The Permaculture Zones Within Your Living Space
How we approach the world around us is key to living resiliently.
Whether you live in the urban, sub-urban or rural environment, design matters.
Whether you want to grow some herbs on your windowsill, grow an edible backyard, or design an entire homestead or permaculture farm, making functional and integrated connections between the elements you are working is essential.
What is Permaculture?
The practice of permaculture is comprehensive and all-encompassing.
Permaculture is truly a way life for creating regenerative human habitats in harmony with nature through a whole-systems design approach. From food systems to energy systems to water systems to animal systems to human systems, permaculture is about the connection between all systems.
From inception, permaculture was viewed from the principle of zones. When land was observed and carefully studied, efficient energy planning was taken into consideration and a practice soon developed to learn and work from nature.
Permaculture also has a set of ethics and design principles that are applied throughout all areas of any establishment being designed.
Ethics of Permaculture
Experience and science has brought us in-depth knowledge of the inner-workings and functions of ecosystems, and permaculture is based on not only applying this knowledge, but continuing to experiment and always be learning from nature.
The ethics of permaculture are:
- Care of Earth.
- Care of people.
- Return of surplus to earth and people.
Permaculture at the core is concerned not only with sustainability, but regeneration. The harmony of the relationships between human beings, plants, soils, animals, and the Earth itself, forever remains the main objective.
Simply, if our input (how we live) affects life, then we are being unethical and we need to reassess our methods of approach and learn how to restore the balance and work with nature.
An ethical practice supports life. An unethical practice destroys life.
In addition, any living system has very specific requirements, and the balance within the system must be maintained. If an element within a system is impaired then all the life within that system is also affected.
As you read through the zones section below, you will notice the inner zones have more human intervention. This human influence can at times cause imbalance to the system, however, it is temporary and the energy within the system is never depleted.
The Zone Perspective
Zones are somewhat of an abstract concept which simply allows the management of energy use.
At the basis, zones are categorized by numbers. The lowest number indicates the most frequent use (zone 0 and 1), and the highest number is less frequented (zone 4 and 5). In other words, zones start from the center, at the hub of activity (most activity) and extend outwards to the areas with less activity.
Sound reasoning indicates, what is used most often is placed closest to the house.
For example, placing a vegetable or herb garden, which you would visit daily is best placed nearest to the house. Whereas what requires the least amount of attention and care, or areas visited only a few times a year, are placed at the farthest location.
As such, zone planning can be approached and defined by use and service. So two questions that you can ask to help identify where something may be best placed are:
- What is used most often?
- What needs the most service?
At the same time, another important factor needs to be taken into consideration.
The zones are actually defined through careful observation of the land, planning, and requirements by the homesteader. So there are no definitive boundaries or delineations with symmetrical designs when determining zones (no hard lines), nature simply does not work this way. Your own personal use of an area does not need to fit into a space contained within a perfect circle or square. Zones can even blend into each other or be bubbles in different locations throughout the landscape.
The land, your functions, and your needs, are all based on what you have to work with in your location and living space. Also it is important to remember that no design can take place without walking the property and making careful observations.
The starting point in permaculture is your home. Much planning obviously is integrated into this design. House design, material used, water access and use, traditional or alternative energy use and management, windows, doors, are just some of the considerations.
This zone also takes into account all other attached structures, such as greenhouse and storage facility, porch, patio. Every little detail is looked at, and carefully selected. Your starting point also determines how you project into the other zones.
Now we enter into the zone which sees the most traffic outside of your home, and also
undergoes the most management. Since the area is in constant use, the zone is established closest to the home for ease of access.
Another approach which helps to understand this is, if you walk into this area daily then it is considered zone 1. The area includes; kitchen and herb garden, fruit trees, detached greenhouses and storage facilities, cold frames, daily composting bins, water collecting systems, firewood or fuel for the home, pens for small animals such as rabbits. In some cases, the zone or parts thereof is fenced to protect the gardens.
An important factor to remember, in urban settings the entire yard can be considered zone 1.
This zone is still visited quite frequently and extends farther from the home, but also includes
the elements which require a lot of attention.
Part of this design includes: vegetables which require less care (one time harvest) and also being either annuals or perennial, fruit trees, small ponds, larger composting systems, domesticated animals, such as chickens and bee hives.
Included in this space are: main crops for farmland and rearing patches for larger livestock,
orchards and larger trees, nut trees, larger ponds and dams for water storage, barns, windbreaks for the inner zones, and other elements which only see use a few times a year.
This area is considered partly wild but still undergoes some management. Any area which
requires a wide space for the grazing of large domestic animals is included.
Also, this zone is where firewood or timber is harvested. Included are also sections for wild harvesting. Some thinning of the forest is included in this section to allow certain varieties to thrive.
This area is considered permanently wild and part of the natural ecosystem. Much can be
learned from this area through observation and nature’s own designs and methods of sustainability. No intervention is conducted in this section.
A most interesting concept was later developed in which a new zone was introduced. This
zone is YOU. Your body, mind, heart, and soul. There is no point in trying to regenerate and manage land if you do not consider your own health, resiliency, and energy first.
How can anyone take care of entire systems of growth, if we have not taken care of ourselves first?
Awareness of The Connection
The realization of what permaculture brings to our awareness is we are not “apart” from our
environment, instead we are “a part” of everything within any environment.
From this vantage point, we also become aware that every step we walk, every project or endeavour we begin and every living space we called home, has an impact on our environment.
Through knowledge and the power of observation of nature, we can learn how a natural ecosystem already functions and in turn become an integral part of designing and restoring degraded landscapes into optimum health. The beauty in this is regeneration of depleted areas can occur much faster through functional human intervention which aims to respect what the land is telling us.
Just like the system had evolved before we arrived in the area, soil knows how to regenerate itself when it is given the resources to do so, and plants growing in healthy soil already have everything they need.
In the case of depleted soils due to heavy farming or uses of chemicals, soil can become dead where the microorganisms are practically non-existent. Having to resort to synthetic forms of control is simply an error in understanding how the various links within the web of life is affected by our intervention.
Through our levels of awareness, we know that we are not more intelligent than the life forms we aim to control. We are just a part of the system. We can bring creativity, answers and solutions. But we are not the overseer.
It is so powerful to know that we can create resilient and regenerative ecosystem for now and the future by focusing on soil first and applying permaculture principles and ethics to any situation, working with nature.
Want to learn how to design your own backyard edible garden for your children and family?
Click on the image below to learn more!
Breanne Gibson, MSc., DHN, ROHP, RNCP
As a leading holistic wellness expert and permaculture practitioner, Breanne helps resilient-driven leaders, entrepreneurs, and change-makers optimize their health through living foods nutrition, regenerative lifestyle strategies, and edible landscape design aligned with nature, so they can live their best life. Read her inspiring story, “From Peachland Queen to military officer to a worldwide permaculture exploration” that lead her to where she is today.