The Shed

The Shed
The Shed

Friday, April 27, 2012


Hi there boys and girls it's your favorite cut up and babysitter, Leatherface! It's a really nice spring day today, not too early for a barbecue and so I got a few packages of ground Ron out of the freezer last night. It's burgers for lunch kids!

But today I'm here to talk about that sweet grazing ungulate, Mrs. Deer, and all her herd mates and the adorable deer children, and all the unbridled havoc they can commit in the garden.

Mrs Deer
Look at that sweet face! Such a face! Guileless, gentle, wholesome and...HEY WAIT A SECOND THAT FACE IS FULL OF MY COLLARDS! PASS THE WINCHESTER, FARM GIRL!

No no no! This is overreacting. You cannot possibly blow away every deer that invades the chard patch. And why would you want to, - except for that distressing habit they have of spreading tics and with them, Lyme Disease. Mrs. Deer is nearly as easy to control as Mrs. Bunny, and with no violence at all required. (Unless you like venison with your collards, of course)

Build a fence! This is always part of the answer, you cannot have a vegetable garden in a rural environment without a fence. And for Mrs. Deer, as with Mrs. Bunny, chicken wire is adequate.
Three feet, however, is not. You want a minimum of eight feet for deer, and it is far, far better to go with 10 feet.

Hey, there is benefit as well. Fencing makes terrific trellis material. Your beans and cukes will be deeply appreciative of the tall trellis.
If the wire is tautly strung and the fence is well maintained, this will keep Mrs. Deer on the outside looking in with no need for electrifying the fence. But fail to build it, and trust me, they will come, dinner napkins in place. In that case, you may have a somewhat less edifying view of Mrs. Deer.

By the way, it seems the people producing predator urine products are not pleased that we never recommend them. Well, if they definitely worked, 100% of the time, we would, but they do not. Even if they were effective, rain washes the scent away and weakens any deterrent value that they may have. Gardeners are at fault, failing to keep the deterrent fresh. And eventually the hungry critters do figure it out. It may smell like T-Rex whiz around the eggplant, but there isn't a Rex in site. And kiss the corn goodbye.

That's it for now! As always, thank you for sitting in on The Children's Hour!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

FARM GIRL'S CORNER - Parsnips, and dibblery on the cheap.

It's Me! Farm Girl!

 Hi! Farm Girl here with not so much of a "Corner", per se, but more of an observation. Do not throw that Sharpie away when it finally runs out of ink! The gray end makes an excellent dibble for everything from seeds to onion plants. And of course you are recycling for your own direct benefit, and saving the planet and leaving a tiny carbon footprint and all that happy horse crap. Just thought you'd like to know!


And now it's time to air a grievance, if I might! I was going through the seeds today to see what we'd be planting and you know what I found? PARSNIP SEEDS!  Who does that old fool Mac think is gonna be taking care of those proud beauties? Not me! He's lucky I help him "compress the hay" now and then! It can take 35 days for these things to sprout, and when they do, what do you have? Parsnips! I mean just LOOK at these things! What's next? Salsify? 

 They look soooo much better cooked, do they not? I wouldn't feed these to Leatherface! Well maybe him come to think
but nobody else.

Well this has been nice hasn't it? Remember, save those Sharpies, and thanks for stopping by Farm Girl's Corner!

Monday, April 23, 2012


Hello again, it's your true light hearted friend, Jack from Whitechapel, thousands of miles and a hundred years plus removed. Man, where does a century go to anyway? But a hundred years is nothing really, here at the shed where time and space tend to slip just a bit now and then. They slipped just a bit about a week ago Shed Standard Time and instead of Mrs. Deer eyeing the new cabbages we had this fine fellow, Andrewsarchus mongoliensus or Andy as we like to call him, eyeing us. It was a bit tense for a moment but things snapped back to normal fast enough. 

Let's see what we know about this uncommon garden pest, shall we?

Andrewsarchus mongoliensus, nebulous nightmare:

One of the more interesting and yet tantalizingly enigmatic creatures from the Eocene epoch, a time that abounded with interesting fauna of all kinds, Andrewsarchus is difficult to describe with authority. This is so because so little in the fossil record has been discovered to date to aid in definitive reconstruction.

