with Roundup Ready alfalfa so we can kill that weed next spring. Nothing else seems to work, and the mustard has spread into our pasture now.

Meanwhile, the lambs are loving the sunshine and acres of grass. Bob has one bottle lamb he feeds morning and night. 

My irises are blooming and smell divine. My garden is growing. It's a great time of year!

No, that's not Mountain Dew. Bob puts milk replacer in old pop bottles. Our lambs are hyper, however. If you want to see them race around our barn, go here:

The skylights on our lean-to leaked this spring, so Bob is covering them with tin. He should be wearing a safety harness.

I took this as night fell. Bob was still working in the barn and the sheep were enjoying the last of the day's grazing. We lock them behind the barn at night for protection.

Trimming feet with help from the Spin Doctor.

Mowing the weedy alfalfa. Darn wild mustard.

My favorite spot in the yard.

These are my favorite irises. The leaves are purple velvet.

May 11, 2016

Graduation time!

I wanted to share some of Caroline's senior projects, as she graduates from Iowa State University this month. What a college adventure!

At the senior gallery reception, Caroline showed her table, chairs, and ceramics. She designed and made everything here, except the silverware.

Another view. She taught herself how to sew for the upholstery work.

The table comes apart to make TV tray tables.

I love these meat pots.

She made this self-portrait out of 30,000 Skittles.


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May 4, 2016

In Memory of Tyler

Our dear friend Tyler, age 29, Tech Sgt in a security force unit, died suddenly in April. Tyler was best friends with our oldest son, Nowlan, since they were children.

Nowlan was honored to speak at his funeral. Here is an excerpt, followed by a letter Tyler sent Nowlan from boot camp in 2004.

Eulogy for Tyler by Nowlan

However you knew Tyler, we all knew he embodied the best part of each of us. As a friend, he was always willing to help. Whether that was getting invited over to the Freese house to play video games, only to find out we had to move 1,000 bales of hay. Or the time he came over for dinner, and had to pull 300-pound pigs out of a manure pit with nothing but a rope. He never once complained or said no.

Of course, I always told him it was a good way to build character. As he wrote in a letter from boot camp, “It’s not so bad compared to going to the Freese’s.”

Tyler also seemed to have a sixth sense about everything, including all of us. He would listen quietly through an entire conversation before chiming in at the very end to trump everyone.

Life is challenging. We all have our demons to overcome. But I hope everyone here knows we are all family.

No matter how you knew Tyler, he had a way of making us all feel warm and welcome. And it’s up to us now to continue that.

So as family, know that you always have someone to talk to. The rest of us are always, always here to listen. As a family, we can overcome anything together.

Letter from Air Force boot camp in 2004


Hey man, didn’t think you would actually write me since my address is like a paragraph.

Tomorrow is the start of week 5, also known as Warrior Week. Now we finally got to do fun things like live in tents, eat MRE’s, shoot stuff, and dig holes.

One of the main parts of BMT (Basic Military Training) is doing meaningless jobs and I’ve found that working at your house was exactly like being here. One of the funny things is that we picked up all those sticks as one of our last jobs before I left. I remember I thought to myself, “I’m sure glad I won’t be doing this crap for awhile.” And boy was I wrong. One day we had to clear out an entire grove of branches. It took us almost five hours.

But anyway, sounds like things are going well at your place. I can’t believe how much I miss going over there, riding bikes, and playing games. We are going to have one heck of a Christmas break when I get back. My mom said your college starts September 1, so hopefully you get this letter. See ya in a few months.


Move on from it

Tyler loved to read and sometimes borrowed books from me. We both enjoyed the works of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. I recently reread Lonesome Dove and found this passage. It helps a little.

"Well, Deets, life is short," Agustus said. "Shorter for some than for others. ... This was a good, brave boy. ... There's accidents in life and he met with a bad one. We may all do the same if we ain't careful. 

"Dust to dust," he said. "Let's the rest of us go on to Montana."

He's right, Call thought. The best thing to do with a death was to move on from it.

-- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

NOTE: Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. For help, please go here:

Here are my favorite photos of Tyler:

Nowlan (left) and Tyler were amused by something silly I said in my kitchen.

Last summer Tyler came over to see Nowlan and ended up baling several racks of hay at our farm.

When friends visit in the summer we spend evenings talking around the bonfire. Here is Tyler (left) and friend Matt.

Playing cards over Christmas break. 

Tyler was deployed three times to the Middle East to serve his country.

The last rack.

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