The Five Zones of Permaculture:
The best way to break down a permaculture ecosystem is into zones. Zones are a great way of boiling down the elements of our design based upon the frequency of human use and plant or animal needs. Elements which are attended to frequently are located closer to the dwelling and those that need limited contact or thrive in isolation are located further away. The zones are numbered from zero to five:
Zone 0 is where you start. This is your home, your dwelling. If an abode is not already in place, the first thing to consider is where you are going to build. This is usually a dwelling but it can also be a place where no one resides, like an office. To adequately serve as the core of our site interactions it should be easy to access and, of course, provide people with quality shelter.
Good organization is a must, both before constructing the dwelling, then both inside and outside of it afterward. Keep things clean and organized and consider selling any unwanted or unused items. Repurpose items or recycle them. By cutting down on our ‘things’, we can save space, energy, and time, and live in a clear, clutter-free environment.
The next questions you must answer are these: where will the sun rise and set? How does the sun move across the sky? In the summer the sun will be high in the sky; it is common to place a home lengthways (from east to west) to allow the eaves of the roof to shade the home from the heat. This will help to lower cooling costs. When the sun is low in the winter, the warmth entering through the walls and windows will help to offset your heating costs. (This orientation is region specific). You should also determine also which way the wind blows. A nice breeze through your home can replace the need for air conditioning and breathe life into your rooms. Imagine planting herbs and flowers beside your home and allowing the fragrant aroma to travel through in the summertime.
Next, plan the surrounding buildings. The question you should be asking at this stage is: can my home help? For example; a greenhouse is a great way to extend the growing season and your growing zone each year. Can you place the greenhouse against a house wall, cutting down on materials? Can it be placed against a wall that receives a lot of sun, which amplifies the effectiveness of the greenhouse? By being mindful of its location and using dwellings already in place, you can cut down on both costs and resources.
You should also be thinking about how you are going to collect rainwater. While water in most of the world is an inexpensive resource, we want to limit our waste and put the resources of the surrounding area to good use. We can lessen our consumption and have a backup for those times when water is short. This can be especially important if we do not have bodies of water to rely on.
Finally, how are we to achieve power? Modern day power generators can be expensive, but can also be a necessity. Before investigating generators or being connected to the grid, it is good practice to consider the ways in which you can lower your power requirements.
Simple solutions can be found all around us. Most electrical devices use power even when in stand-by mode. By turning them off every night, you can reduce some of your usage. You can even place them all on the same power strip so they can all be turned off in one go. You may even want to go as far as turning off breakers in your panel. One item might not make a big difference, but add the sum of all of these actions can prevent quite a bit of energy from being wasted.
A digital thermostat can also be your friend. Every degree counts towards energy conservation or energy consumption- saving money or wasting money. Do you need the heat on high during the night? Do you even notice the shift in temperature a degree change brings? Do you have the heat on when nobody is home? Can the thermostat be set to cool the house as you are arriving home on a summer’s day or before you wake in the morning? Are you maintaining your heating and cooling system? These are the questions you must ask yourself when trying to live in the most energy efficient manner possible. Even something as simple as remembering to clean and replace your air filters regularly can help increase air quality and save some power. One slight change, two slight changes, nine, ten; it soon adds up to money saved and waste decreased.
Now that you are thinking about conserving energy, it is time to think about how you are going to generate that energy. Solar, wind, and water energies are common and popular, though there are certainly many more ways of generating electricity. First, consider the natural resources most available to you. Whether or not you have a source of flowing water through your property, for example, will quickly and obviously dictate how much you can rely on waterpower. Water systems usually involve moving water spinning a generator. Volume and consistency are important in this system. No water = no water power. This is also true for solar power. Solar-powered systems create electricity from the light of the sun. The larger the system, the larger the electricity production. Powering a home will require installing solar panels and many batteries to store the energy. Do you live in an area which receives long periods of sunlight? Does anything block the light? Trees or clouds? If the answer is yes, you may not want to depend on this energy option either. The third option, wind, will require more study before you know if this will be a feasible option for you or not. The best way to begin this research is by contacting the local national weather service. They clarify the average wind speed in your area and you can use this information to determine whether you can generate electricity at that speed.