The type fossil for Andrewsarchus is presently the only fossil, and consists of one large and rather well preserved skull, and a very few smaller bone fragments. And what a skull it is!
About 33 inches long and more than 22 inches wide, the Andrewsarchus skull dwarfs that of any modern day land mammal. It is equipped with a formidable array of teeth, and presumed muscle attachments give it what is estimated to be the most powerful bite force of any animal thus far recorded.

This in and of itself is fascinating, the devil, as they say is in the details.

What we know about Andrewsarchus:

One item that is known for certain is that it lived in the Eocene epoch, in which deposits the third American Museum of Natural History to Asia, led by Roy Chapman Andrews discovered it in 1923 in strata approximately 62 million years old.

Andrews himself is almost as fascinating as Andrewsarchus; he was at times an adventurer, explorer, anthropologist, paleontologist, bandit in some peoples eyes, possible inspiration for Indiana Jones and eventually Director of New York City’s famous American Museum of Natural History. It was perhaps a case of one rarity discovering another.

We also know that Andrewsarchus lived in what is now Mongolia, because that is where the skull was found.

We are reasonably certain that, based on skull morphology Andrewsarchus belonged to the mesonychids, an extinct order of hoofed predatory mammals. Wolf like in form, mesonychids are more closely related to pigs, deer and rhinos than to modern wolves.

What we do not know about Andrewsarchus:

Is nearly everything else that is either interesting or important. The fact that there is only one type specimen means we cannot possibly, at this time, make a definitive statement about the creature’s geographical distribution, nor about the species lifespan on earth. We are not even certain about the creatures’ appearance.

Various sources will chronologically place Andrewsarchus from 60 million years ago to 32 million years ago, from 45 million years ago to 32 million years ago, and varying points between. There is not a scrap of evidence to support any of these guesstimates.

Andrewsarchus was huge, of this there is little doubt. The skull we have dwarfs that of the modern wolf, big cat or largest bear - see the comparison here .

If the body was robust and rhinoceros like in shape, as has been suggested, then Andrewsarchus may in the opinion of some have stood 6 feet tall at the shoulder, weighing possibly as much as 4000 pounds.

If the form however resembles those of other known mesonychids and is leaner and more wolf like in structure, then Andrewsarchus might have been several feet taller and longer, while slightly lighter and presumably faster, with a head more in proportion to its body size than would be the case in the robust model.

A minority opinion holds that Andrewsarchus was in fact a triisodontine arctocyonid, or intermediary form between land dwelling mesonychids and the cetaceans, or whales. This would have given Andrewsarchus a squat, elongated form superficially crocodilian in appearance.

More skeletal remains are required before we can hope to resolve this issue to anyone’s satisfaction.

Equally contentious are opinions on what Andrewsarchus may have eaten, and how this food source might have been acquired. As previously mentioned Andrewsarchus is credited with the most powerful bite force of any land animal yet discovered; this would seem to indicate that anything could have been fair game.

If the gracile form of relatively light, fleet footed but enormous body type is accepted, then Andrewsarchus was certainly an apex predator, capable of taking down and consuming even the massive gigantic relatives of the modern day rhino that shared its time and space.

If these creatures hunted in packs - and no one has a clue about this - they would have overwhelmed any and all potential prey.

If the proto-whale theory is correct, and Andrewsarchus was caught between land and water in an evolutionary sense, then a diet of crushed shellfish, turtles, marine life and opportunistic hunting and scavenging of land mammals seems more probable.

The robust, rhinoceros like specimen? Considered by many to be too slow and clumsy to be purely an apex predator, this version of Andrewsarchus is supposed to have used its vast bulk and formidable jaws to chase other predators from their kills.

A partially vegetarian diet is also proposed and of course there is no doubt that such a formidable beast could have hunted opportunistically on prey that was young, weak, sick, injured or old.

There are so many questions surrounding this fascinating beast that we can only hope that several reasonably intact skeletons come to light soon, to help resolve them. Until then, speculation and a single skull is almost all that anyone has to go on.

That's scientists for you, they get a little skull and that's all you hear about for weeks! On that note we'll wrap this up and say good bye until the next installment of Something Dead from the Shed. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

FARM GIRL'S CORNER - Goin' fishin'

Hi! Farm Girl here! Usually I help Uncle Mac around the Garden and in the shed and stuff but today he tossed down his last swig of Irish Breakfast Coffee and bellowed: "Farm Girl! I've a mind to dunk my dobber!"

