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

August 25, 2015

Landscaping with Sheep: Step by Step

All the rain this summer turned my (so-called) landscaping into a jungle. Vines covered the lilacs and bridal wreath spirea on the west side of the lawn, even climbing the nearby evergreen to the top. I could see poison ivy hiding in some of the bushes. Ugh.

Bob decided to call in the big guns. He fenced off portions of the yard and let the ewes have a feast. Once they finished, he ran the chain saw and I used the loppers and rake to clean it up. Here are the steps.

Step 1: Let the "little lambs eat ivy."

Step 2: Clean up what's left.

Step 3: Move the ewes to the next patch -- lilacs overrun by Virginia creeper.

Step 4: Cut back the lilacs to a small patch and let the ewes eat the discards.

Step 5: Fence off the bridal wreath bush and let the ewes eat away.

Step 6: Fire up the chipper.

Step 7: Continue chipping the twigs, trees, and defoliated vines and bushes.

Step 8: Dump the chips in the washout area of the pasture lane (after adding a few more branches).

Step 9: The chips slow water down during heavy rains.

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August 19, 2015

Tomatoes and Peaches!

I have tomatoes coming out of my ears. That's okay. BLTs and Caprese salad every other night. Yum.

I also had a bumper crop of peaches from my little tree. I froze several bags and made peach crisp four times. Yum.

It's a delicious time of year.

Tomatoes, basil, mozzarella. I squeeze a lemon over it and call it good.

I use the Peach Crisp recipe from allrecipes


August 12, 2015

Chicken Health Care

Bob got a chicken emergency call the other night, and it wasn't a disease issue with a flock. It was one pet chicken. He explained the cost to the owner up front and she readily agreed.

This hen, named Louise, was three years old and perfectly tame. It stood or sat on the exam table without a squawk or flapping of wings. The owner, a young woman who owned a small backyard flock, smoothed the hen's feathers and talked to it.

The problem was an infected rear end. The cause was unknown and I will spare you the details, but it was gross. Bob wasn't sure he could save the hen, but he cleaned the wound, flushed it with saline, and gave antibiotics. He also put a mixture of honey and iodine in the cavity. Honey has antimicrobial benefits.

The hen recovered and her wound is healing nicely. She stayed overnight in the clinic and went home the next day.

A few days after I wrote the post above, I got this photo from the vet clinic:

August 5, 2015

Family Fun and Celebrations

When your grown kids come home to visit, you fire up the old John Deere and bale hay until the sun sets. That's Nowlan and his childhood friend Tyler on the rack.

In other family news, our niece, Brittany, got married over the weekend and the reception was held at a celebration barn near Solon, Iowa, built by Dick Schwab. Very cool place!

The stone work leading up to the back of the barn is amazing.

Matt and Brittany arrive through the back doors. Congratulations!

Looking up from inside the front doors.

I climbed the overhead staircase to get this shot, looking toward the front doors. That's Bob on the right (looking my way), with his sister Verna and her husband, Jeff.

Looking toward the back doors. That's owner Dick Schwab on the stairs.


July 24, 2015

It's Fair Time!

Our county fair is this week, and I'm showing flowers and vegetables. Our family was also in charge of working the pork producers' food stand one night, so Caroline came home to help. Our oldest son, Nowlan, also came home for a visit and helped me dig and sort potatoes. Here are photos from the week.

Cramming my flower entries into the Prius took some engineering. Nothing got crushed on the way, thanks to Caroline.

My Mandevilla Sun Parasol won a blue ribbon, as did my hybrid tea rose, purple zinnias, gold daylily, and impatiens.

Nowlan sorted all my potatoes by size, shape, and condition (I had a lot of bug holes this year). He did a great job, because I won the white and gold categories.

Competition was fierce in red potatoes this year and mine did not place.

My giant white potatoes won the class.

Working the pork stand. (Caroline never stopped moving.)

The view from the counter.

Speaking of pork, the hog show is the largest ever this year with more than 300 entries. Pigs are three to a pen, but they don't mind.

I'm back in the show!

The funnel cake options are out of control!


July 20, 2015

Amazing Skittles Art

Caroline just completed a fascinating art project in our farm shop. She made a self portrait (of sorts) as a collage made out of 20,000 Skittles. This is an Iowa State University focus grant and the final result, once framed, will hang in the Memorial Union next April. I hope the candy survives!

Caroline first drew her portrait to use as a guide, and then researched all the possible Skittles colors. Unlike M&Ms, you can't buy individual colors of Skittles, so she had to buy an assortment of flavors and sort the colors. She made her hair blue to contrast with the yellow background.

