Rene Nijstad

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since Oct 04, 2015
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Born in The Netherlands, now living on our permaculture farm in Colombia. College degree in town planning, worked in research for some time, started my own company in graphical design after that. The economic crisis of 2009 wrecked my company, which made me severely think what to do next. After much research and some feelings of despair I stumbled on Permaculture as the obvious solution for both my own future as well as the future for our planet. Bought a 10 hectare farm together with my partner in 2014 and we're working on setting it up as a demonstration site for PC.
La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Recent posts by Rene Nijstad

We have similar slopes as you have, also heavy clay, very sticky when wet and very hard when dry. We have noticed that rainwater barely infiltrates in our soils if we do not break up the dense layers in the topsoil. Since we have to do that anyway in the areas we plant in, and we do not want to loose any rainwater, we terrace everything.

We're making small terraces, so that if maybe we'll have an accidental washout the damage is limited. All terraces we make have a slight angle, where the downslope side is higher than the upslope side. In heavy rains that means excess water won't flow over the edge, but it will flow to the backside of the terraces. Like this you can easily prevent erosion. We built stairways of rocks, which are also the spillways for excess water. When you try to retain rainwater it is very important to always have a way for excess water to escape.

The picture below shows how it looks after it's done. It works great, we also regularly have 100mm per 24 hrs rain (actually it falls in just a few hours) with one big event where we had 90mm in just 90 minutes, and we had NO runoff from the terraces. It all went into the soil. Very happy with that.
1 week ago
I'm wondering how many bears you have to deal with. One or just a few or a lot? I'm also wondering how many hornets nests you have to deal with. A few or a lot? Mostly if we leave nature to do her thing, it all stays within some balance that prevents us to have to deal with problematic excess. Are these problems a real excess or are they bearable (haha, pardon the pun)...  The main thing is if we are dealing with a problem or just with our natural surroundings?
3 weeks ago
I saw 2 pumas crossing the road right in front of me when driving home. It was about 500 meters before reaching our land. They ran and jumped and I realized they were pumas because they looked exactly like the logo of the puma shoes when they jumped over the road. I would say about 2.5 or 3 times the size of a cat. I was amazed... I never knew they lived around here.
3 weeks ago
When we started a little over 6 years ago, we got advise from a seasoned permaculture designer telling us to "do nothing irreversible yet!!"... We thought that wasn't helpful because we needed to at least do something. So we did, we started all kinds of projects on several places. We got some results and a bunch of failures.

For the big things: water, access and buildings we started with water: a test swale here and there and some ponds on the keypoint where the mountain slope changes from steep to flatter (which is obvious stuff according to the theory). We dug a road almost on contour to improve our access across the land and we refrained from building anything else than pig pens. Most of all we learned to observe a lot and to do little things and then observe what effect they had.

From the obvious stuff we slowly went to improve water retention and access more and more. Until we finally figured out where we wanted which structure for what reason. That whole process took 5 years, but we do have a very solid plan now. It just took a lot of trials to improve understanding. So my advice would be to try and observe and try and observe; always on a small scale until something becomes obvious to you. What becomes obvious can then be planned to make it happen.

Never rush things, but never stop interacting either. Be patient, look at what happens. Try to understand the patterns. Water is always paramount. Access always leads to options. And structures are simply needed to solidify a site design. In the mean time whatever you do or try, always try to gain a yield...
1 month ago
We have some relatively steep slopes and we've terraced the areas we want to use, with an excavator. We dig a small road first that goes up or down the slope, and from that road we go sideways. When making terraces make sure that the downslope side is made higher than the upslope side, so that excess rainwater does not flow over the edge but towards the mountain side. Also make sure that there is an overflow somewhere so that excess water can drain of. Without that overflow you risk landslides in heavy rains (unless you're willing to build retaining walls to hold everything in place).
1 month ago
Hi Brian,

I'm writing this reply only because this is a permaculture forum. If this was solely a homesteading forum, or a prepper place I would have passed.

An important thing central to permaculture is that it can be a good method to restore abused land, or at minimum to prevent more functional ecosystems from being destroyed for human activity. A forest is a functional ecosystem. Clearing forests is therefore not really a permaculture idea. What is a good idea according to permaculture, is to take on a wasteland and bring it back to life and productivity. If you can do that, you're adding to the growing amount of people who prove permaculture works. Somehow and somewhere we have to stop the destruction of the natural world.

I know the hurdles in that. We ourselves bought a totally ruined and abused piece of land in a harsh wet-dry tropical climate. It took us years to figure out how to create a better habitat and to see what works here and what doesn't. Or just to help repare the destruction brought to this place in the past. People now at least say that our land looks way greener than theirs in the dry season...