Well after we established that this dunkery would take place at the reservoir and not in the haystack we got our tackle together and went fishin'. Mac likes me to go fishin' with him, he says I'm his favorite l'il hooker, the sexist swine!

Man that springtime water is C-c-cold if you know what I mean!

But today I'm here to tell you all about the "Silver Bullet" spin casting spinner, a spinning lure that is all flash and glitter. For light spin fishing rigs this lure weighs just over 1/4 ounce. It will catch damn near all North American game fish, at one time or another and is equally adept at snagging brush, bushes, submerged logs and your own ear, if you are not careful.

And speaking of ears, ladies, what if it's not a fish you are lookin' to reel in, but a fisherman? Then you need the earring corollary to the silver bullet spinning, lure, a set of silver hooker earrings! They look just like the silver bullet lure (because that's what they are) and fisherman cannot resist them. Before you know it, they'll be nibbling your neck, just to get closer to those earrings!

The only difference are the red protective balls on the hooks, to save you from slicing your carotids open like Jack-the Ripper dicing a Whitechapel tart. Make no mistake, these balls are important. If its balls you are after, you'll need these.

What Mac? My marketing sucks? Sell your own lures and earrings then!

Now where was I? Oh yes! I know where you can purchase, dirt cheap, both the lures and the earrings, and that would be, right HERE!

And that's it for now, as always, thank you for visiting Farm Girls Corner!

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Looks like old Leatherpuss has been telling you folks how to deal with pest animals amidst the veggies. Looks like he's fixin' to drag it out, one critter at a time, maybe get 5 -6 more posts out of it. This is what I get for letting just anybody wander by the shed. 

I'll deal with those pests in one paragraph. Have pests? Build a fence. Have big pests? Build a bigger fence! Do the pests climb the fence? Electrify the fence, and if none of that is effective, shoot the pest!

There, wasn't that easy? Wait until you see the multi page epic Leathermug turns it into.

But there are some critters that you definitely want hanging around the shed, wolves and the like although opinions vary on that. This endearing little fellow on the left is one such, and folks in the Southwest probably know him well.

Those who do not, meet Bassariscus astutus, also known as the ring-tailed cat or miner's cat. Ring-tails are of course not cats at all but are procyonids, which means they are closely related to raccoons as their striped bushy tails

might lead one to suspect. They are tiny creatures compared to raccoons, their body size somewhere between that of a large grey squirrel and a small domestic cat. They also lack the boldness and sheer gall of their raccoon cousins, are almost entirely nocturnal and tend to shy away from humans and their domestic livestock and pets.

However, their essentially mild dispositions and extremely curious nature make them relatively easy to befriend if obtained young, and even older ones will acclimate well to people if treated properly. They make wonderful, entertaining pets once they get over their 

initial shyness.

Well, ok, but why would we want one or two living in the garden shed? Because they eat the very things we want to get rid of, bugs, spiders and rodents of all varieties. They do a much better job than the average fat and lazy house tabby, and can go places where wolves simply do not fit.

The miners and ranchers who moved into the old west recognized this fact and made haste to make friends with the little creatures, going so far as to build them houses from packing crates, placed near enough to the stove to provide warmth. The nickname "Miner's Cat" gives some indication of the prevalence of the practice.

If there is one downside to inviting ring-tails in, it is that their curiosity and climbing skills mean that they are constantly into everything. But hey! It's the garden shed, do we really care?

 All right we have the Southwest covered very nicely, what do we have for Northeastern sheds? We are way out of ring-tailed cat territory and they wouldn't like it up here in the north, anyway they prefer rocky desert environs.

Fortunately we have ermines, or stoats, or big old weasels if you prefer, and if there is one thing that ermines like better than killing and eating a rodent, its killing and eating a bigger one. They are even better at it than the ring-tails.

Stoat, ermine or weasel the scientific name is Mustela erminea. Ermine is a stoat in its fine white winter coat, summer 

garb is brown on top and white beneath.

Only 12" long not counting tail the stoat is ideally designed to go into rodent burrows after its prey. It favors mice, voles, rats, chipmunks and will kill squirrels and rabbits larger than itself when need be.

Unlike our little ring tail-friend, stoats are not cuddly pets. A few have probably been tamed from time to time but nipped fingers, which after all look like a plump and juicy mouse, are always a possibility.

