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Something that we’ve been learning about in the Permaculture Design Course that Joe and I have been taking is designing with zones and zonal placement.

Permaculture Designing with Zones

Zoning is about placement. The zones are numbered from 1 to 5 with 1 being the zone surrounding the house and zone 5 being the area (usually) furthest from the house.  The zones are usually thought of in circles but can be any shape. The zones are designated by use.  I drew you some lovely pictures to show how zones are put together.

Permaculture Designing with Zones

What’s in Each Zone

Zone 1- This is the zone nearest or surrounding the house (the house is sometimes referred to as Zone 0). This zone tends to be very heavy on structures (the house, green house, garage, tool shed, etc) and are the things that require the most upkeep and attention. In this zone would be the kitchen garden which needs daily maintenance/harvesting, herbs, small fruit trees (espadrille or dwarf style), greenhouse(s) and quiet animals like worms and rabbits.  One the edge of zone 1 leaning into zone 2 you could have poultry and dairy animals. Because animal housing is visited every day it does need to be near the house but not too close. Anyone with ducks knows they can raise a ruckus. Not something you want right out your bedroom window early in the morning (ask me  how I know this…).

Zone 2-  Perennial crops and annual crops are in this zone. You could also have food forest and/or a wood lot in this section and cut forage for feeding animals.

Zone 3 – Crazing pasture is found in this zone along with more food forest. There might also be additional food crops in here especially if growing on a commercial or mass storage scale.  An urban or suburban garden is not likely to have this zone.

Zone 4-  This zone is semi-wild. It requires very little human attention. Some form of farm forestry is in this zone; timber, grazing, bee forage, etc. An urban or suburban garden is not likely to have this zone.

Zone 5 – This is the wilderness or natural area.  Visited only occasionally. In an urban or suburban garden there might be a small strip or corner of zone 5 to give the feeling of ‘the wild’ or provide a use.

We’re putting quite a bit of thought into our zone design for our new property.  We’ve made lists of what we want to include in the zones. We’ll be concentrating on zones 1, 2 and 3 in the beginning but will do a few things in zones 4 and 5.

Here’s a screen shot of our property from Google earth. Our property is a 20 acre triangle bordered on one side by a private road. The other two sides are fenced (one side borders private property and the other is BLM).  The small shiny square next to the blue square is the shack we built last year. Shortly after we finished it Google earth must have taken a new picture because the first time we looked at our property on there the picture was from 2006.  The blue square represents the cabin we’re building (it’s not even close to scale but approximately where it will be) and the red square represents our future garage. We did start putting in a very basic driveway the last couple of visits up there so that’s on the picture too (again nothing to scale).  The area around our house, shack and garage is our Zone 1.

Permaculture Designing with Zones


Things on our List

Zone 1

  • House
  • Garage/shop/hay storage
  • Shack (already built)
  • Septic/leach field (this is not a ‘permaculture’ feature but is required by our county a better choice would be a dry toilet)
  • Kitchen & herb garden with dwarf trees and pond
  • Outdoor kitchen
  • Glass house (attached to main house for solar heat and winter gardens)
  • Garden shed
  • Rabbits (summer housing)
  • Quail
  • Root cellar
  • Wood shed
  • Dog run
  • Clothes line
  • Water feature/water fall
  • Pit gardens (utilizing rain barrel runoff/grey water)
  • Hugelkulture beds/double as windbreaks
  • Water harvesting

Edge of  Zone 1 & Zone 2

  • Dug out green house (growing plants, aquaponics, worms, winter housing for chickens & rabbits)
  • Duck house/pond
  • Milk barn/doe shed
  • Buck housing
  • Pit gardens
  • Perennial and main crops
  • Fruit and nut trees
  • Timber and forage trees
  • Bees
  • Pigeons
  • Pigs (outer edge of Zone 2)
  • Water harvesting

Zone 3

  • Rotational grazing for goats
  • Chicken and turkey tractors (seasonal)
  • Wind breaks
  • Swales and gabions for tree planting

Zone 4

  • Swales and gabions for tree planting
  • Animal grazing
  • Bee forage

Zone 5

  • Swales and gabions for tree planting
  • Possible pond on high ground (to utilize gravity)


It’s a rather ambitious plan. And certainly won’t happen overnight. This year (2014) we’ll be focusing on getting the cabin shell up (we’ve hired this out) and installing the county required septic (also likely hired out). We’ll also work on parts of the outdoor kitchen, the root cellar and a zone 5 swale.  We have a goal to move to the new property in July of 2015 so there will be several things that need to be completed prior to that which don’t really fit into the zone lists but will take time and money both of which are likely to be in short supply. 😉

Have you heard of permaculture and designing with zones? Do you use it?


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