Inputs and outputs of various parts of your zones are critical. Examining these can help to aid your design and develop an ongoing feedback cycle. It will help you to focus in on the waste streams from each area, or pick out things that can be reused in a different zone. How can we cut down on the waste produced? Can we use less of the items which produce unusable waste? By diligently tracking these inputs and outputs, you can constantly make your dwelling more efficient.
The act of building a structure always requires some kind of interference with the environment. Since we must make this disturbance, it makes sense that the remainder of our interaction with the environment will decrease as the distance from the dwelling grows.
We have talked a lot about what you should be thinking about when designing you home. Allow me to put forward one more thought. Consider reducing the time you spend indoors. You have built this home so that you can interact with the local environment- so you can farm and grow. By putting yourself in proximity to living systems, you can begin to better understand them and gain confidence in interacting with them.
Zone 1 surrounds our dwelling; it is here where we will garden and farm. Zone 1 has a symbiotic link to the people and activities of zone 0. How long does it take to get from zone 0 to zone 1? It’s as easy as stepping outside your door. Imagine a herb garden outside your kitchen door; you have gained a basic insight into a regular permaculture pattern. It is incredibly important that the journey between zone 0 and 1 takes only mere seconds, for it is in zone 1 you will be spending most of your outdoor time. Measuring the time to reach it in seconds is indicative of how organized zone 1 must be; it is immediately apparent that this zone is a tightly managed, explicitly planned system that ensures maximum efficiency.
This is the zone where the ninth permaculture principle from our list comes into play: small and slow. It is here that we have the most opportunities to devote out time towards experiencing permaculture design. Experiment, trial, grow, fail, succeed, and repeat until you have the confidence to forage out into the landscape at large.
What should we be considering at this stage? Both water and soil are very important, considering them together is vital. The impact of soil and water on the landscape production cannot be stressed enough. They are the core ecological functions upon which all terrestrial beings depend.
Consider how the water from zone 0 interacts with the immediate landscape. Some of the things we need to think about are: Where does water run off the roof to? Is it directed? Does water stagnate anywhere (does this serve as a breeding ground for insects)? Does the existing infrastructure need repair? How can we slowly spread and distribute the water in a passive way? Water is crucial to any successful landscape; you must carefully analyze all of the features and paths of water by the dwelling. Downspouts and rain barrels can be your best friend when starting out. They are easily set up, easily reversible and give immediate results. Additionally, domestic wastewater is an ideal resource for our gardens.
After water, the next most important thing to consider is the soil. Without good soil, you will have a much more difficult time coaxing anything to grow from the land. Ask yourself: how is the health of the soil, and are there any steps can we take towards alleviating negative conditions? Is the soil in great health or should we reapply an organic layer to the soil’s surface (in the form of mulch or living plants?) If upon closer inspection you realize the soil is not ideal, ensure to identify the factors that caused it and determine what needs to be done to reverse it. Adding mulch to a garden can prove beneficial. Mulch will protect soil from the sun and integrated sand, gels, and organic matter will help to hold water. Household organic waste is a major source of mulch, and compost and can be combined with grazing animals to produce manure.
Now that you’ve perfected both the soil and water, you can now be confident that the possibilities are endless. The landscape is an empty canvas awaiting our brush stroke. We are gardeners, we are farmers, we are cultivators, we are growers, we are about to breathe life into this land. What should we be thinking about?
Some plants can run rampant and cover a great area of zone 1 very quickly. This can be great if we are encouraging animals to graze in this area (goats or pigs especially) or are using them for mulch. If they grow to be an issue, however, you can interplant fruit trees to discourage these fast-spreading plants. Don’t get rid of all of them, though! In moderation, these plants can attract bees and protect the soil they grow on.
Depending on the climate, you may be able to plant fruit or nut trees. Citrus, for instance, would be a prime example of a tree that would be well placed near the house. Leguminous trees help to filter phosphates back into the soil. However, you must now consider wind covers to protect these trees.
We should plan our gardens to be compact- a series of small, intensive gardens and vine and tree crop areas closely associated with water.
Example of a garden design:
The instant garden:
• Sprinkle manure and nutrients on the ground to encourage worms.
• Water well.
• Lay down thick wet newspaper and cardboard.
• Cover with layer of mulch (straw, compost, etc)
• Water again.
• Plant potted plants by digging through cardboard and paper layer.
• Plant seeds under or in the mulch layer.