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.

September 19, 2013

Remodeling the Root Cellar

Our home is almost 100 years old and it came with a root cellar or storm cellar, which we've never used. Cracks under the door allowed raccoons and feral cats to go down there, so I stayed out.

This month I decided my potatoes needed a better storage room for winter than the garage. Bob likes to clean and remodel, so he was on it. He swept and washed the floor and walls, sucking out the water with his wet vac and then using a fan to dry the floor for two days.

Next, he patched the brick along the steps. He has a few more fixes to make before we can use the cave, as we call it.

I've decided it's too nice now for potatoes. It's my new wine cellar.

Before shot -- Bob heads in. There was a skull of a raccoon on the floor, but Bob wouldn't let me take a photo.

From the inside -- all clean.

Working on the steps

September 16, 2013

Tomatoes anyone?

My tomatoes were late this year, so that means they are booming now that everyone is tired of them. Fresh garden tomatoes are so yummy in July and August. By September people run when they see you coming with a basket.

I love to make a simple salad with fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella slices, and Kalamata olives. Squeeze half a lemon over it and a dash of balsamic vinegar. This is what I eat about four nights a week.

Below is my favorite tomato of the year. It's a heirloom of some kind (we planted an assortment of seeds and forgot what was what). That's a quarter beside it. Huge! It took up the entire plate. Tomatoes anyone?


September 12, 2013

How dry is it in Iowa?

It's so dry that camels have replaced cattle.

It's so dry that our final cutting of alfalfa was a few measly bales full of foxtail.

This is the second droughty summer in a row for Iowa. Many farmers in our area have run out of pasture and pond water for cattle. After May, all the rain went around us. Is there normal weather anywhere in the U.S.?

(The camel and miniature donkeys live on a farm a few miles from us.)


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September 10, 2013

The farmer and his wife

Happy 53rd anniversary to Mom and Dad, Phil and Ruth Ann Johnson! Here they are in their berry barn at Walnut Springs Farm this summer. (Thanks to my niece Meghan Brumbley for the great photo.)

I will see you soon!

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September 9, 2013

Betsy's Beets

I grew beets for the first time this year and had good luck, winning the beet category at the county fair. I pickled them using cranberry juice cocktail instead of water and sugar in the recipe.

Betsy's Beets

3 pounds beets, boiled and sliced (or whole, if small)
2 cups vinegar
2 cups cranberry juice cocktail

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add vinegar and cranberry juice cocktail; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the cooked beets in jars. (I layered slices of raw onion in the jars.) Store in refrigerator for a week before eating.


September 5, 2013

Brussels sprouts

I grew Brussels sprouts for the first time this year. I started picking the sprouts from the bottom of the stalks in July and they just keep forming up the stalk as it grows and grows. I wonder if Jack climbed a Brussels sprout stalk instead of a bean pole?

I cut the sprouts in half, sprinkle with olive oil and salt and roast for 20 minutes in a 425-degree oven. Warning: Set the timer. I forgot once and had to throw the pan and blackened sprouts outside. These veggies don't smell great to begin with and they really don't smell good when burned.

Do you love or hate sprouts? Join the discussion here.

I have five of these monster Brussels sprout plants in the back of my garden.

September 3, 2013

A good summer

Summer is not officially over for a few weeks, but it seems like we've turned the corner to fall. It's been another dry season for our farm, with less than an inch of rain in August.
Below is my favorite photo from the summer. Nowlan came home for a visit before moving to Germany where his wife, Danny, is in graduate school. Bob took advantage of three kids home from college and jobs by baling several fields of alfalfa. He dumped the bales on the ground and Warren ran them up the elevator to Nowlan and Caroline in the hayloft (note their dust masks). When Bob offered to help on the last load the kids waved him off. "We have a system," they said. I'm not sure when we will all be together in one place again, but I treasure every time it happens.

Bob says, "The family that hays together stays together."

There is always a lively discussion in the kitchen after the job is done.

A campfire with friends and a full moon is the perfect ending to the day.

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August 28, 2013

Cover crop of radishes and turnips

Bob tilled up our west alfalfa field and planted a cover crop of radishes and turnips last week. (See the links for more information on these cover crops.) The seed bed was prepared well, but we haven't had a drop of rain and temps have been near 100 since planting. We need moisture and cool weather soon!

Our hope is to graze the sheep in that field late into the fall and early winter. This is the first time we've tried a cover crop, so we don't exactly know what we are doing. What else is new?

Bob's modified harrow at work.

Turnip and radish seed

A friend did the planting for us.

Bob's ancient cultipacker


August 26, 2013

BBQ Judging

I had a great food gig on Saturday -- I helped to judge the Taste Iowa All Iowa BBQ Showdown in Conrad, Iowa. The goal is to showcase Iowa-grown foods and have fun! Main food ingredients must be from an Iowa-grown source to qualify for 5 bonus points, and teams are required to post “Farm of Origin” information at their cook site along with a brief story of the farm operation. The categories were beef, pork, and chicken. There wasn't a bad batch in the bunch. The pork ribs were my favorite. If you love to barbeque, these local contests are fun to enter. Let me know if you need a judge.

August 21, 2013

My glads

My gladioli (or gladiolus or just glads) are late this year, but lovely. I planted a random assortment of colors all over my garden, a few bulbs every few days here and there, marking them with flags. Each evening after work I go out and cut the ones that are blooming, arranging them in various vases. I don't dig the bulbs in the fall and store them overwinter -- I did that once and they bloomed poorly the next year. I buy new bulbs each spring. It's worth it.