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What are Permaculture Zones?

Image by Felix Müller under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

What are The Zones In A Permaculture Layout?

Permaculture zones are the various grow zones in your permaculture set-up.
We divide a permaculture plot into distinct but overlapping growing zones. Why do we do this? Well, the first reason is that the zones relate to just how regularly we need to go to the various locations. It also depends on how much attention the plants and trees require. If they need minimal effort, you may be able to grow them further away from the central hub – whether it’s a home, or perhaps a cafe or educational facility.
Permaculture zones conserve a great deal of our energy and time. They do this by minimizing how much going to and fro we have to do. Permaculture design takes into account all types of energy usage, including our own!  There are 5 zones ( see the diagram above) and relate to roughly concentric circles around the central area but of course the shape of the zones is not always circular and depends on a wide variety of factors. The shape can take many forms.

What are Permaculture Zones –  Zone One 

Zone 1 is the most visible area in our plot and is  typically close to the central hub. Normally, it consists of a “Kitchen Garden” and provides food for daily consumption, like herbs and green vegetable, for example. The main idea is not proximity but accessibility.  Every little thing that requires a great deal of tending to needs to be in this zone. So anything that needs daily watering, for example, and also things that we intend to use in the set-up on a regular basis. Our composting and vermiculture will most likely be in this zone, as well as the chicken coop.

Chickens and Zone 1

Because we need to feed the chickens, ducks, geese and so on daily, they need to be in zone 1. We can also then collect the eggs easily. We can also feed them kitchen scraps, use the chickens both to provide nutrients to the plants (through their poop) and also to de-bug the kitchen garden. (By allowing them to feed on insects in this area from time to time.) We might consider building a chicken tractor.  This way we can move the chickens around the area, while also protecting them from predators.

What are Permaculture Zones – Zone 1 and Hectic Lifestyles

It is a complete fallacy that we can’t have a permaculture garden if we have a busy lifestyle – be it a taxing corporate job, juggling kids and work, or any other kind of commitments. In fact if we use permaculture zoning in a garden, we make life easier for ourselves. We position the most needed plants close to the kitchen door. So, if we are making dinner for the family or having a dinner party for friends, we can nip outside the backdoor and get what we need. Much quicker than getting in our cars and going to the supermarket and much better for our health and for the environment.

Things like parsley, basil,and chives should be just outside the entrance. Tomatoes and other staples too. And we shouldn’t forget the pollinator friendly plants too like lavender and ivy. This outdated idea that the veg plot is ugly and we should hide it away is well… exactly that… outdated. Wildlife gardens and veggie plots can also be beautiful. WE can be creative! Have you seen herb spirals?  There are plenty of wonderful examples of using amazing patterns to actually increase your yield. Beauty and function!

What are Permaculture Zones – Zone 2

Zone 2 in a permaculture layout likewise requires a great deal of focus, yet much less compared to zone 1. It includes our smaller sized fruit trees, bushes as well as trellised fruits, shrubs , bushes, fish ponds and water features. Completely irrigated, it could include a rain garden, for example. And most oftentimes we mulch the area also. Although this are requires our attention, it may not need daily attention.  Permaculture zone 2 likewise includes durable seasonal herbs that we perhaps do not make use of every day. There are also herbs that re-seed themselves every year without us doing anything.
In addition, veggies that take a long period of time to grow belong right in this zone. For instance, broccoli, potatoes, corn, cauliflower,as well as onions. And things may change. For example, we may have one crop dominating in zone 1 and need to move it out to zone to to stop it strangling other species. Vines perhaps and other creeping plants that can kill others and that need space to grow.

What are Permaculture Zones – Zone  3

We occasionally visit zone 3 and it may include the bigger fruit and nut trees and other medicinal plants, for example. If we have grazing animals, like goats and sheep, we may keep them here. (And stop them from eating up your kitchen garden too!) Seasonal crops may also reside here – things like wheat and other grains (amaranth, spelt etc.).  The zone  does not usually exist in smaller plots and in urban areas. It is basically farming land or orchards and where we keep livestock. It requires much less maintenance and attention.

Water Storage in Zone 3

Zone 3 may have water storage facilities – especially if we have animals. There may be swales and other methods used to ensure we can water the area if needed and keep the animals watered also. Imagine if we have to get a hose from Zone 0 all the way to zone 3 or further. It just is a waste of time and resource if we can easily store rainwater and maintain groundwater on site in this zone. As we often have trees in this area, they naturally absorb water and keep the water in the ground. We can additionally provide nutrition to the trees in this area by providing living mulch around the trees.

Living Mulch in Zone 3 

Living mulch is green cover that we often provide in tree areas. In actual fact, most living mulch is considered to be weeds like clover or plaintain. It often retains moisture in the soil by absorbing the sun’s rays and keeping the soil below damp. They are almost always nitrogen fixers also and of course improves the nutrition for the trees and surrounding plants. Many of these living mulches are great for pollinators too. We have to remember that every element in our permaculture set-up must have multiple stacking functions, and living mulch is no exception.

What are Permaculture Zones – Zone 4

We only partially manage zone 4. It is not completely wild, as is zone 5, but we grow wild fruits and vegetable here as well as trees for timber if we so wish. As all zones overlap, the grazing animals will often move into this area if we have them. Part-wild, the animals typically manage the area by grazing and therefore controlling regrowth,  as well as having impact on what seedlings germinate and so on.

Semi-Wild Food Forest? 

Here might be a perfect place for a wild food forest and to grow wild edible plants . The domestic plants that we grow in zones 1 and 2 could not thrive here, but other wild varieties – wild strawberries, mushrooms, sorrel, dandelions and raspberries to name but a few. If you are thinking of growing a food forest in a cold climate, here is a link to a wide selection of edibles that you can grow there.  Alternatively, if you live in the tropics, for example, this is an extremely handy resource for selecting wild edibles in tropical rainforest. 

What are Permaculture Zones – Zone 5

Zone 5 is completely wild and unmanaged. We let nature do its thing. Although many people think this inappropriate in smaller plots, there are many reasons why we should always include a small zone 5 on every property. Zone 5 attracts wildlife, which will encourage diversity and which will not only be good for the creatures, but will also be good for our garden.  As a completely wild natural ecosystem it is free of our control. It is a good place to observe and learn from nature also. Nature is, after all, our greatest teacher. It can be a place to just be – maybe a place to meditate. We may want your zone 5 actually close to your property – so that you can simply sit and enjoy nature.

How wonderful is that? 

 

 

 

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