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

October 24, 2014

Letters from Vietnam

I was visiting my parents in Maryland last year when Mom's first cousin Jim Crothers (far left) stopped by to say hello. As we reminisced about family history, Jim mentioned that he had served in Vietnam in 1969-1970. I hadn't known that. I started pestering him with questions.

"If you are really interested, I have all the letters I sent home to (wife) Judy from Vietnam," he said. He also had an old master's degree thesis he had written about his Army service. He brought it over and I quickly determined that, with a little work, it could be a book.

So Jim mailed all the old letters to me in Iowa and it became an evening project. Over the course of a year, I read every letter and slowly put the book together using his thesis as the backbone.

As Jim explains in the introduction, "These letters hold all the intimate thoughts, dreams, emotions, and philosophy two people shared during a turbulent era in American history. They show how the constant emotional pressure of wartime life affects real people. But, quite simply, these are love letters."

The final product is now available on Amazon: Free Mail: Letters from Vietnam.

(Special thanks to friend Matt Strelecki,, who spent a weekend designing the cover and interior of the book.)

As a postscript, I also tracked down one of Jim's Army buddies, Mike Thomas, shown above on the far right. He was surprised when I called to introduce myself and tell him about the book. He and Jim have not seen each other since serving in Vietnam.

I love history. It's so important to preserve it, learn from it, and share the experiences.


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October 21, 2014

New Kittens!

Don't stop by an animal shelter if you don't want this to happen.

We've always had a cat or two on our small farm. The first, Max, lived to be 15. Another cat, Marvin, lived to be 17. During those years, other cats came and went, including Mario. After Marvin and Mario died within a month of each other, our oldest son, Nowlan, asked us to keep his cat, Rin, while he lived in Europe for a year. We did and Nowlan came home to collect Rin, who now lives with him in North Carolina.

This fall, mice invaded our house (we caught five in 24 hours). But that's not the main reason I stopped by the animal shelter on Saturday. It just doesn't seem right not to have a cat, or two, around.

Meet Mickey and Mia. They are about two months old, undernourished, and of feral origin. I locked them in the bathroom to tame them, and I sit on the floor with them each morning and night. Within two days, Mickey (yellow) went from hissing to climbing over me and purring. Mia (gray) is more shy.

My husband, a vet, wishes I had let him select two tamer, healthier kittens, instead of these homeless shelter cats. But he'll come around.

October 16, 2014

Butterfly habitat

I let the milkweeds grow in the back of my garden to provide habitat for monarch butterflies. Jodi Henke, radio editor for Living the Country Life, brought some milkweed pods to the office last week so everyone could let the seeds grow on their property. The butterflies lay eggs on the leaves.

Habitat projects are designed to benefit a wide range of wildlife species. Pheasants Forever used to focus on birds, but is now promoting its habitat projects for bees and butterflies, as well. Here is a video that explains The Life History of Monarch Butterflies

If you have been pulling "weeds" in your landscape that can help wildlife, leave a few next year.


October 13, 2014

Big Bass

This bass was caught in our pond on Saturday. What a whopper! I debated posting this photo because we don't want people hopping the fence and fishing in our private pond. But I am so happy to see our pond healthy. Five years ago we had a winter fish kill that destroyed everything except snapping turtles and tiny bluegills. We restocked the grass carp and bass. Here are the results.

October 8, 2014

The tomatoes keep coming

I've been making salsa all week and the tomatoes keep coming. The crop was slow to ripen during the cool, wet August and September. Now it's October and I have a bumper crop! We love salsa, so I add onions, pepper, cilantro and lime to the chopped tomatoes. I also made stewed tomatoes.

If you are having the same good luck with your tomatoes this month, here are some more ideas:


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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