Caitlin Mac Shim

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since Jan 16, 2021
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Recent posts by Caitlin Mac Shim

Nicole Alderman wrote:

Caitlin Mac Shim wrote:
-Focus: I would focus on learning. Best thing my partner and mother in law gave me was a kindle. I much prefer reading books BUT with a kindle I cold read in the dark without needing the light on (so while the baby was sleeping on me - she would only sleep literally on my chest for a loooooong time). I could research and buy books instantly and read read read. It gave me a continuous connection to my own interests and fed my ideas at a time when everything else was focused on the baby. Another thing that really helped was the internet, so I could research on line. I spent 2 years basically researching and scheming

Yes! I joined permies not long after my first was born. I spent a lot of time scrolling through permies with him asleep on the boppy on my lap (I just sat at the computer). Sometimes I could manage to watch videos on my computer with white noise in the background. When he was a bit older and I was patting/singing him to sleep on his bed, I'd distract myself by daydreaming/plotting about where I wanted garden beds.

I did the same when my daughter was born, too. I couldn't always type/respond to things I read, but I could at least learn a LOT with her napping in my lap. Permies is a wealth of information for free, and there's lots of rabbit holes and information to keep you going (especially if you need to be mentally distracted from a colicky baby who won't sleep and won't stop crying no matter what you do.)

Oh my gosh yes Nicole I really think there is a very particular Permie membership which begins with a colicky baby attached to a boob (and/or screaming) and a sleepless new mum trying to nut out pasture rotations or food forest guilds or Poly-culture or something behind her eye lids!
1 week ago
I thoroughly second all the advice given above.

The thing with permaculture is there are always so many things you can be doing..... and it’s easy to feel like therefore you SHOULD be doing it all. I have to make a big effort to change my thinking so I don’t fall into this trap. And when you’re pregnant it’s even harder I think because you just have such an overwhelming urge to have everything set up just so (ie perfectly) because the baby is coming. So I think it’s an hormonal thing, but also just the regular frustration that any person would feel when they have a million things to get done and limitations of their bodies capacity / time / funds etc.

So, I have great permaculture desires and plans and also had a baby (like many here). All I can say is that in my case, there was no way I could keep up with my projects and plans. I couldn’t even spin anymore without puking!
Basically I let the entire garden go, and just focused on learning. Also when my baby was a new born to about 2, the only thing permaculture I really managed was reading, learning (thank you Permies!), observing, and designing and then re designing lots of ideas and plans. All that thinking time paid off I think, as my ‘perfect’ plans got redesigned many many times lol. Once my daughter was about 2 then we started doing little things like clearing a patch of the old overgrown garden (like 1m2 a day) and throwing all my now outdated annual seeds on it (kid loved this bit) then seeing what happened. We ended up with more random greens than we could eat eventually, and it was fun Now that she’s 4, I’m finally beginning to get some time to tackle some of the bigger things, but it’s still small steps all the way.

I think your place looks brilliant. You’ve achieved loads already. I’m very impressed with the fruit trees and the fencing!

If I were you, this is what I’d do:
- As a couple, just try to focus on getting the home reasonably comfortable. You need to be able to live at a comfortable temperature, in a cosy feeling environment (small is fine), that is dry (no mould) and feels healthy and settled. If you can get that happening before the baby comes it will be a big help.

- Fruit/vege garden (the fenced areas): I would divide that space into four areas (a couple of star pickets and some chicken mesh should do it) and keep the chickens in there (ie: in a quarter). They will blitz everything but the fruit trees (I wouldn’t put the sheep in there as they will kill the young trees). Throw any kitchen scraps / mulch etc to the chickens. When they have thoroughly cleaned, manured and mulched an area (A month or so), move them into the next one and chuck a heap of quick growing seeds into where they have been. Move them through the remaining three spaces the same way and when enough greens/weeds have grown in the first one they land back in there and so on. So the idea is while you are busy with a newborn etc, the chickens are madly building fertility for you in your vege patch, weeding and fertilising your fruit trees, and growing some greens for themselves (and maybe for you if you pick them before the chooks go in).

If you really want a kitchen garden during this time, I would focus on a very small area (2m2?) right next to the house (preferably the kitchen area) and grow herbs in it. Maybe some silverbeet or a cherry tomato, but nothing more demanding. Herbs are great because they make a big contribution to delicious food / teas / and are survivors and preferably perennials.

