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Permacultura San Joaquin, Colombia  RSS feed

 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Permies,

We're located in La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia and we're in the process of setting up a fully functional permaculture farm as an educational center. We're now about one and a half year into the process and things are starting to shape up.

Initially our aim was to become a PRI master plan site, but their approach does not seem to match with ours, which is much more step by step wise in implementing things, further observation and feedback loops to achieve a result together with nature than their main focus of gathering lots of info at once and then stamping out a complete design.

Our first year here was mostly trial and error, getting to know the farm, cutting through the dense regrowth, surviving the dry months with an absolute lack of water, digging the first dams and swales, etc. In this second year the focus is on bringing in animals to help with the rehabilitation of the soils. We recently brought in our second group of pigs, who are helping us tear up a part of land that will be seeded as pasture for a subsequent groups of pigs. It will become a rotational system, where they will move to a new field every few weeks. After our pigs setup is finished we plan to start rabbits in another area.

The farm's main tree product at the moment is mangoes, but their value on the local market is too low to bring in sufficient income. We're actually better off feeding them to the pigs instead of packing them in crates and bringing them to town. We have started to add cacao to have a more secure income stream from that in the future. Apart from the cacao we'll also keep adding any productive tree we can get seeds of, in smaller numbers, to provide for our own needs.

We're at a point now that it becomes interesting to show people around the property, to show the systems that are in place and the things we're working on. Also to have interns who want to experience what setting up a permaculture farm from scratch looks like. Anyone from anywhere who is interested can contact me. I would also be more than happy to post more on things we did and are currently busy with. We would very much like to meet up with anyone else in the area around Bogota who have their own permaculture place.

I hope that was a sufficient introduction. I'm looking forward to more contacts with people involved in their own permaculture projects.

Rene
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amarynth leroux
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Hallo Renee, your process sounds so very similar to ours at this stage. It is such a good feeling to see the systems start working in a small way.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Amarynth, thanks. I just read your story. Pretty similar indeed to what we do.

More pictures and updates on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/permaculturasanjoaquin
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Our mangoes are flowering like crazy... That should be a good harvest in January - February!
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Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 95
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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Hola Rene!

It is fantastic to hear from projects in Colombia, it seems to me that permaculture has gather greater momentum in many other countries of latin america.

Take a look at my thread: http://www.permies.com/t/46530/projects/acre-country-house-Colombian-Andes#405853

My property is located in Antioquia, at a higher elevation than La Mesa (more similar to Bogotá), but I live in Medellín which is closer in altitude to where you are. My scope, goals and time availability are VERY different from yours, but I believe we can benefit from each other's posts. Please keep the posts and pictures coming!

What variety of mangoes are you growing? I find that Tommy mangoes have been bred to be "pretty" and more suitable for transportation and storage, but they really lack in flavor. I much prefer the Vandyke variety which keeps its taste even when very ripe. I also remember from my time in Haiti that there was a variety called Mme. Francique or something like that and they were fantastic mangoes. It's a shame that commercial fruit is not bred for flavor and quality. Do you think you could switch varieties and try to find a niche for great tasting mangoes (like restaurants, jam and chutney makers) other than wholesale or retail stores?

You seem to be on very steep terrain. How hard has it been to implement the earthworks? I'd love to know more of your experience in the dam and swale building. Do you plan on doing any terracing?

Have you encountered any resistance against keeping pigs in a paddock shift system? local pig farmers have been led into the industrialized pig farming methods by the national associations (and government agencies) for the past couple of decades wrongly based on "sanitary" conditions, which I think is a shame.

I'd love to come by some time, but I'm quite far away. I'll keep it in mind the next time I go to Bogotá.

Best of luck!
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Juan,

Great to hear from you! I read your posts to see what you're doing and I like your approach to things... AND YOU HAVE COMFREY!!! You're so right that it is nearly impossible to find it in Colombia.

Yes, most of the farm is on steep terrain, we even have slopes of about 45 degrees in a few areas. However the middle 2 Ha are semi flat, about 1:4 to 1:6 and we're focusing our attention on that part of the farm. The steeper slopes we'll work on later, but we plan to consider most of that as zone 5. In one of the next days I'll post some pictures of the earthworks we have done so far.

Most of our 100+ mango trees are 'commun' the small sweet mangoes. We have a few farchil, which we will cut down at some point because those are not healthy trees. And we have a few red mangoes which we think are Tommy. We'd love to grow different varieties if they indeed taste better.

