Permaculture is about designing systems to capture and store energy. It’s also about minimising personal energy use. So a permaculture design will involve setting out ‘zones of use’. Elements in the design, e.g. chicken houses, vegetable beds and fruit trees, are located in zones according to how much they are used, or how often they are visited. There are usually five zones. (The house, generally the main centre of activity, is Zone 0).
Zone 1 contains the elements that are visited most frequently, at least once a day. You visit the chicken house to collect eggs; you go to the herb garden to get some parsley; you stop by the vegetable garden to pick a few leaves of lettuce or silver beet for dinner (these are called ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables).
Zone 2 contains the elements less often visited. It might be the compost heap or worm farm or vegetables that you harvest every couple of days, like asparagus.
Zone 3 would be the orchard. Fruit trees and berry bushes. You visit less frequently, to pick fruit in season or do a bit of pruning.
Zone 4 might have a few grazing animals; a cow or goats for milk and meat. It might also contain a woodlot for firewood.
Zone 5 is the wilderness zone; the area you don’t manage extensively, if at all. You leave this zone largely alone. It’s for wildlife habitat; a place where you go to observe ‘untouched nature’; a place where you observe, but don’t interfere.
Large properties can accommodate all 5 zones. A small suburban block might be all Zone 1, with scattered fruit trees and maybe a small area of native vegetation for wildlife habitat (Zone 5), down in the back corner.
My own system, being a natural bush block, has Zone 5 on three sides of the house, and the soil there is very dry, relatively infertile, sand. Great for the plants that evolved there, but not so good for hungry vegetables.
Since I didn’t design the property along permaculture lines (not really knowing much about it when we moved in), the zone of intensive vegetables is halfway down the length of the property; put there simply because it had previously been cleared of vegetation and was receiving the most sunlight. So if I want a few lettuce leaves, or a few herbs, it’s a 40 metre walk and if I want a bit of parsley to garnish the potatoes for dinner and it’s raining, then the potatoes don’t get garnished. The only alternative is to try and remember to bring up to the house all I want before I finish work for the day, something my now failing memory…. well…. fails at.
So, I’m now trying to create a Zone 1 around and near the house, with a series of wicking tubs and boxes, containing nice, rich compost and worms for aeration, where I’ll plant cut-and-come-again vegetables and a few common herbs. When I want parsley for the potatoes, it’ll be just a few steps from the back door.
Zone 1 along the lower edge of the deck. There are 6 wicking boxes and 3 wicking tubs in this area.
Wicking tub with lettuces and a tomato