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All About Zones

Zones are a design tool permaculturalists use to determine where elements are placed in a system according to the use of, access needs to and of, and also the time requirements of the energies available from on-site resources such as humans, animals, machines, waste and fuels. Zoning recognises the importance of energies entering or held within a system, and utilises these energies to maximum efficiency. This efficiency of function is one of the most significant and important elements of a permaculture system.

Zones enable elements to be placed to achieve:
a) minimum inputs
b) resource recycling
c) high yields
d) low maintenance
e) maximum functions

There are six recognisable distinct zones in a permaculture system:

Zone 0 ~ Zone 1 ~ Zone 2
Zone 3 ~ Zone 4 ~ Zone 5

These zones can be likened to a series of concentric circles determined by the number of visits to a particular element of guild of elements in a system in a given time period. The more frequent the need to attend to the element the closer it is placed to the centre. In reality the circles disappear, but the concept remains the same. Elements are placed not only according to how often the user needs the element, but also how often the element itself needs attention from the user.

The energy efficient practice of zoning can be applied to all areas of life, not just gardens, and within a particular guild of elements placement of individual elements follow the same pattern. As a principle of good design, zoning pervades all aspects of permaculture life. Thus, although six major garden zones can be identified, each area of life can contain its own pattern of similarly patterned zones.

Zone 0 has been alternatively described as the personal space (home or dwelling we live in), or personal head space (thinking). As the latter it includes both creative and cognitive thought. Most commonly, however, the former describes zone 0.

The major dwelling includes structures attached to the exterior of the house, and all of the interior. These are the areas people have most need to attend to each day, and the energy is drawn from on-site sources (people, animal) or captured or transported from other zones or off-site (water, power, light, etc). Good energy efficient design begins with how we structure and organise our abilities, time and resources and extends out from personal responsibility to the immediate area we live in. How we build our dwelling to serve our most basic human needs is determined in zone 0, with the things we use most often or needing the most attention close at hand.

Zone 1 looks after our immediate human needs, and is an area of continual observation, intense cultivation and management, and is frequently visited on a daily basis. This is where most of the food consumed in a day is obtained, as well as health giving medicinal herbs, and is a place of relaxation and enjoyment. Elements which need close observation and care are placed close to the home dwelling, often on paths of frequent use. Permaculture techniques such as composting, mulching, plant stacking and waste management and recycling occur intensively in zone 1.

This zone is designed to counteract the negative effects of energies entering the zone, and also to take advantage of any beneficial effects from these or other energies. This includes collection of resources to be used in both zones 1 and 0, such as water, power, mulch, compost, animal and plant products (not just only food!)

Zone 2 requires less attention and therefor less visits to. It still is an area of relatively intense cultivation, and supplies plant and animal yields to zones 0 and 1 on a daily basis. Ideally animal structures such as chicken yards and houses and animal pens (rabbits, guinea pigs) share a boundary with zone 1, as these animals and birds serve both zones. This zone includes spot mulched fruit and nut plant species, main crop beds, small ponds, hedge and trellis species, with small animals, fowl and water birds offering manure and pest control. Species selected for zone 2 are usually high yielding (perhaps grafted), and may require some attention to creating suitable micro-climates through the establishment of guilds, windbreaks or water supply/conservation techniques.

Zone 3 is far enough away from zone 0 to be visited only when needed to manage the systems in place there. These include green manure crops supporting fruit and nut species which are hardy and interplanted with leguminous species, and managed by animal grazing (for protein, fur, hair, leather products etc.) Larger water systems are usually located in this zone and serve many functions, especially when placed to suit sector planning. Often zone 3 is characterised by shelter belts or hedges which serve the plant and animal species there, and are also beneficial to zones 0, 1 and 2.

Zone 4 is managed for gathering of wild resources, fuel and timber needs, supporting low maintenance livestock, and requires minimal attention. Fodder trees and crops are grown to supply animal needs, and water is stored in dams, which may be piped to the other zones for use.

Zone 5 is an area of revegetated or natural wild life, encouraging the rehabilitation of the site to "wilderness". It is used as a "teacher", where the rules and patterns of nature can be observed and copied or adapted to garden systems, or as a place to relax and enjoy, and also for conservation or indigenous species seed bank purposes. Occasional foraging, such as seed collection and plant material for vegetative propagation can occur. Careful management of introduced or invasive pests (plants, animals, insects, humans) is required to ensure diversity and balance.

As stated above, these zones are not uniform patterns to be placed arbitrarily onto the land, but are usually "deformed" to fit the landscape and our use of it. A path (containing elements of and extended from zone 1) might form a loop through zone 2; or we might choose to leave "wedges" of zone 5 right up to zone 0.



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care for earth,
care for people,
return surplus,
reduce consumption

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Copyright © Beverley Paine 2002-14. Article from this website may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this entire notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained from the author in order to reprint this article in a published work or to offer it for sale in any form. Please visit Bungala Ridge Permaculture Gardens for more original content by Beverley Paine.