If costs are an issue then buying a piece of wasteland is also a good idea because nobody really wants it (huge amount of permies in deserts or dry climates for example). But time might be an issue... Or convenience...

In my experience going the permaculture way is at first the hard way... But after some years as your understanding grows, it turns into the more relaxed way. You don't panic anymore when a drought hits, because you made your place resilient in so many ways. You don't even waste half of what you did before anymore...
2 months ago
Yup, ammonia smell means you need more carbon in the pile... The brown stuff, wood chips, sawdust, small branches... Good luck!
4 months ago
Water retention on such steep slopes is a big NO-NO. Mostly these slopes found a balance between runoff and infiltration which makes them sort of stable as long as the weather stays within "normal" fluctuations for that area. If you would get an exceptionally wet rainy season the risk of landslides goes up A LOT. Please ask the people living there about these stories, I'm pretty sure they saw a slope or two come down somewhere in the past decades.

General rule of thumb for swales is: only on slopes less steep that 1:3 / 18° / 33% (I hope I got those figures right, I always use the 1:X method when measuring, because that's fast and easy and fool proof :-) ) with as main reason stability. On steeper slopes you can use terracing with retaining walls. Those are a lot of work, more so when the slopes get steeper. On slopes 1:1 you cannot really do much (for every meter horizontal you need to build a meter high retaining wall), except for hoping that you don't get killed in a massive landslide. The pictures below show one on a 1:1 slope. And I have seen WAY worse :-( ...

Since you're dealing with a reality of "this is where poor people live", there might be an option you could try: slopes are seldom totally the same everywhere. Look for areas that are less steep than average, with nobody living right below them (so that if there would be a landslide it won't kill anyone). Generally landslides occur when excess water cannot drain away quickly enough. That builds pressure by weight while weakening the stability of the soil at the same time until the whole or part of the slope gives way, relieving this pressure. To avoid things getting to that point make sure you have an exit channel for excess water. This channel needs to go to an even more uninhabited area! Normally you could use the natural occuring gullies (super eroded in these landscapes) for this. I think people tend to stay clear of those. Like this you can try to build some terraces.

Good luck! People in your area don't have a lot of options so hopefully you can help them improve, even if just a little!
5 months ago
Hi Danny, we have land, but unfortunately we're in the tropics, so it doesn't fit what you're looking for. I hope you will find land and good companions to setup for the long term future.

If there are other guys reading this topic who are looking for a gay community, but don't recognize themselves in your description, maybe we have what they want.

Our story on
5 months ago
We're in the wet-dry tropics, which means we get a bit of every type of weather every once in a while. It goes from heavy tropical downpours, to drizzle and all in-between, from months without end of blue skies and scorching sun, to weeks when we're fogged in without getting much rain at all. Our terrain is mountainous, with some semi flat areas and with some steep slopes. So our approach is: a bit of everything...

We started with swales and dams, but they are only helpful with those heavy downpours (for us about 30 mm per hour or more qualifies as those). We had a lot of heavy rains our first year, and then suddenly only some in the years after. The dams have only been full for 2 out of the 6 years we've been here. Without heavy rain we don't get a lot of runoff, so we needed a more diverse approach.

We chose terraces as our main approach. They work absolutely great with both small rains and the big storms. Surprisingly that's mainly because digging these terraces loosened the soil and broke up impermeable layers so now it takes up the water better. We do need to keep them mulched, because bare soil will close up again and then we get runoff again instead of infiltration. Downside of terraces is the amount of work! Backbreaking when done by hand! But worth it in my view. Or you bring in an excavator, they can make terraces very quickly, but you have to stay on top of the operator so he doesn't compact your terraces driving all over them! Let him figure out how to do it with only driving over the slope once, before shaping the terrace!

The garden needs a more regular supply of water, especially during the dry season. We are now experimenting with digging in half-rotten tree trunks about 20 cm under the surface of the garden beds. These seem to increase the amount of moisture the soil holds. If you try this, please make sure that excess rainwater in case of big storms can flow away, so you don't create pools which might make the logs float to the surface. We also placed our chicken coop next to the garden to catch the water from the roof in a couple of big tanks. These tanks we will also give a roof soon to keep them out of the sun and increase the catchment area to fill them quickly with the mild rains we so often get. From these tanks we water the garden during the dry season.

We never tried keyline ploughing, because our terrain is quite difficult and we prefer the terraces because they make working (mowing weeds) easier than on slopes. It's a one time job to make them, so we slowly continue with that.
6 months ago