Not many negative comments on having the pigs out in the field, but we just started that, and we don't have all that many pigs, 16 right now, aiming at a maximum of 50 maybe over time, to probably be reduced in number in a few years. One reaction we got was funny, a neighbor said: but they ruin everything if you let them out! So we said: exactly, they work for us clearing the field so we can plant and have less work! That drew quite a bit of enthusiasm because they never thought about using pigs like that.

Thanks again for your post. I'll go around in the next days to make some more pictures so you can see a bit more detail.

 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 95
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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I'll be happy to send you some comfrey root cuttings once mine has grown enough that I can take cuttings again, but I don't really know how long that will take. Maybe I need to set up some special comfrey beds for quick propagation and quick growth with a bit more special care to give things a push in the right direction.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Juan,

That would be great, but no rush . Maybe some day in the not too distant future we can meet. In the mean time, we're also looking for sweet potato (I believe it's called batata in Colombia), which used to be grown everywhere, not not anymore. Some older people told us that the batata could not properly grow on soil with artificial fertilizers and was discarded by almost all farmers because of it. No idea if that's true though, but the fact is we cannot find them anywhere until now.

The only ground cover plant we currently successfully use is squash. Picture below...

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Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 95
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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To be honest I've never eaten sweet potato in my life. I think that shows how little we know and cultivate it here in Colombia, but from what I can find on the web there seems to be some recent interest in it.

Take a look at this:

http://www.freshplaza.es/article/50813/Colombia-Corpoica-distribuye-semillas-de-pl%E1tano,-yuca,-%F1ame-y-batata

Maybe you could get in touch with your local corpoica office and see if they can help you.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Juan,

Thanks for looking around. The problem with Corpoica is their strict regional approach. The seeds they promote, in this case the batata, only go the the Caribbean region. We also contacted them about a cacao variety, which would only be promoted in the province of Santander. They're pretty hung up in their approach and generally not very helpful at all. Another example, we're looking to obtain pigs from the local species 'Casco de Mula' which have closed hooves, which they did promote in our province, Cundinamarca, but the only info we got was their involvement had ended. We kept on asking and finally got a phone nr to call, but nobody ever picks up that phone. To me it seems like just another government agency that costs a lot and only serves some symbolic function...
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
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That's too bad. I thought there was some hope because the article mentions the program was also being implemented in Cundinamarca.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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I was very excited the other day to find that google maps just updated the satellite image of our farm. Even more, the new picture is of much better quality than the one of last year! It's great to see the results of a long first year of work from above. When we arrived in March 2014 it was a neglected overgrown jungle. It now has roads, ponds, swales and some animal shelters.

The 2015 picture looks a lot dryer, because it was taken at the end of the dry season. We did not get any rain for 5 months. Still our 2 dams have water (there are 2 more small dams that are dry, because right after they were built the rains stopped, so we hope to get them full in the next months).

In the third picture I drew in the main things done and the ones that are planned. I still had to do the roads and the contour lines, but my old computer gave up on me, so that has to be completed later.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Juan, you also asked about earthworks. We had a backhoe in two times for a total of about 3 weeks to construct 4 dams and to improve access on the farm itself. The first time we worked on and around the key point where the steep slope of the mountain changes into a much flatter slope in the center of the farm. Originally there was one badly constructed little dam, about 10 m across, with no overflow (the water would simply go over the wall when full) and the dam wall was pretty thin. This dam was fed by road runoff and during heavy rains it gets quite a bit of water. We changed that setup into a mudpond that receives the road runoff (not visible on the pictures) that overflows into the improved small dam, which then overflows into the new big dam which is about 30 m in diameter. The big dam then overflows into a big swale, which overflows into a valley (where in time we want to construct another dam)
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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The second time we had the backhoe in, we extended the road coming up to the existing house to reach the central part of the farm, while adding a small ridge dam and a small valley dam.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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The 2 new dams added receive the runoff water from the newly extended road, as well as from swales and gullies that cross the land
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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We're still in the process of adding swales, which we dig by hand. The satellite pictures I posted before give the overall image.

