Permaculture Zones

So, last time I mentioned “permaculture zone 4 / 5”, and I realised that for anyone who hasn’t studied permaculture, that’s probably quite confusing. Even with the link I included.

First off, you have to remember that permaculture is a set of design principles, not really a set of techniques. It’s almost more philosophical than practical, except that the philosophical part is taught via practical exercises. But because the fundamentals are philosophical and design concepts, each parctitioner must adapt them to their own context. Which is a long way of saying, there is no one true permaculture way.

There are, however, some ideas which are applicable ot every permaculture context. One of these is the ‘zones’ mentioned above. In short:

  • Zone 0 is the house or dwelling, the central point of the permaculture system.
  • Zone 1 is the area closest to home, which is easily accessed and where you put plants and animals that require frequent or intensive care. vegetable gardens are usually in zone 1, and if you hatch your own eggs then your brooder would definitely be in zone 1 where you can check on it every day.
  • Zone 2 is a bit further out and contains elements which require less time, attention, energy or care. Chickens are often in zone 2 (sometimes the chicken coop is on zone 1, and the run is in zone 2), and fruit trees might easily be in zone 2 as well.
  • Zone 3 is further out again. This is where you’d normally find more resiliant fruit trees (needing less care to keep them healthy) and nut trees, perennial herbs (rosemary, winter savoury) and hardy perennial vegetables (artichokes, sunchokes, sweet potato, ..). Zone 3 is also where you’d usually find dairy animals, although that depends on how many animals you have and how much space you have.
  • Zone 4 is further still, and usually contains crops (sweet potato, potato, grain, legumes, ..) and pasture for grazing animals, as well as silvopasture systems (trees planted in between crops or pasture) and forage trees (which you can cut branches or foliage from to feed to animals). This is also where you’d grow carbon crops for biodynamic composting (tall-stemmed grain or grasses, green manure), and you might grow some timber trees in this zone as well.
  • Zone 5 is at the outermost limit of the permaculture system, and consists effectively of unmanaged or semi-managed wilderness, requiring close to zero inputs or care from humans.

Gallifrey is not a large property, on the grand scale of things. We’re on 3.1 Ha (about 7.5 acres), of which slightly less than half is re-growth bush (Australian native woodland). We don’t truly have a zone 5, but we consider the woodland area to be our equivalent – zone 4/5 (it still requires some time & energy to manage, but very little). Zone 3 is the far end of the property, where we have the almonds and pistachios planted, and are trying to establish some pasture to put grazing animals onto in a few years. Zone 2 is the apple & pear orchard, and the yet-to-be-planted grapevines, while the stone fruit fall into Zone 1 (because of the time & effort to ensure we don’t get fruit fly). It’s all a bit timey-wimey, as our zones vary and fade into one another, but we find them useful.

A typical suburban back yard really only has a zone 1 and zone 2, maybe zone 3 if you count the verge, but if the concept is useful to you then you can absolutely use it. Plant a tiny patch of wilderness, and designate it as your zone 4, if that works for you. Separate the herb and vegetable garden (zone 1) from the fruit trees (zone 2), and add some flowers and a beehive at the bottom fo the garden as your zone 3. Even a very small space can have layers of utility, and placing things that need similar levels of care and attention together really does make it easier to manage the whole system.