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

January 6, 2016

Iowa Caucus Time

Iowa is full of politicians leading up to our first-in-the-nation vote on February 1. If a candidate of either party comes to a coffee shop, pizza place, or pub near me I try to go.

Last week, my oldest son, Nowlan, his wife, Daniella, and two friends joined me to hear Chris Christie. He was speaking at an Irish pub, so we got there early, grabbed a corner booth, ordered some brews and nachos, and played cards while we waited. He packed in an overflow crowd and the event became a bit of a turning point for his campaign.

You can read the New York Times story about the stop here. There is a photo of us listening to Governor Christie's answer to my question on how to improve the economy.

I have also met Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. More to come before Iowa Caucus time. It's going to be interesting.

In Waukee, Daniella Freese, left, and Betsy Freese, second from left, listened as Mr. Christie responded to a question at a town-hall-style event. Mr. Christie’s meetings are stripped-down, unfussy affairs. Credit Mark Kauzlarich for The New York Times

  • Tags:
December 29, 2015

Spin Doctor

For Christmas, I gave Bob a turn table called the Spin Doctor, made by Sydell in South Dakota. It was really a present for both of us. In the past, while Bob trimmed feet on the sheep I had to hold their legs from kicking. The task was hard on his back and dangerous for me as the ewes thrashed around.

With this special chute, the ewe (or ram, in these photos) is squeezed and turned on its side for treatment.

Bob is grinding a bad foot on one of our Hampshire rams.

Rear view of the Spin Doctor. Or spin doctors.

  • Tags:
December 21, 2015

Citizens of the Year

(Photo by Lisa Tome, Rising Sun Herald)

Congratulations to my parents for being named Citizens of the Year by the Calvert (Maryland) Grange!

You can read the story here:

I look at this December photo and marvel at the green grass. The weather has been so warm this winter. I hope Dad's strawberries don't start blooming!

We dropped Caroline at the airport at 4:00 a.m for a trip to Ghana, Africa, with Iowa State University. She will be there for three weeks studying sustainable design techniques and more. Create your adventure!

Have a wonderful 2016, dear readers.

  • Tags:
December 16, 2015

Winter Work

So far, winter is a muddy mess. This photo was taken before we had 3 inches of rain in a day. Middle River by our farm is out of its banks and the main road I take into Des Moines is shut down all week due to Raccoon River flooding. I guess we should be happy the moisture isn't snow, although frozen ground and snow is better for livestock.

Meanwhile, Bob is working on projects in the shop. Here, he and his business partner, Brian, are sanding shelves for the veterinary clinic. The clinic is being remodeled and expanded, a huge job that seems to never end. Here's to a peaceful 2016!

Mowing the grass in Iowa on December 7. Weird. This was the view from my office before the big rains.

  • Tags:
December 7, 2015

Best Fruitcake Recipe

This moist fruitcake, made by Ruth Ann Johnson (my mom) in Maryland, is delicious. If you think you hate fruitcake, you may love this one. The recipe dates back to 1870 in Mom's family. Her mother and grandmother made fruitcakes each year, usually the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Mom ships them around the country to relatives and friends, including to me in Iowa.

Here is the recipe.

Grandma's Fruitcake

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 1/2 cups raisins

1 cup light raisins

1 cup currants

3/4 cup chopped figs

1 1/3 cups chopped dates

2 cups diced candied fruit

1/2 cup frozen pitted tart red cherries, thawed

1/2 pound butter (1 cup)

1 cup sugar

5 egg yolks

1 cup blackberry wine

1/2 cup backberry or raspberry jelly

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla

5 egg whites

Pecan halves and whole candied fruit for decorations


Step 1: Grease two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Line bottom and sides with brown paper (prevents overbrowning); grease paper.

Step 2: Stir together flour and cinnamon. Add fruits; mix till well coated.

Step 3: In a large mixer bowl, beat butter with electric mixer about 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat till fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat till combined. Add wine, jelly, orange juice, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat on low speed till combined (batter will look curdled). Stir in flour and fruit mixture.

Step 4: In a small mixer bowl, beat egg whites till stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into fruit mixture. Turn batter into prepared pans. Top with pecan halves and whole candied fruit, if desired.

Step 5: Bake in a 300° oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from pans, cool completely. Wrap in clear plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for a day before serving. Makes 24 servings.