Stoats go where the rodents are, and that can well be sheds and barns. They do an excellent 

 job of controlling these offensive and crop destroying vermin and are therefore always welcome at Uncle Mac's.

Vida Guerra's anti-rodent potential at this time is neither known nor relevant, but we can't help but feel that there is room for her in the shed.

Perhaps as a roving reporter, interviewing other shed dwellers, or perhaps the critters, or why not? Perhaps she can interview the vegetables themselves.

"This is Vida Guerra live from Uncle Mac's corn patch, where today we'll be interviewing a Country Gentleman corn stalk. Pardon me, Mr. Stalk, but could I have a few moments of your time?"

"I'm all ears, Vida."

"No, really, I need a new agent. This crap has to stop!"

Vida, really, wearing actual ermine hides where Mrs. Stoat can see them!

You take those off right now young lady!

Well OK! That wraps this extravaganza up for now, thanks for visiting Uncle Mac's garden Shed!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Hi boys and girls and welcome back to the Children's Hour with your favorite cut-up, Leatherface. A D.A.R. tourist bus slid into the ditch out by the main road so we'll be having lady fingers at snack time today, isn't that nice?

Last time we were discussing garden pests and we touched on Mrs. Bunny, a gentle soul who is easily dissuaded from consuming the prized veggie crop by the simple expedient of erecting a 3 foot tall poultry wire fence. That won't do us a bit of good with the next member of the rogues gallery, the all too common ground hog, woodchuck, or Chuck the Destructor as he is known is some gardening circles.

Look at this critter! A fat, affable fellow by the look of him, but never forget, he's a rodent! A really big rodent but like his close relatives, squirrels, rats and members of Congress all he wants to do is eat, screw, and steal your stuff. Particularly all that delicious broccoli, cauliflower, collards, well actually, just about everything you were planning to enjoy with your family and friends.

That 3' tall wire fence will not get it done. Chuck can easily dig under it, and will do so with single minded efficiency. If you set wire into the ground to deter him, it needs to be at least 18" deep and that is a real chore. The wire will also deteriorate rapidly. Thus thwarted Chuck, who is a better climber than you would give him credit for, will simple swarm over it.

Chuck expends a lot of energy digging his burrow, and can not easily been driven off. There are all sorts of varmint repellents, usually predator scents of one type or another like wolf or coyote urine, they may have a temporary deterrent effect but Chuck is hungry, and not stupid. He may smell essence of concentrated tiger balls but he knows full well there is no concentration of tigers. And there go your carrots.

Realistically, you have three choices when faced with a determined ground hog. You can live trap and remove him, you can put him down, or you can electrify the fence. 

Live trapping is simple, chucks will willingly enter a properly baited trap - fruit is popular - but there may be a problem. Some states have laws against its citizens moving wildlife about, since the government obviously knows better than you do what the nature of the problem is. In that case, some folks might take Chuck for a long ride into some other part of the country and release him anyway, but do it at night. Find out what the rules are in your state and let your conscience be your guide.

A .22 long rifle bullet is perfectly sufficient to relocate Chuck to the big chard patch in the sky, but again, there are concerns. Is there room, given the layout of your property and that of your neighbors, if any, to allow for a safe shot? Are you a good enough shot to kill Chuck humanely? 

You'll ideally want to place that bullet either between the eye and the ear, viewed from the side, or right between the eyes head on. There is no benefit in merely wounding the fat fellow. 

And of course you'll wish to take the law into consideration, and whether or not to bend it.

The electrified fence works very well indeed, and has the added advantage  of deterring several other categories of garden pests. However, even if you can scrounge some of the materials and do the work yourself, it is not an inexpensive proposition, and the larger the garden the larger the cost. 
Chuck is a tough customer with a hearty appetite, and you may have to make a tough choice if you wish to enjoy the fruits of your gardening labors.

That wraps it for now, thanks as always for stopping by for the Children's Hour! 

Friday, April 6, 2012

FARM GIRL'S CORNER - Talkin' tomatoes

Howdy I'm Farm Girls Aunt Agnes from Texas! Farm Girl is in Minnesota for a little while doin' research on Vikings so I thought I'd stop by and help Uncle Mac while she's gone. Farm girl is always helping Mac all over the place and I figured, heck, I can help that old fool t'il he's bow-legged but he doesn't seem interested. "Guzzle all the beer you want, don't touch my whiskey, don't frighten the animals and stay out of my way." is what he said, a bit rudely it seemed to me. Well his loss...