Some samples below.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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When we plant the swales we shadow them with 35% shadow cloth, because the sun here is pretty fierce. When the little trees had some time to settle in that shadow is removed.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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And then, when it rains it looks like this...
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Juan Sebastian Estrada
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Location: Medellin, Colombia
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This is amazing stuff Rene. Very inspiring and well documented. Thanks a lot for sharing.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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It's rainy, our clay soil is muddy and everything is wet, so I have a bit of time for some posts. In the past year we noticed quite an increase in wildlife and some of it we caught on camera. What we still hope to photograph are the little tapirs that are around, some good pictures of the iguanas (big green grey yellowish lizards), chucha (large white ratlike creature that is said to eat chickens) and multiple species of smaller snakes. We had several encounters with each of them, but never with a camera present. However we did catch an armadillo on pictures, some turtles (both land and water species) and a whole bunch of big spiders and interesting insects... And birds of course, lots of them!

Enjoy!

Oh, the guy with the big turtle is me...
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Some spiders, one is a tarantula, the others we don't know what species they are. If anyone recognizes them, please let me know... They're all between 12 and 15 cm in size.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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Another tarantula, because they're so beautiful and quite indispensable in our eco system. If you consider we have grasshoppers here of about 8 cm long, it really takes a bunch of tarantulas to keep those in check. A small scorpion found on a towel and a caterpillar dragging his protective housing with it.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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We've got at least 30 types of birds on the farm, from groups of parakeets to canaries and humming birds. All kinds of colors, from blue to red to yellow to black, etc. Higher up the mountain on the rocky edges we often see eagles and vultures regularly fly up from the river in the valley to see if something has died around here. Below a few pictures.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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A humming bird, a butterfly (obviously one of many types) and a type of wood beetle with enormous antennas to end this group of posts.
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Dave DeNard
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I was at Rene and Cris' farm for a little over a week. Its great! Theyre so nice and welcoming. My partner and I finished a few projects for them which we started. Hope that kitchen garden is bringing your mother much joy Cris!!! Rene is very knowledgeable with water management! Cris loves to work with the animals and garden!

Cheers Rene and Cris

-your new forever friends, Dave & Emily <3
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
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El Nino...

Our normal weather patterns are severely disrupted by this season's El Nino. Normally our dams should have been full by now, but this rainy season is very dry instead. We received some minor rain from half of September to half of November. Then it turned dry and hot. We keep our fingers crossed for hopefully some rain in March, which is the second wettest month of the year, but historical records for this area show it might as well not rain at all until September in a severe El Nino year.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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The good thing about this drought is that the permaculture approach does show encouraging results. Below a very clear and simple example. Both above and below several of our swales we planted bananas. Our main aim in doing that was to provide shade to the swales, which are planted with cacao and some other trees. Pictures below show the bananas above the swale (dry) and below the swale (much wetter). They were all planted at the same time, less than a year ago. Pictures were taken yesterday.
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Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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We also tested how to garden in this climate. The setup we chose was with shadow cloth to keep the intensity of the sun lower and with lots of bananas and papayas in rows to help further shade things out. We could have planted them a little further apart, because it did turn into quite a jungle quite fast. The dams we have were used to keep it irrigated, but they ran dry more than a month ago, so no watering was done for over a month. Turns out that our clay soil holds the water well and the shade helps prevents things from drying out. We're now digging out new swales and terraced beds to replicate this setup in another part of the farm. We think this setup will secure our gardens in future dry periods.
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garden without watering for over a month
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papayas in the test garden
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landscaping the new garden
 
Santiago Doglio
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Hi Rene!!!

I'm Santiago from Bogota. I't great to see all the things you are doing, we have a farm near Girardot, like an hour away form La Mesa, did my PDC recently and I starting to implement small stuff in the farm, I-ll be starting a post in permies soon.

I hope we can meet some day also with Sebastian from Medellín and start creating a nice permaculture comunity here. I have some friends that have a farm in Viota that is impresive and they have many species (Over 1500, They call it an ecological pathway) they have a small nursery and propagate different types of trees (Jack Fruit, Bread Fruit, Balu and others).

Any how, its great to see what others are doing in Colombia and watching the permaculture comunity grow!
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Santiago,

Great to hear from you! It for sure would be nice to meet you. Maybe one day when you're planning to go to Girardot using the road through La Mesa? If so you can PM me and you can come for a visit

Viota is also very close to here, we sure would like to visit there too, also to learn about more species than we currently know.

Let's get in touch!
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
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Rene, your farm looks great! I didn't know Colombia was such a 'green' country. The question I want to ask you: how is life in Colombia when you are not from there (your name seems Dutch to me)?
 