December 1, 2015

Getting Ready for Christmas

Caroline helped me string lights on the fence around the grove. It takes many, many strands. Most are in knots, even though I bundle them carefully after Christmas. A few strands are burned out each year, so I buy a few more. The lights are a welcome sight for me coming home from work in the dark.

Next job on the list: Cut the tree. Caroline did all the work, sawing and hauling. The tree farm is next door, so we get the fresh tree in the stand within 20 minutes of cutting it.

The tree looks simple and lovely. We decided to just decorate with a single, long string of lights this year. Our two young (half-wild) cats scattered ornaments across the living room last year.

Here is Mickey, waiting for his plate at Thanksgiving.

My favoritie holiday habitat.


November 23, 2015

Cold Weather Flocking

It sounded like a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. The morning before a winter storm blew in and dumped 4 inches of snow on our Iowa farm (a foot of snow in northern Iowa), blackbirds swarmed our place, moving from tree to tree. The racket was incredible and the droppings in the barnyard thick after they left.

Bob has been working cattle, vaccinating calves, pregnancy checking cows. He took these two photos. The first shows Wayne Hunerdosse, 90, in the center. He still helps move cattle through the chute on his farm by Medora, Iowa.

Below, farm dog Bennett keeps an eye on each calf coming through the chute for fall vaccinations.


November 18, 2015

Fall Festivities

Caroline came home from college to help me with the annual brunch and bingo to benefit Des Moines Metro Opera. It was a sold-out crowd and great fun. Our small Indianola guild raised more than $5,000 for the opera.

A few of my friends and family at the event.

This is not an endorsement. I'm not sure who I will support in the Iowa caucus from either party (I am a moderate and change parties now and then), but I try to see every candidate who visits our town. This time it was Bernie Sanders. He promised free college for all, which made the students in the crowd happy.

Bob hasn't made up his mind about the Iowa Caucus candidates, either. He listens to talk radio while fixing the old hay rake.

This newborn Zebu calf was in the hot box at the vet clinic.

"Hello, ladies." We turned the rams out with the ewes. Lambs due in April.

We've had such a mild fall I didn't pick the last of my tomatoes until this week. I guess I need to find a recipe for fried green tomatoes.

I just finished a three-year term on the public library friends board. Great group of people. Libraries are changing rapidly as technology changes. Keep reading!

  • Tags:
November 10, 2015

Storing up for winter

Bob is washing all the farm equipment and storing it in the big machine shed on our crop farm for winter. He has to drive the tractors down a stretch of the four-lane highway leading to Des Moines and I try to follow him closely with my hazard lights blinking. Commuters can be so rude and dangerous to farmers in slow-moving equipment.

That time you washed the manure spreader without a mask. And then wanted a ride in my car.

A bin-busting corn crop at the local co-op.

Soybeans on our farm near Middle River. These pods are on high ground, but some of the bottom acres flooded when the river went out of its banks last summer. USDA numbers show Iowa farmers smashed the soybean production record this year. The harvest of nearly 550 million bushels will beat 2005 by 25 million bu. Average yields were 56 bu/acre.

Caroline took this photo of a leucistic squirrel on the Iowa State University campus. It's not an albino squirrel, which would be entirely white with pink eyes. This one just has rare white fur.

I attended a swine disease seminar at Iowa State University. Here are my exciting updates on pig health!

  • Tags:
November 4, 2015

A welcome visit

Mom flew out to Iowa from Maryland last weekend and we had a wonderful four days visiting family and friends. Many thanks to Lee O'Brien who arranged the trip and flew with Mom both ways.

Mom and Caroline got a hug from the Iowa State University mascot, Cy. It was homecoming weekend on campus. The weather was beautiful and the Cyclones upset Texas.

Caroline showed Bob and Mom the ISU woodworking lab.

More projects in the ISU design college.

Caroline was passing out bags of Skittles with a photo of her self-portrait, made of 20,000 Skittles, for Halloween.

I spotted this awesome sculpture on a shelf. Have you ever felt like this?

We enjoyed an early morning stop at the Des Moines Farmers Market and a visit with Dean and Judy Henry of Berry Patch Farm.

My mom, Ruth Ann, is called Ruthie by some friends, so we stopped by the Exile Brewery. Good beer, by the way. Naughty Ruthie.

We also had wonderful, long talks with family and friends during Mom's visit. Those stay in the memory and heart forever.

  • Tags: