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 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.

August 20, 2013


My peaches are huge this year! The variety is Reliance. It is a cold-tolerant, self-pollinating peach developed in New Hampshire that produces a heavy crop of fruit even after frigid winters. Peaches are medium to large with a sweet, mild flavor.

I made peach cobbler on Sunday and it didn't last long. My only complaint is all the tiny fruit flies in my kitchen right now. You can't blame them for wanting a taste of these peaches. I hope to plant another tree in November or next spring.

August 14, 2013

Much to celebrate

This week has been one to count our many blessings. Nowlan graduated from Clemson University with a PhD in biology -- we have another Dr. Freese in the family! He arrived home for a visit, bringing his cat, Rin. She will stay with us while Nowlan and his wife, Danny, live in Germany. Danny is working on her PhD at the Max Planck Institute.

Bob and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary yesterday with a small party of family, friends, and neighbors. I debated taking a trip or going out to eat at a fancy restaurant, but decided there was no place better than home. Good call!

I'm remembering fondly the folks who traveled from Iowa to Maryland 30 years ago today to celebrate our wedding, including Barb Freese, Grandma Nowlan, Grandma Freese, Aunt Bert, and more. Also, the support and love from my PopPop, Grandma Ewing, Ruth Johnson, Nana, and many more who are not here now. We were so young, poor, and naive. It takes a village!

Nowlan's suitcase was full of cat gear. I told him I didn't have that much gear for three kids.


August 12, 2013

State fair!

The Iowa State Fair is in full swing this week. Caroline was working for the Iowa Sheep Industry Association selling lamb, so I popped over to annoy her. Here are a few things I encountered along the way.

I thought I was ordering a caramel apple, but got this Caramel Apple Funnel Cake instead. It's new to the fair this year and features apple cake batter with caramel sauce. Too sweet for me.

This was only the second-largest boar at the fair. The Big Boar wasn't as animated as this guy.

Behind the Big Boar pen is the Dinner Bell tent serving food 24/7. I had the hot beef -- white bread, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Caroline and her friend Lauren sold lamb burgers and much more from the stand by the sheep barn, below.

In the sheep barn I saw this lamb getting trimmed for a show. I've never seen four people work as a team on one lamb, but there you go.

This is the state of Iowa with one stone from all 99 counties. Cool.

This was my view from the skyride on the way out. If you want to check out farm equipment, new and old, the state fair is a fun place to do it.


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