Zone Mapping and the 5 Integral Components of a Permaculture Homestead
The Permaculture-designed homestead is an amazing place to be. Even on a tiny piece of land, a permified homestead can produce an amazing variety of healthy, natural food, energy, and medicine. Imagine a normal day on a homestead that is designed using permaculture principles. You wake and step right out your backdoor to harvest herbs for your morning tea. Your morning chores include gathering eggs from the hen house, pulling a few vegetables, and possibly harvesting the ripe fruit of the week. Our breakfasts include eggs, coffee/tea, taro root (like a potato), vegetables, fruits, and sometimes even goat or pork sausage, all from our little homestead.
It Doesn’t Have To Be HUGE!
And, in fact, it shouldn’t be. It took us a long time to realize that most of our necessary homestead components can all fit within a ¼ acre parcel. Even on a 1/10 acre, you produce a lot of food. People are often tempted to spread out fast, using up all available land as soon as possible. That can be a recipe for trouble. Upkeep is hard, and knowing how much of each thing you will need only comes with experience.
Permaculture homestead design is assisted by the use of a Permaculture concept known as Zone Mapping. The idea is simple. Zone 1 is the area right around the house, which is visited most frequently. Zone 5 is the ‘wild’, where nature rules and we go as a visitor. One rule of thumb on how often each zone is frequented:
Zone 1 - Many times per day
Zone 2 - Once or twice per day
Zone 3 - Once or twice per week
Zone 4 - Once or twice per month
Zone 5 - Whenever you feel up for it
By having a zone map of our property, we can then think about the placement of the various components of our homestead. Things that need to be visited daily should probably be in Zone 1 or 2, while things that need less frequent care or interaction can be in Zone 3 or 4.
5 Critical Components of a Permaculture Homestead
Here, I have outlined the five most critical components to any Permaculture homestead, even a 1/10th acre one.
Vegetable & Herb Garden:
Even a tiny garden no more than 100 sq ft can produce an enormous amount of vegetables and herbs throughout most of the year, no matter where you live. One trick to the vegetable garden is knowing which varieties of vegetables thrive in your area, so saving seeds of the best producers is super important. Also, it is good to have a source of fertility right on your site (See #3 on this list), which makes composting the garden easy and consistent. Vegetable gardens should be located as close to the house as possible to ensure frequent visits, so placing them in Zone 1 or 2 is a must. Proximity to the house is much more important that selecting a site with good soil. You can amend soil around the house much easier than you can grow a good garden more than 500 steps from your front door.
Almost every region in the world can support some sort of forest. Having even just one small space on your land dedicated to local food producing forest species provides loads of benefits. Food forests not only include fruit trees, but also integrate fruiting shrubs and vines, edible herbs and ground covers, and even local edible mushrooms and fungi. The group of plants together mimic a forest, creating an understory of low growing plants and ground covers, with a canopy of short and tall trees, and vines. These systems can produce a diversity of fruit over much of the year, and are very low maintenance once they are established. Given their low maintenance needs, this is a great Zone 3 strategy, which can be visited once or a twice a week with great results. These food forests also provide refuge for birds, beneficial insects, and predators of garden pests. Plus, there is nothing better than strolling through the food forest and snacking hard.
If you’re down with animals, then hens are the best choice for your homestead. They just give so much. Fresh eggs, garden tillage, manure, and pest control. And they are lower maintenance than a cat or dog. Our Deep Bedding Composting Hen House provides a solution for hens who are not allowed to free range, but still produce loads of rich compost for your garden. Plus, if they can get outside at the right time they can clean your vegetable garden in between seasons. The compost that is mixed and turned in the deep bedding hen house becomes amazing fertilizer for the vegetable garden and the plants in the food forest. I like placing the hen house on an edge between Zones 2 and 3. This gives me access to the hens in Zone 2, which need care twice a day, but also gives the hens access to systems in Zone 3 such as the food forest.
This may seem like a funny thing to include on this list, but having a staple or calorie crop is incredibly empowering. Even if you don't have a large garden, potatoes and sweet potatoes can be grown in bags and pots. Jerusalem artichokes are also beautiful ornamentals that can be planted in flower beds. On our homestead, we grow loads of taro root in the bottoms of our swales. You may even try your hand at corn or wheat. Knowing that during the zombie apocalypse, you can survive off potatoes (or taro) with eggs and vegetables is a great feeling. Zone 3 is a great place to grow a calorie crop. Even in a small space, the back five rows of any garden can grow potatoes, and this space can be thought of as a small Zone 3, being visited only once or twice a week.
Without water, you can't grow anything. I believe that every homestead should have at least two separate and distinct sources of potable water and irrigation water. If you have city water, you may still chose to collect rainwater. In permaculture, they say that every important function should be performed by at least three different elements in the design. On our homestead, the important function of irrigation can be achieved through collected rain water, our spring, or the nearby river. This ensures that we always have water, even if one or two of the sources momentarily cut out. Beyond drinking water and irrigation, all homesteads benefit from wetlands or ponds. Even just a little pond that is lined with plastic can hold some fish, attract dragonflies, and grow edible plants like cattails and arrowroot. Water sources should be available in all zones 1-4. Ponds are great additions in any zone, but small ponds are great for Zone 1 while larger wetland areas are better left to Zones 3 and 4.
With these five pieces, any homestead can be transformed into a beautiful and productive landscape that supports a family and provides lots of useful outputs. Using permaculture design, these five elements can be integrated so that each one supports and is supported by the others. Considering the relative location of each system and using the Permaculture concept of Zone Mapping, a harmonious layout can be achieved that is both efficient and beautiful. If the vegetable garden is near the hen house, then compost can go to the garden and garden waste can go to the hens very easily. If the hen house opens into the food forest, then the trees can be weeded and get fertilized regularly. Permaculture Design encourages us to created integrated landscapes that function as a whole.
At Atitlan Organics, we have been working with these types of systems for over 9 years. Our Permaculture Design Certification Course covers all of these topics and more. We dive deep into lots of design methods including Zone Mapping, and we also get lots of hands on practical experience with vegetable gardening, food forest design, water systems, and more. Check out our courses and start your permaculture homestead today!