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

October 25, 2016

Glorious Fall

What a beautiful fall. We mowed off the garden last weekend and found a watermelon hiding under the raspberry bush. That was a surprise! I took the last of the tomatoes and peppers to the kitchen and made salsa. The kale just keeps going after a light frost, so we left it -- along with the fall crop of cilantro. Bob mowed it off last month and the herb came back strong. We also found several butternut squash in the weeds. Once he mowed the garden, I saw the tips of sweet potatoes I had missed earlier, and dug those. I really have a weird garden. 

We took five lambs to the locker for processing. Our local locker closed this summer, so we had to drive an hour away. We also took a load of 22 lambs to the livestock auction. Prices are down.

Bob has been busy washing all the farm equipment and driving it to the machine shed for winter storage. He considered trying to make a fifth cutting of alfalfa, but came to his senses.

At the livestock auction, these pigs sold for $24 each. That is cheap pork. Bob wishes he had bought five or six to feed this fall. Corn is cheap, too.

Caroline spent extended time this fall with my parents on their farm in Maryland. What a blessing.


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September 30, 2016

Fall beauty

Fall skies are the most beautiful. The sunsets are baby blue and gold, while the afternoon skies are brilliant blue.

Don't try this at home. Bob is fixing a leaking roof without using a safety harness. 

Two days after his roof work, he was sipping tea on the East Coast with Caroline. We made a trip east to visit my parents.

Dad plants strawberries on black plastic in August and picks the blossoms (in this case, berries) in September so the plants put energy into foliage. Next spring will be the big berry crop.

Enjoying steamed blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay. 

My sister, Molly, right, shows Dad, left, Uncle Doug, and Aunt Jane photos on her iPad. The tablet is a great invention for sharing photos when you are traveling.

Mom and Caroline. One of the most precious things in life is spending time with grandparents.

Back home in Iowa, our ewes enjoy another beautiful sunset. 

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September 8, 2016

It's Huge!

This is not a naked mole rat, as my niece suggested, but just one of the many huge sweet potatoes I harvested this week.

Bob finally made a fourth cutting of alfalfa. It was ready a month ago, but August was too wet.

Warren loaded the elevator.

Bob was waiting in the hot hayloft.

Here comes another load.

My late summer flowers.

Mickey is sniffing around the old root cellar. We need a new door to keep out snakes and varmints. I have potatoes to store down there, but am afraid to open the door.

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August 31, 2016

Farm to Table

My garden is so weedy, I didn't know I had these melons until I tripped over them. It's rained every third day this summer. That's my excuse. I'm not taking a garden photo unless the produce is cleaned up and on my kitchen table. How's your garden?

Courtney Yuskis helped me serve lamb at the Iowa Sheep Industry Association stand at the Iowa State Fair. The most popular item was seasoned lamb in pita bread with a cucumber sauce, lettuce, and tomato. Many people had a chance to try lamb for the first time. (Not sure why I wore a Bacon shirt to serve lamb!)

Bob and I attended a wedding in Willmar, Minnesota, at Stonewall Farms last weekend. The barn was lovely. I thought for a few seconds about converting our barn to a wedding venue. HA.


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August 18, 2016

Summer Winding Down

New adventures often begin this time of year. Caroline is heading to Maryland to help my parents on their farm and look for job opportunities. She made a car magnet for Caroline Freese Designs on Facebook.

My garden is out of control. Who knew two cucumber plants could produce so much? I throw all the overgrown veggies to the lambs, who play with them more than eat them. I have enough tomatoes to fill the back of a pickup truck each week. 

It's all good.

Love this bowl Caroline painted for me before she left.

After about 5:00 at night, these insects make it hard to carry on a conversation outdoors. This cicada has left his shell.

We flew a drone over our pasture, pond, and barn. Very cool to see the fish in our pond! Check out the video here:

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August 2, 2016

Hot air balloons and county fair

The National Balloon Classic is underway and hot air balloons often go over our farm during the nine days of the festival. They spook the sheep, but it is a good time for the community.

The county fair has just finished its run. I entered a dozen categories with my vegetables (and peaches), and won many ribbons. Nobody can touch the size of my potatoes.

Find my potatoes.

They won the blue ribbon!

My garden exploded.

New this year at the fair was a tomato tasting contest. 

Bob is president of the Warren County Pork Producers, and accepted a Friend of the Fair award for the group.

