In Permaculture landscape design, zones describe an energy efficient master pattern for your site based on conserving the energy of its components people, machines, wastes and fuels.
Along with sector analysis, which is consideration of energies flowing through your site from outside, resource efficient design is achieved.
Such purposeful efficiency is essential to self sufficiency and sustainable living.
An appropriate placement pattern locates your components in efficient energetic relationship within prescribed zones with respect to frequency of use, access and time.
The more frequent the visits, the closer the component needs to be to your site’s main activity centre. The number of visits will depend on how often the component needs your attention, in addition to how often you need to visit it to access its yields.
Consider the hen house:
How many times would you visit it in a year? With daily egg collection and feeding, weekly watering, monthly manure collection, and occasional culling, annual visits could easily exceed 450.
By contrast, a fodder hedge might only be attended eight times a year to cut and throw over the fence for dry season livestock feed.
So where should each sit within your site plan?
The concept of Permaculture zones suggests sensible placement for all elements in your system.
While adaptation to your actual site is never quite so neat in reality, Permaculture zones can be thought of as a series of concentric circles radiating out from the site’s activity centre.
Zone Zero: The Home
Frequent daily visits – The innermost circle, or Zone 0, represents the focal point of activity in the system. In a small farm this is usually the home. It is the “hottest” area of human activity, symbolized in our diagram by the color red!
If we are going to achieve energy efficiencies it makes sense to place those elements of our system that must be visited the most often within Zone 0: the house, attached glasshouse or shadehouse, as well as house integrated living components such as pergola-trained vines, potted plants and companion animals.
Zone One: The Home Garden
Regular daily visits – Within 6 meters (20 feet) or so of the house, in Zone 1, should be placed those elements that require close observation, frequent visiting, high work input or continual complex techniques.
The aim of Zone 1 is to yield household self-sufficiency and climate control for the home. Zone 1 is also the first Zone that should be developed on your site:
Start at the back door and work out from there!
Once you have Zone 1 fenced and under control you will be providing much of your needs, as well as having established a pleasant living environment for yourself and your family.
And so, elements such as rainwater tanks, the lemon tree, other dwarf or espalier-grown multi-graft fruit trees, chicken laying boxes, small ponds, culinary herbs, worm farm for recycling of household wastes, intensive, fully mulched vegetable beds of quick growing annuals, seedling raising areas, and small, quiet domestic animals like fish, rabbits and pigeons can be kept very close at hand within the home garden.
Zone Two: The Home Orchard
Attended every few days – Zone 2 is a little less intensively managed. Suitable elements to place here are spot mulched home orchards, longer cycle vegetables, main crop beds (for trading), and forage ranges for closely managed livestock such as poultry and milking goats or cows. Since they are visited daily for milking, feeding and supervising, the livestock and poultry shelters of Zone 2 often adjoin Zone 1. This Zone may be extended along frequently used paths through more outlying zones.
Zone Three: The Farm
Attended weekly to monthly – Broader scale commercial crops, and animals raised for trade, along with natural trees, dams, windbreaks and barns belong. This area is managed with soil conditioning, green manure crops and manure from Zone 2.
Zone Four: Managed Forest
Attended infrequently – Hardy, self-care forests and woodlots that are visited infrequently for wood collection, log harvest and wild harvest belong in far flung corners of the property, and can act as buffers to protect Zone 5 wilderness areas. It may also be used occasionally to pasture animals.
Zone Five: Wilderness
Visited occasionally for recreation and appreciation – This is the component of the site left for nature. It comprises natural forest and native remnant and rehabilitated flora and fauna and can be linked to the home garden by a wildlife corridor extension.
The Zone concept can be applied equally well for the planning of neighborhoods, farming communities, schools and institutions; in fact, any human system.
Permaculture landscape design for sustainable living achieves resource and energy efficiency through such zone analysis to conserve internal energies, combined with a optimization of external energies using Sector Analysis.