Farm Girl intended to talk about termaters and she left what she had to say writ down, so I'll let 'er git to it, as it were.


Tomatoes are the prime bragging crop in most home vegetable gardens and that's true here at the Shed as well. While its pretty easy to grow tomatoes generally, it can be a little more complicated to grow a really large crop of juicy tomatoes with at least a few "take me to the Fair" giants among them.

A good deal of the important work can be done during fall clean up, leaving you with less to do in spring.

Tomatoes love to send their roots deep and wide and its to the gardeners advantage to help them do so. One way is to decide which beds will be holding tomatoes the following season and actually dig them out, more than a shovel's length, perhaps two feet deep or more if you have the inclination, (or perhaps a couple of teen aged sons who want something from you).

Take the opportunity to replace the boards to the raised bed if they are deteriorating, perhaps with two by ten lumber this time instead of two by six, or better still with the semi logs you split yourself which can be any size you wish. (to find out how easy this actually is, look HERE.)

Then fill the bed back up with a mix of organics and the soil which you removed. Whats good? any left over compost you have should be tossed in. Mac likes to take oak leaves and straw, lay it on top of a patch of lawn grass he let get tall, and then mow the mass slowly, collecting the chopped mix in a catch bag, then laying it out and chopping it again.

This gets mixed in with the returning soil and places potential tomato nutrients with the reach of the worms and microbes who will act upon converting them into a form that tomato plants can best utilize. Mac also likes to sprinkle in some green sand, crushed eggshell and bone meal, but generally avoids boosting nitrogen as the grass and compost will already be providing that, and he will be adding more compost in spring.

Once the bed has been refilled it should appear to be over filled, and that is fine, it will settle over the winter months.

In spring, all we do is add in a bit more compost, sifted, and turn it into the soil - only one spades depth this time. Keep turning the soil ever few days while the weather warms, this suppresses weeds and also exposes all kinds of grubs to the birds, who will happily gobble them up.

We never plant our tomato plants, usually from seeds we've started but sometimes with purchased plants, before May 15th. (We're on the cusp of zones 5 and 6). this gives us warm soil and adequate warm nights, and large "seedlings" to plant. We always plant them with a good part of their stems underground, roots spring forth from the buried stems and help grow an stronger, healthier, ultimately more productive plant.

We are growing three varieties of main season, large tomatoes and this one is "Brandywine", a widely available open pollinated type known for its large, flattened fruits and delightful tomato taste. Brandywine is indeterminate and really benefits from staking, the plants grow quite large. As with all the larger tomato types it is a good idea to pinch off the suckers - excess branches - so that most energy goes into growing tomatoes, not greenery. We expect tho pick these starting in mid July.

Like Brandywine, the Old German tomato is an heirloom, open pollinated indeterminate variety, producing large beefsteak style fruits that can run from tradition crimson in color to nearly gold, both inside and out.

We have never tried this variety, here at the Shed but we have heard good things. We'll be taking pictures and keeping everyone advised of their progress throughout the season.

Both of these varieties are widely available, we happened to get our seeds from the Territorial Seed Company.

If there is a knock against either the Brandwine or Old German tomato it is that they are not the most prolific of producers, although we have always found the yield from Brandywine to be more than adequate.

W. Atlee Burpee Seeds proclaims that our final choice, the exclusive Burpee Big Daddy, is a powerhouse producer of 1 lb. fruit. 

This is the only hybrid tomato plant which we are growing this year, and likely the last on ever, as we are moving to a "seed saver" program next season. We simply wanted to see if this much ballyhooed newcomer would live up to its advanced press. As it has been developed from the widely grown "Big Boy" plant we feel that it just might; we have always had great success with Big Boys.

Once the plants are in the ground and established, we weed them scrupulously, and then cover the soil with a 2" thick carpet of sifted compost to retain moisture and keep the soil cool, and also to keep earthworms near the surface doing their wormly duties. (for more on this, go HERE). After they have been growing for a month or so we give them a side dressing of powdered eggshell - calcium- and of Epsom Salt - magnesium. A good dousing with sea food emulsion is also in order, perhaps a week after the side dressing.

Other than that it is simply a case of keeping up with the staking and water supply and waiting for nature to take its course. Stick with us for further updates on the progress of the tomato patch, and as always, thank you for visiting Farm Girls Corner!