- Animals: I’d minimise as much as possible. The pets obviously are keepers, but with a newborn I wouldn’t want to deal with much more than a few laying hens. Good move on getting the steer sorted he sounds terrifying! If the sheep are stressing you out maybe move them on too? Then you could let the field grow and get it mowed for the mulch, or let someone else pulse their animals through it so it is grazed but not compacted. If I was going to have any grazing animal myself in such a situation I would go for geese. But really less is more!

-Focus: I would focus on learning. Best thing my partner and mother in law gave me was a kindle. I much prefer reading books BUT with a kindle I cold read in the dark without needing the light on (so while the baby was sleeping on me - she would only sleep literally on my chest for a loooooong time). I could research and buy books instantly and read read read. It gave me a continuous connection to my own interests and fed my ideas at a time when everything else was focused on the baby. Another thing that really helped was the internet, so I could research on line. I spent 2 years basically researching and scheming

Having a baby changes everything. I know everyone says that and it’s a cliche, but honestly everything just gets re-prioritised when you have this tiny little person suddenly there who needs you for everything. It’s hard no matter what you’re doing (but soooooo worth it!!) but I really think you need to give yourself permission to let other things wait. The baby has to come first, and usually they need pretty much everything. Then any other energy you have you need for caring for yourself at this time. Then as things settle down you try to have a bit of energy and attention for your partner and relationship. That’s not including if you need to work, or managing the house/cleaning/food and life in general. You won’t believe how fast goats and sheep and weeding slides so far down the list!! You will get all those things happening - I know you will. What you have already achieved demonstrates very clearly that you are more than capable enough of achieving all your dreams for the place. You just need time and your physicality back to do it. Your partner needs time too. And now is not that time. That time is coming though

Take heart and take time! You never know, it could end up being a real benefit to take a couple of years observing your place and designing, rather than doing.
1 week ago
Family legend has it that great grandma ran quite a rough pub, and one night was mashing up a big pot of potatoes in the kitchen sink when a bar of soap fell in. So she mashed that up too.....

Apparently she and the workmen who were boarding with her ate down the lot without a murmur.....
2 weeks ago
Welcome Dr. Gill!!
Brilliant to see you here
4 weeks ago
Thinking about it....

I reckon it could work better with ducks. Ducks love murky water, although they would also probably like to eat your fish unless the fish were too big.

I honestly reckon you’d have a much better system if you aimed for a functioning pond ecosystem that’s big enough to support ducks, fish and aquatic plants. It would probably require a bigger pond and less ducks though. But it would be a healthier balance of diverse life forms that all feed each other.

The more intense system was pretty full on and smelly from my recollection.
1 month ago
I spent a while living and working in Southeast Asia and one of the sites (Thai-Mayanmar Border area) had a set up like this.

It was basically a smallish pond (which was pretty muddy already - just dug into the dirt and clay sealed) with a kind of bamboo cage construction over the top where the chickens were kept. All the chicken poo and spilt feed would fall through the bamboo slats into the pond.

From memory, it technically worked (the fish did eat the chicken poo) however it was abandoned as a project anyway because it was kinda gross. It was also right in the middle of the housing area and there were hundreds of kids running around who couldn’t be kept out of the ponds.

I don’t think the chickens had a great time in the bamboo cages above the water, and personally I wasn’t keen on eating the fish.....

I mean I’m fine eating plants from soil that eats poop, and I’m fine with eating animals that eat those plants too, so maybe I’m a hypocritical squeamish softy..... but there was no way I was gonna eat a fish that’s main diet was poo direct from the bum of a miserable looking chicken....

I also think that while a fish might eat chicken poo direct just fine, it might not exactly be their favourite. Like they might prefer a more diverse diet at least.

There might be some much better ways to set it up though?
1 month ago
Thanks so much Eric that’s super helpful and very encouraging!
I’m unfortunately out of action for 6 weeks (umbilical hernia repair blah blah) so I’m sitting around frustrated, trying not to pick up my toddler, and working on lots of ideas and designs in my head lol. So, it’s going to take me a while to have a go at putting things into action, however, you’ve given me a lot to think about and work on.

The block I have to work on is my folks place, where I’m slowly setting up a small home to move my family back to. The block is about 2 acres, about half very steep and forested, the other half pretty well treed also. It’s on a south westerly slope (suns to the north here) and very poor soil (every inch of the area was turned over during the gold rush). It’s hard clay subsoil really, with a small amount of topsoil that’s naturally accumulated since the gold rush (a cm or two mostly).

