Rene Nijstad

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since Oct 04, 2015
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dog food preservation forest garden trees
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 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 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

Hi Daniel, thanks for asking!

We're OK, trying to hang in there. The earthworks we got right, they work like they should. We're slowly expanding on them.

All other things we're trying to get working turned out more difficult. It gave us a tremendous amount of new experiences and a hell of a lot of headaches as well. Things like extreme climate fluctuations, illness, trying to find a ballance for the amount of animals we can handle without constantly having to improvise... The list is endless. We've been trying to reevaluate our approach again over the past months. I think we're moving ahead, but it's a long road to travel!

When you're nearby send me a message, we'd love to show you around and share our stories!
Hi Greg,

We're in Colombia too, about 2 hours from Bogota. Warmer climate than you have.

I looked at the pictures you posted, both the collapsed structure as well as the new one. If I understand it correctly you want to build an earthen roof, so that implies a layer of soil on top of this structure, of how much? 10 cm, 20 cm of soil?

To be brutally honest, these pictures send chills down my spine. Just layer of only 10 cm of soil weighs down heavily on that construction. Now imagine being hit by one of our tropical storms that can pour down as much as 100mm per hour when extreme and the load rises quickly.

Wood is a strong material when it comes down to forces trying to pull it, but way less to forces compressing it. I do not think your vertical support beams can handle an earthen roof. Nor can your horizontal beams. The only thing I think they can handle is a metal roof, which is quite light weight.

I would strongly suggest you have an engineer calculating the forces the roof will have to handle and come up with minimum thickness of the beams supporting the roof.

I hope this will make you pause for a minute and rethink your construction.
7 months ago

Matt Coston wrote:

Rene Nijstad wrote:
- weather forecast are notoriously wrong from time to time, so if weather is so complicated to predict, how can we build models of our climate with any accuracy?

Weather and climate are not the same thing. I can predict with probably 99.95% accuracy that it will get cold in December where I live - this is climate. I can predict if it is going to rain on April 15th with probably a 10% accuracy - this is weather. Just because weather forecasts are notoriously wrong does not mean climate models are equally wrong.

I don't disagree with you at all. This is not what I meant. I wrote "models of our climate" and I've been involved in building and working with scientific modelling earlier in my life. Models are not reality, but they are mostly used to extrapolate historical data into the future. They're a helpful tool, because they allow for quantifying expectations, and with those you can for example develop policies to influence the predicted/expected outcomes.

Models come with two unavoidable problems: first is that you have to choose which variables to use. With every added variable the model gets increasingly complex. So most models limit variables but that also means they do not allow for real life complexity all that well. The second is that predictions can influence behavior, so the predictions ever becoming reality are quite difficult to asses.

Weather forecast is modeling, as is predictions on our changing climate. That's the connection I tried to make. It was part of my main point that climate is complex, so only looking at greenhouse gasses could possibly not be the best way. I don't know that with certainty, but I would like to reason that cutting down as much forests as we did might have a bigger influence, because it undermines nature's ability to balance our climate.
7 months ago
This is one of the most complicated topics of our age I think. I've seen this "documentary" about 4 years ago I believe. The reason for me to watch it was that I had difficulty understanding how climate change could be caused by only one factor: CO2, a gas that these days makes up only 0.04% of our atmosphere, and about 0.035% back then ( I think that  just presenting only this relatively tiny factor as 'absolute proof' for a theory that explains a huge phenomenon as our climate and how it changes is weird and incomplete.

So I went searching for explanations that included other factors. The activity of the sun comes to mind, because it obviously has a big influence on our weather and climate. So the sun has cycles, generally explained by the number of sunspots as an indication of the intensity and activity of our star. Looking there still not explained everything to me.

But I did figure out a couple of things:
- the sun explains most, if not all, of the energy involved in our climate.
- CO2 could be either an indicator of or the cause of climate change, but I was still impressed by clouds (water vapor, up to 20% of atmospheric conditions) which fluctuate with warming and cooling also and moderate both overheating and excessive cooling.
- I learned oceans are a big moderator of climate, so how did that fit in?
- weather forecast are notoriously wrong from time to time, so if weather is so complicated to predict, how can we build models of our climate with any accuracy?

I still could not get a clear picture. I did sense that our climate had become more erratic, temperatures were much higher where I live for years than what was normal before. Droughts would last longer. Storms were heavier. Climate clearly is changing.

Then I stumbled on another study. This one was looking at other undeniable factors that also influence climate, and these factors were all influenced by mankind. These all came down to how we modified our landscapes to huge extends. I published a review on it on permies:
If you'd rather have a summary, I wrote one for pur blog:

Climate is a complex issue. I'm not sure if the main focus on CO2 came from a desire to simplify the issue so people could understand what is happening, or if it is another example of our flawed sciences where everything gets broken down into smaller and smaller bits so we can finally isolate one issue that we can properly measure instead of looking at the whole of things. CO2 could be a symptom or a part of the explanation, but climate is too complex to explain it with only one tiny factor. Most climate change deniers get their 'fuel' from this simple awareness. But as always, you can deny reality, but not the consequences of reality, and climate change or climate emergency is clearly happening.