Rene Nijstad
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Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Thanks Inge, and we only just started

Life in Colombia is pretty good I think. Lots of space, very nice (friendly, polite) people. Way less rules and regulations than in NL (you're right, I'm indeed Dutch). I've been living here about 10 years now and I'm not coming back...
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
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Thanks for your reply Rene!
I asked this because I am trying to find out where it's good to start a small eco-village, together with some (Dutch, Curaçaoan and other) friends. We like a warmer climate than in NL. (and less regulations )
 
Rene Nijstad
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Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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We've been working on our design over the past months. We reevaluated everything we could think of, looked again at zoning and placement of elements, our goals for the next two years and our experiences so far. It also helped that we have now cleared the entire area of the farm that is most useful (semi flat, not too steep, located in the middle of the farm). With all the bushes and small tree jungles out of the way we now have a clear view on the landscape. A big thanks for the pigs that helped us a lot..

In the past 2 years every time I worked on the design it was in a way like: I want to place this element, where can it go? I never felt comfortable with the resulting designs. This time we flipped the process, we walked the land again asking ourselves which functions or elements the landscape was 'inviting'. One area declared itself kitchen garden zone 1 (north of house B in the pictures below). The areas where had pigs and chickens (we assumed they would stay there) declared themselves extended crop area (zone 2 in the picture below). A steeper part of it, next to the road volunteered to have the new chicken corral, conveniently located central in the extended crop area, so we could ask the chickens for cleanup and manure duty in the areas around them. Further away from the center the land said: you guys are almost never here, but the pigs could be... And you can still build their corrals right at the edge of your zone 2...

It pays off to be patient, to observe, the land will speak to you, with undeniable logic. It will dictate your roads and dams/ponds, suggest your swales, and land uses. It just takes time to get to know it.

For the first time we have a design now that fully makes sense to us. I'm happy to show it here.
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just the map
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overlay with the zones
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where the animals can go
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
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Rene Nijstad wrote:.... This time we flipped the process, we walked the land again asking ourselves which functions or elements the landscape was 'inviting'. ....
It pays off to be patient, to observe, the land will speak to you, with undeniable logic. It will dictate your roads and dams/ponds, suggest your swales, and land uses. It just takes time to get to know it.
For the first time we have a design now that fully makes sense to us. I'm happy to show it here.

Rene, you are right, that's the way it works best. On your large farm as well as in my small garden. In the hot climate as well as the moderate rainy climate. Anywhere: walk through it, sit and look at it, observe, more than once. Be patient. Then (maybe suddenly, maybe in a slow progress) you know: this will be ..... !
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
dog food preservation forest garden trees
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A small update... It seems El Nino has ended, the rains have started to come back since March and we are still getting showers every now and then. Not as intense as normal, but things are greening up again, our small dam is almost full and with a bit of luck it might start overflowing in the big dam soon.

Of the 26 pigs we had so far we decided to keep one of the gilts to start breeding. She got it "good and hard" from a boar of a neighbor 5 weeks ago and has not been back in heat, so fingers crossed she's indeed pregnant. A whole new experience...

We also got a new group of piglets to help us clear the next field. Of the three females we hope to keep another one or two, they're from the same breeder we got our now pregnant gilt from, he seems to have the best genetics we encountered so far (the piglets we got from 2 other breeders were not nearly as good).
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our big girl - 10 months old now - 135 kg
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5 new piglets
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nice cool rainy weather
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
dog food preservation forest garden trees
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Hi Permies,

We are happy and proud to announce our new blog at https://permaculturesj.wordpress.com

It's great to post about our work on Permies, which we will continue. On our own site we can show more things than we can here. We're writing this blog to tell our story, how we are trying to build up a Permaculture demonstration and education farm. We hope to inspire other people and we hope to make lots of new friends with other like minded people.

We hope you'll enjoy our work! We'd love your feedback, either here on Permies or on our new blog!

Thanks
Rene
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a screenshot of our new blog / site
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
dog food preservation forest garden trees
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This morning one of our articles got posted on the PRI site permaculturenews.org. It's a bit of a big deal for us, because we feel it's essential to build up a good reputation as well as that we hope our journey might inspire other people. Until now traffic to our own site has not been that high, but things like posting and writing on other sites helps to increase it. I checked the statistics page of our site early this morning and it's already our best day ever. And the day only just started!
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No prison can hold Chairface Chippendale. And on a totally different topic ... my stuff:
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