This is what I’m thinking of trying for the Winecaps. I’d like to use them to build soil for growing a mix of both human and rabbit food. What if I placed hay bales in a line on contour, two deep but with a gap of about another hay bale between them, and filled the gap with wood chips. Treat the chips with diluted wee and the bales with coffee grounds as recommended by Dr RedHawk and then inoculate the chips and plant into fertile holes as you’ve documented. Then protect the top of the chips with a layer of loose hay, and plant the bales with fertile holes too. So the chips are essentially protected on all sides by the bales and the plants growing in them?

I’m hoping that this would provide me in the next season a quantity of mushroom compost to plant into, surrounded by decomposed-ish hay mulch. I also have a lot of wood than I can stack on the down slope side as a bit of a retainer (the sooner it rots the better).

What do you reckon?

Also, we get really two growing seasons here, a summer growing season (for things that love heat and hate frost) and a winter growing season (for things that like frost and are loved by aphids). Some things like kale and silverbeet etc we can grow year round. So, how long would you consider a wine cap season to be? Is it a 6 month process or more of a year long process? Like could I be setting it up in September for the summer season and then redoing it in April for the winter season or should I just let it be until the next summer?

Again thank you for all your advice. I really appreciate it as I’m a total beginner just having a go at things. I can’t wait to get into it and will let you know how I end up trying things and how it does/doesn’t work out.

Dorothy thank you also for posting this thread, It really helps to see how other people are approaching similar projects

Cheers, Caitlin.
1 month ago

Eric Hanson wrote:Dorothy,

Sorry I missed this earlier.  Mushrooms are not only a great crop to grow, they are a great companion crop for other vegetables.  I have done some experimentation and my personal favorite combination is to grow Wine Cap mushrooms in a bed of tomatoes.  I will try to explain here.

First off, the Wine Caps.  Since you have never grown mushrooms before, Wine Caps are a great way to start.  Wine Caps are kinda like training wheels for mushroom growers.  They grow aggressively and they thrive on neglect.  Importantly, they actually prefer to have some sunlight--dappled shade is the term that gets used.  This is exactly the sunlight you will find underneath bushy tomato plants.  You do want to make sure that the Wine Caps have plenty of moisture--their growing medium should be damp--but then you want your tomatoes to have water also.  I would say that if you are getting one watered, you are probably watering the other by default.  Further, as the Wine Cap fungus breaks down the wood chips or straw (you can use either), they leave behind a wonderfully rich compost filled with microorganisms.  My tomatoes have never looked so healthy since I started growing them alongside Wine Caps.

So about the Tomatoes.  Tomatoes make a great companion for Wine Caps for a variety of reasons.  Tomatoes love heat and grow vigorously in the summer, exactly when the Wine Caps need shade.  Tomatoes send out a dense network of fine roots and the main fungal body of the Wine Cap will intricately wrap itself around the tomato roots.  They actually feed each other!  If you are watering your tomatoes, you are probably watering your Wine Caps as well.  Also, the tall, arching nature of the tomato plants allows for some natural air circulation (without being windy) around the areas growing Wine Caps.  I have tried other plants to use as companions with Wine Caps but I keep coming back to tomatoes which seem to work best.

I realize that in your area wood chips might be hard to come by and the wood chips you can get would probably be conifers that are not conducive to Wine Cap growth.  Fear not as you can absolutely use straw as a growing medium!  It is good that you have an ample supply of straw.  Straw has some advantages and some disadvantages as compared to wood chips.  But first we will work with the advantages.  Straw will tend to colonize faster and produce mushrooms faster.  However, when growing in straw, Wine Caps tend to live fast and die young.  The basic life cycle of a fungus is that the main body (what we typically call the fungus, or sometimes the mildew) will get established in a medium (straw or woodchips), grow and become established.  During this phase the fungi undergo sexual reproduction and aggressively colonize the growing medium.  The fungus is happy to do this until it exhausts it supply of food (Straw, Wood Chips) at which point it sort of panics, pushes up a mushroom and releases spores (the asexual part) that blow in the wind to land somewhere else to begin the cycle again.

What this all means for growing mushrooms is that the faster the substrate produces actual mushrooms, the faster it will need replacement.  Essentially a mushroom grows when the fungi is in danger of starving.  Wood chips are a bit more dense than straw and in my experience take a full year to actually push up a mushroom (mileage may vary) but the fruiting lasts longer as there is more actual food available.  Straw, on the other hand, starts out quickly, often taking half the time to produce a mushroom and sometimes even less--but those are under ideal circumstances.  When they do produce a flush, get them quickly as they tend to burst out of the straw but the fruiting won't last long.  Also, pick the Wine Caps early when they are still small, meaning 1-2 inches in diameter.  This is when they taste best and at this point they really do taste quite good.  However, let them grow and they will easily get to the size of dinner plates!  They can get HUGE quickly.  I mean no exaggeration when I say this but there are times when I would leave for an errand, check on the mushrooms and see some prime-to-pick mushrooms in the garden.  I would return in 1-2 hours and they would be HUGE.  Once they get so huge, I would not bother eating them.  They are not poisonous, but the leather in your shoes would probably taste better!  Wine Caps really need to be picked while still small and a delay of even an hour can ruin them.  You might even want to pick them several times per day.

