Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is the editor-in-chief of Living the Country Life and executive editor of 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.

April 11, 2013

Country Party!

For her birthday, Caroline brought a dozen friends home from college for the weekend. They had a barbeque and bonfire on Saturday night, ran around the yard playing kick the can until one a.m., and then crashed in the shop and basement. Sunday they had to be back at school by noon, so I had brunch featuring leg of lamb and lamb meatloaf. Most of the kids had never eaten lamb and Caroline wanted to give them that culinary experience. They loved it.

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April 9, 2013

Seeding time

Rain was heading our way, so Bob and I spent Sunday afternoon seeding the pond dam and new fenceline. This was the area we cleared out last fall after a drought dried up the marshy area behind the pond. Bulldozers had pulled out trees on the dam (the roots were harming the structure) and cleared brush around the outlet pipe.

Bob harrowed the area and I used a hand seeder to spread $100 worth of grass seed. We could have used more.

That night we got a nice rain and another storm blew through today. By this weekend I will be able to see all the spots I missed with the seeder.

The houses are creeping closer and closer to our 22-acre pasture and pond. They like the pastoral view we provide.

April 5, 2013

A visit to DewKist Farm

The editors of Living the Country Life and Successful Farming went on a road trip this week and one place we visited was Sharon Larson's acreage near Long Grove, Iowa. You can read about her great place here:

Sharon's blog about DewKist Farm is here:

Sharon showed us her dogs, horses, chickens, cats, and much more. Here are some photos. Thanks for hosting our crew, Sharon!

Sharon has 10 hens and says she wants 100 times that many.

That is our radio editor, Jodi Henke, interviewing Sharon's favorite hen.

Sharon has the perfect little horse barn.


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April 1, 2013

Water levels

I took a tour of the pasture and pond. Thank goodness we had a normal winter, meaning plenty of snow and rain. Below is the pond last September looking north. Note the duck nesting box on dry land. The next photo is looking south in late March. The nest is back in the water, as it should be. (If your water levels are still low this spring, here is advice on managing a pond after a drought.)

March 28, 2013

Share farm stories with Smithsonian

I was in Washington D.C. at the launch of the Smithsonian's Agriculture Innovation and Heritage Archive, a part of the National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian is asking the public to help it preserve the innovations and experiences of farming and ranching across the United States. Visitors can share their stories about the technologies and innovations that have changed agriculture. Your stories will be used by the Smithsonian to help prepare new exhibitions like American Enterprise, and all accepted submissions will be preserved and made publicly available on the archive's website.

To share your farm story, visit:

I sorted through a box of Dad's old photos and found these three showing life in the 1950s on a family farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania.

(If James Dean raised pigs.) Dad with his 4-H market hogs in 1955. There were no confinement barns or lean hogs back then. I must say, that lot is very weedy!

This 1950 Papec chopper was the first of its kind, says Dad.

My grandfather, Warren Johnson, raised 14,000 turkeys on pasture in 1950 near Nottingham, PA.

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March 26, 2013

Very Berry Pie

I visited Mom and Dad on their Maryland farm last week. Mom thawed out blueberries, red and black raspberries, and strawberries to make her exclusive Very Berry Pie, a recipe she created from ingredients grown on the farm. She gave me her handwritten recipe and then pointed out a few places where she added more of this or that. Here's is the final version. I think.

Ruth Ann Johnson's Very Berry Pie

4 1/2 cups total of raspberries (red and black), blueberries, strawberries

2/3 cup sugar

4 tbsp flour

2 tsp minute tapioca

1 tsp lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in a bowl lightly. Pour into 9-inch pie crust. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust.

Moisten top crust a bit. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 425 for 15 mins. Reduce to 350. Bake 45 mins.

March 25, 2013

Spring! Spring?

One year ago the forsythia bush in this photo was blooming yellow and I had planted beets. Not this year.

Inside our cozy barn, we sheared our ewes even though the weatherman said to keep the wool coat.



March 15, 2013

I'm in deep compost

I took this photo from the top of the compost pile. It was just solid enough for me to climb like a goat. Bob locked the ewes in the barn and cleaned out the back lot. He and Warren spent an afternoon chipping wood from downed trees and then they spread it behind the barn (below). It didn't go far, but it helps.

Oh, by the way, when I climb to the top of the compost pile and see my shadow it means Spring is one week away.

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March 14, 2013

Justin moving on

We had a goodbye party at work for Justin Davey, an editor for both Living the Country Life and Successful Farming. He is leaving his ag beat to work on custom content projects for external marketing clients of Meredith Corporation. We wish him much luck and thank him for his hard work the past six years.

Justin did not grow up on a farm, but he learned fast. I think this photo below is the first time he did any loader work with a tractor. This was on an Iowa State University demonstration farm. I was taking photos and Justin was showing off. :-) A few seconds before this photo was taken he had the bucket over his head and almost tipped that tractor over. It was quite scary. I showed this photo to Justin yesterday and he said, "Makes my palms sweat just looking at it."

Be safe out there!

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March 11, 2013

Paid in eggs

Bob went out in a snowstorm to pull a calf last week and his tip from the grateful farmer was two dozen fresh eggs. It's been several years since we raised backyard hens, so these were a welcome reminder of how wonderful homegrown eggs can be. It almost makes me want to clean out the old chicken coop (now a storage shed) and get some chicks.