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.

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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August 9, 2013

Bucket list: Niagara Falls

While I was in Buffalo, New York, last weekend with Ag Media Summit, I visited Niagara Falls. If you haven't been there, go. From the American side you can get right next to the water. To get the best view, take a ride on Maid of the Mist or visit the Canadian side. My sister, Molly, joined the fun. We also took a tour of farmland in Upstate New York. It's beautiful country.

Molly and I on the Maid of the Mist boat in front of the American Falls, the ones with the rocks.

This is Horseshoe Falls with Canada on the right. A few people have survived a trip over these.

The American Falls are in front, tiny Bridal Veil Falls in the middle, with Horseshoe Falls in the distance.

This was an amazing view of the American Falls. You see the water coming right down at you as you walk up the stairs.

Straight on American Falls.

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August 8, 2013


I attended the Ag Media Summit in Buffalo, New York, this week and brought home a trophy for Brent Olson, our columnist for Living the Country Life. This is the second time Brent has won first place with his columns. You can download 10 of Brent's best columns here:

Matt Strelecki, who designs all our covers, won designer of the year for his work at Successful Farming magazine, our sister publication. Congratulations to both Brent and Matt!

Living the Country Life also placed third in the category of Social Media. That honor is thanks to all of you! (Please find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and join the fun.)

Matt Strelecki wins Designer of the Year from the American Agricultural Editors' Association.


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August 1, 2013

Funny animals

I just edited reader entries for a Funny Animals photo contest and decided to show you some of my own photos from the past week.

The county fair always provides plenty of funny animals, and by that I mean humans. This horse wandered the fairgrounds for four days. I posted the photo on our Facebook page and got lots of captions from readers. My favorites:

Deep-Fried Hay on a Stick, please.

Howdy neigh-bor! I'd like an apple with a side of horseradish.

Can I get a funnel cake with extra sugar? Hold the cake.

Hay! Quit horsing around and give me my corndog!

I would like a wheat grass smoothie please!

This crossbred gilt was the grand champion market hog at the Warren County Fair. Also impressive: Her "eyebrows."

Caroline and Mario watched the hot air balloons from the front porch last night. Then she tried to pick him up.


July 30, 2013

Hot air balloons!

Our town is hosting the National Balloon Classic this week, which means mornings and nights where 100 balloons fly over our small farm, scaring the sheep. I was in the garden the first morning they went up and the newly-weaned lambs raced back and forth in their pen, crashing into fences. We quickly threw some hay in the feeders to distract them.

The balloons are beautiful as they glide over our pastures. Here are some photos. Come to Indianola and see them!