Personally, for me the actual mushroom is a tasty side effect.  My main purpose of growing Wine Caps is to produce mushroom compost and I think this is one of the most fertile growing mediums available on earth.  I have an abundance of wood chips and in one season I can turn those chips from wood into something that looks like coffee grounds but with the fertility of aged manure.  You can get something similar with straw, but straw just won't be as substantial as wood chips.  You will still get some great growing media, especially if you are using entire bales of straw.  In fact I would grow it for this reason alone, even if you can't get a single mushroom.

Dorothy,  I realize this has been a long post.  I do have two long running posts about growing mushrooms and if you like I could link those in.  I wish you the best of luck and encourage you on your mushroom journey.  I am an advocate for Wine Caps, but you can make up your own mind--you may have other plans and I will try to help you as I can with those.

I hope this is helpful and best of luck to you,


Hi there Eric, thanks for this great info!
Hello also Dorothy! I also have some mushroom questions, and hope it’s ok if I ask them here too?

I was wondering Eric, if you thought the Winecap Tomato pairing would work in a warm temperate climate like south eastern Australia (north east of Melbourne). We plant our tomatoes at the end of September or later, and they grow through our summer and are done sometime around April/May depending on when the frosts come.
Do you think our summers would be too hot for Winecaps? We usually get at least a few days in the high 30’s C. And also it can get dry dry dry. I just can’t imagine a mushroom managing here over the summer.

Could it work over the autumn do you think? I’m imagining growing them under the broad beans or peas, which are a winter crop here.

Also, pretty much all the woodchips here would include at least some eucalyptus. Not sure what Winecaps would think about that....?

I guess I could try for a short Winecap season and use straw and hope they are done before the heat really kicks in?

Apologies for all the questions, I hope it’s ok to ask them here? Please let me know if I should ask in a different place or make a new thread, but I thought if it was in the same topic it would be ok.

Cheers Caitlin.  
1 month ago

Nancy Reading wrote:I like the human powered pump.  I could imagine it linked to a bicycle to make it more ergonomic.  Our local weavers have set up a bicycle powered loom which is quite effective see

for what can be done with a little ingenuity (you don't have to watch the whole video to get an idea).
Alternatively something similar could be like a perpetual bicycle pump pushing air around, maybe into a pressure vessel (balloon?) to store air and extend the bubbling. That might be trickier, since air is less easy to contain.
Not sure about the watering cans, looks impressive but I'm sceptical as well that it actually works for more than a few seconds.  If you get it to work let us know!

Nancy that’s awesome! I’m really into fibre crafts (spinning and crochet really but I dream of learning to weave one day too), and also building bicycles, so that video was pretty much the ultimate for me lol :)
I love that when people go to buy a scarf they can get on the bike and weave for a while 😂. So lovely.

Thanks for sharing :)
1 month ago
Thanks for posting this Jen, you’ve made me very happy too!

I was getting a bit down because my source of manure for my raised beds got scuttled. Well, I can still get all the horse manure I want - but I’m too scared to take it.

Unfortunately in Australia our farmers are using some pretty horrendous herbicides on animal feed crops. It passes through the stock and has now made its way into the soil/compost loop with the result that many people around our state (Victoria) have purchased toxic soil/compost which has poisoned their gardens. It’s really terrible. Often the level of herbicide in the compost/soil is too small to be detected by tests, but apparently is still causing the telltale stunting and death of plants, even after commercial composting. So - I’m too scared to bring in random manure now

We are on hard clay mining tailings basically, and if I don’t build up raised beds I can’t really grow anything that isn’t tough as nails. So I’ve been doing lots of reading on this site (thank you Dr. RedHawk and others) and trying to figure out how I can build soil with wood chips/fungi and organic hay bales/coffee grounds plus the copious amounts of leaves I can gather here.

So, long story short - thank you. Your post has lifted my heart. Maybe I can manage with just woodchips and hay. I’d like to have chickens and muskoveys and rabbits at some point to create some clean manure, but that’s a while down the track.

Sorry for the rant, and thank you!