On our blog I have tried to go deeper into some factors.
Energy in nature (compared to how civilization uses energy):
Technology cannot save civilization (but nature can heal the earth):
What the heck is wrong with us? (Some thoughts on why we seem powerless, but we can actually be in control):

I hope this gives you some arguments to broaden the insight of your friend. Most things I wrote about are common Permaculture knowledge, nothing extreme or farfetched there.

7 months ago
Hi Frank (and anyone else who's gay as well),

We felt this need too, to get in touch with other gay men. It doesn't seem easy to find many. So we decided to start building a strong website around creating a gay eco community. The site is not finished yet, some pages need some more work, but it's coming together quite nicely.

You can visit us here:

Please be in touch, we'd love to hear what you think.

11 months ago
Hi Cayo,

I like your idea, we've been thinking along similar lines for some years now. I think it could be called reinventing civilization in a green way and it's really pretty similar to how a lot of tribes have lived in the past. Still judging the (lack of) responses to ideas like this I see everywhere where communities like this are suggested, or even have been put in place, I get the feeling we as a 'species' are not quite ready yet to move from liking the idea towards creating this reality. I think our main obstacle is lack of trust in other people. How many people would like to live just like how you describe, but they cannot imagine that it could become a reality. Still, more people start to formulate ideas like this and I hope this way of thinking will make a big leap forward soon!
We sort of, kinda, till, but only once: we're busy making terraces and we do it for a lot of different reasons. Erosion control and loosening our compacted clay soils, creating a flat surface to walk and work on, water control etc. The results are great, things grow faster and bigger, the difference with plants growing on slopes is huge. But after we're done digging all our zones one and two, which is about a hectare (2.5 acres) I never ever want to do it again! So we'll turn to every permaculture technique to make sure nature herself will maintain the improved situation by herself. Mulching, chop and drop, you name it. It's just too much work to till (or dig terraces) by hand.
1 year ago
I don't think permaculture is only about replacing petroleum with people, but with all of nature, if we can figure out how. Pigs clear fields, chickens eat bugs, cows mow grass, etc. They're all pretty predictable at these tasks. They just need to be put in the right spot and can then do a lot of work for us without people even being any further involved. I think that needs to be part of the thinking too...
I think a lot of permies can relate to how you feel. I think our main problem is to switch from the 'modern' human mindset all the way 'back' to natural function. When we started 3 years ago I believe we did everything 'wrong'. But we had to do it all wrong first to be able to learn. When after the first year we figured that we understood the basics, we got hit by 16 months of drought caused by the 2015/2016 El NiƱo. Where we could interfere in our climate through irrigation before, we were now left without any water to do so. So we had to learn more, gain more understanding while watching everything on our land coping with a severe lack of water. Lots of things did cope, lots of other plants and trees died. The only thing we could really do was investigate what circumstances increased or decreased chances of survival.

Right now, this rainy season is quite wet, to the extend that the fruits of the mangos and papayas on our farm are rotting on the trees. Elsewhere in Colombia many people died because of landslides and mudflows. We've got some serious bacterial infections and ended up having to add chlorine to our water supply to mitigate at least some of the dangers of everything being so wet in combination with the tropical temperatures. We're worried for our piglets, our dogs and our cat and hope they all have a better immune system than we have. But we also know the rains will stop again and drier times will return.

The thing for us permies is that we decided to go along with nature instead of again ending up in an epic battle that destroys too many living creatures and more and more of the interconnected ecosystems all around us. We're building our understanding of nature again, from the ground up, and at times it's incredibly difficult to keep on that path. So we try and err, we err and learn, we watch, we observe, we try to think along nature's path to figure out what she tries to tell us and then adapt to it. It works, but not without losses. Those losses however become fewer over time.

Your voles for example are only there because the circumstances allow them to be. They might even be doing things that favor the ecosystem around you, they could even be indicators that what you planted needs different circumstances to properly thrive.

One of the lessons I remind myself of often is what Geoff Lawton said in the online PDC we took with him. I'll put it here in my own words: Try not to hate anything. Everything has a function in an ecosystem, even if we cannot see it, or even when it's of no value to us, it still has a function. Whenever we fight anything we create a bigger workload for ourselves.

The better way is to figure out what functions this element is performing and then speed up that process if we can. Maybe you can figure out a way to make the voles more or less obsolete so their numbers will dwindle? Maybe you can ignore them and just plant different trees and crops that won't be affected too much? Maybe you can bring in different elements (by creating habitat) that will fight the voles for you? You mentioned some of these things already. So my main point is to simply say that these voles are there for a reason. If you can look at nature like that, your story of loss and existential angst might over time switch into a journey of deeper understanding and harmony with your land and all that lives on it.

I wish you wisdom and many years of interesting observations.
1 year ago
I have no idea about different varieties, but the soursop trees we have here have different leaves. We've got some big trees and a few baby trees so I took the camera and got a few pictures of the two seedlings we recently planted out. The seeds of this tree are black, flat and oval shaped, about a cm long and half a cm wide. They have a hard shill.
1 year ago