Look at those great chainsaw carvings. They are auctioned off to benefit the fair. I love the walnut stump with the old man's face on the left.

Caroline's portrait of 20,000 Skittles is now hanging at the Indianola Vet Clinic.

The view from our pasture looking south.

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July 20, 2016

The good and bad of summer

Let's start with the bad part of summer.

The deadliest internal parasite for sheep is the blood-sucking stomach roundworm Haemonchus contortus, also known as the barber pole worm. It causes severe anemia and death. Wet grass and hot weather bring it on in our herd. Some ewes are are not affected, but those who get it stop eating, turn white, and then die. Two of our ewes died last week. We had to lock them in the barnyard. Allowing the pasture to rest helps get rid of the larvae. Sheep graze close to the ground and overgraze in the same areas. We need to use fencing to create multiple paddocks in our 22-acre pasture. See more about these deadly parasites here.

We have had an unusually wet summer. On July 19 we had 5 inches of rain. That is crazy. Good thing we are turning half of our corn farm into wetlands next year, because it's going that way on its own.

Now for the good parts of summer.

Nephews in our grove.

Relatives visiting from California enjoyed walking around the pasture. 

Grandpa Freese has all 13 grandchildren around him. They range in age from 7 to 37.

The Iowa state bird is the goldfinch. This one tapped on my windows all weekend.

Another view at another window.

My onions are drying on the south side of the shop. After two days, I put them on the porch for two weeks.

I love to sit in the shade of my backyard.

Bob got a practical gift for my birthday - at my request. I took the day vacation and had great plans to sit in the yard with a book, but that was the day it rained for 10 hours.

Rain makes grain! (I'm wearing my favorite t-shirt. "I'm blogging this.")


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July 13, 2016

Restoring a Wetlands

A portion of our 400-acre Iowa farm floods almost every year when the nearby river comes out of its banks. This flooding has become more frequent in the past decade. Changing weather patterns and farming practices upstream may be the cause. Last year, the river flooded our farm in December – that is crazy. This spring, the land flooded after the corn was planted, so about half had to be replanted. You can see the lighter green corn in the drone photo below.

In April, we enrolled the most flood-prone 200 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It will be restored as a wetlands. Seeding work begins once the crop is harvested later this fall. I will document the process as we go along. It's going to be interesting!

The bottom half will be wetlands next year. On the far horizon is the Principal building in Des Moines. Bob and I, plus David Ekstrom, the drone operator and photographer, are standing at the top of the terraced hill by the farmstead.

Bob and the conservation planner look at the damage flooding has done to the bridge.

Preliminary plan of the wetlands area.

Walking out into the short corn.

Another view of our beautiful terraces. This part of the farm will remain in production agriculture - soybeans next year.

July 7, 2016

Beauty of summer

Storms that blow in and drop a half inch of rain in July are beautiful. 

These soybeans in northern Iowa are as good as they can be. I love visiting farmers this time of year.

Here's another booming crop - zucchini! I've learned to pick them early and often.

Dismount. Stuck the landing. (I can't wait for the Olympics!)

Love my lilies, especially this peachy-pink variety.

Summer means fireworks, hot nights, outdoor activities, and dog fights. This was the first of two late-night surgeries from two different dog fights in town. Everyone went home fine in the end. 

I think buzzards are beautiful. See the one emerging from the trees? These were flying over the hay field while Bob baled. They know snakes and rodents are often available for dinner during this activity.

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June 28, 2016

The finer things in life

We are not traveling anywhere for vacation this summer. A staycation in my backyard in Iowa can be pretty sweet. My garden provides veggies for every meal, the yard is perfect for reading on a nice day, and the opera is in town! 

A bee in my milkweed.

Caroline went to opening night at the opera with me. I bought her strawberry dress in a vintage store for $20. It's from the 1960s. Love it!

It's worth a trip to Iowa to see our wonderful summer operas. Check it out:

Next to an ocean beach, this is my favorite place to read. My only complaint is biting flies when the air is still. But that can happen on a beach, too.

My garden changes every week. The lettuce is done, so I planted butternut squash in its place. The onions are starting to fall over, so I will pull them to dry soon.

Bob started creep feeding the lambs and they are growing like weeds. They haven't been weaned yet, but the ewes are getting very thin nursing twins and triplets, so it's almost time. 

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