She painted an outline of the picture on two sheets of plywood and positioned a camera on a ladder.

She starts attaching Skittles to the face first. She quickly realized how much glue the project is going to take.

The face is almost done.

Time to work on the green shirt.

The shirt is done.

The left board is done. The background was originally going to be yellow, but Caroline decided orange accents would make it more interesting.

Finishing the hair.

Finishing the yellow and orange background. She is now weeks into the project. Some of the color on the face has started to fade and ants have sucked the sugar out of some Skittles. The shop is struggling to stay cool in July heat. Caroline researches and tests clear coatings and finds one to spray on the collage.

The project is complete! (Frame to come later.) We carry the two halves into the house for safekeeping.

I tease Caroline with this comparison.

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July 14, 2015

Drive Across America for Farm Women

Last night, Bob and I hosted the Drive Across America team from American Agri-Women (AAW), the nation's largest coalition of farm, ranch, and agribusiness women. It was so nice to meet Sue McCrum (right), AAW president, Doris Mold (left), president elect, and Doris' daughter, Sarah, 10. Sue is a potato farmer from Maine, and Doris is a dairy farmer from Minnesota.

AAW is driving across America, visting farms and ag businesses, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the organization and honor the important role women play in agriculture. The trip started on June 3rd in Maine and will eventually reach most of the states except Alaska and Hawaii. Sue will be on the majority of the journey. Doris and Sarah joined the ride a week ago. Farm women will take turns driving the truck, which has already gone 5,000 miles on this journey.

If you want to follow their trip or join the organization, go to or

Sarah enjoyed meeting our ewes in the pasture at dusk.

Bob and I should put photos of sheep and other animals on the side of his vet truck.

Doris and Sarah met Cheryl Tevis (left) at the Meredith headquarters in Des Moines. Cheryl is an editor at Successful Farming and has covered farm women's issues for 40 years.

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July 7, 2015

Trip to the Berry Farm

Bob and I spent last week on my home farm in Maryland and a few days on the beach in Delaware. Enjoy some highlights!

Mom and I had been picking blueberries on my cousin Jen's farm and she was heading to the house to make a pie. Dad had the berries in his utility vehicle up ahead.

One of our boxes. So beautiful.

Up in the black raspberry field, Dad is supervising as Bob and friends Cooky and Kenny Howett pick.

My raspberry box after just a few minutes in the field.

I finally got Bob away from the sheep and hay fields. Although, on the drive through rural Delaware on the way to the beach he saw a farmer baling and stacking a rack of wheat straw. "We should stop and I could help him," Bob said seriously. Later, on the beach, he said, "I wonder if that guy finished that field?" And, "If you would have let me stop it would have been the perfect day."

The end of a perfect day for me.

My sister-in-law Lana's delightful new patio made of paving stones Dad found at an auction.

Lana's beautiful heritage turkeys.

My friend Robin came over to make mojitos.

Mom's porch -- one of my favorite places.


June 19, 2015

Pollinator Garden

I planted a pollinator garden this spring and it's doing okay. It's weedy, but flowers are starting to peek through and bloom. By leaving the back half of my garden to the bees and butterflies, I have enough time to weed the vegetables in the front half. Here are some photos.

These milkweed come up every year. I used to pull them out as weeds. Now I watch the monarch butterflies feed on the blooms.

The front of my garden. It's been a great year for potatoes and onions.

Bob staked the tomatoes this year.

My ditch lilies are blooming. They don't attract pollinators, but they are cheerful.



June 15, 2015

Pond Party!

Bob and I hosted the Meredith Agrimedia staff -- Successful Farming,, Living the Country Life -- last week at a summer kick-off party. There was a fishing derby at our pond and BBQ dinner in the farm shop. Thank you to Bob for cleaning out the shop!

The temperature at the pond was a muggy 95 degrees. The evening ended with a storm blowing in and dumping an inch of rain, along with a little hail. Fun times!

Kansas wheat farmer and crops editor Bill Spiegel caught the biggest fish, a foot-long bass. Bill also caught the most fish (four).

Art director Matt Strelecki, right, removes the hook so the bass can live to see another day.

Radio editor Jodi Henke (standing under her tent) provided worms for bait and the prizes, including a beer can bobber.

Business editor Dan Looker used an antique tackle box and fly fishing gear. The hat appears to be an antique, as well. Dan waded out into the pond until someone spotted a huge snapping turtle watching him from a few feet away.

The Morton farm shop where the food was served is shown behind Dan and below.

This was a few days after the party, when Caroline set up a secret art project in the clean shop.