Evaluation and site analysis 2: Zones

This article is part of Erkki’s Permaculture Diploma Portfolio. 

Previous article in PDA: Evaluation and site analysis 1: Sectors

In most cases you will see that zones come before sectors in permaculture design. I felt more comfortable doing it the other way round as sectors are purely observations and zones already include an element of design and they relate directly to what we are doing in our site rather than what natural forces are at play. Still describing zones in a site is in the first stage about observation of patterns we have adopted (however being all the time conscious of permaculture design principles) but it becomes design when – for one reason or the other – we decide to change the zones.

In this chapter I am analysing the Zones at Iso-orvokkiniitty as they manifest now in end of 2020 – early 2021. I call these ”Observed Zones” while I will present ”Designed Zones” later. The Iso-orvokkiniitty master design and sub-designs will affect the zoning.

Zones are a key component in permaculture design. In terms of describing the different zones from 0 to 5 the descriptions of different authors are very similar. Generally you go from zone 0 being your house to zone 5 being wilderness where you only observe.

In ”Permaculture, A Designers’ Manual” (1988) Bill Mollison describes zones saying (p. 49):

We can visualise zones as a series of concentric circles, the innermost circle being the area we visit most frequently and which we manage most intensively. Zones of use are basic to conservation of energy and resources on site.

David Holmgren in ”Permaculture, Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability” (2002) explains (p. 138-139):

Permaculture zones are more or less concentric areas of intensity of use, which describes the power and intensity of people working from the focal point (the dwelling). The closer to the center the more efficient and intensive is our use of the land; the further away we go, the more we must rely on self-maintaining elements that require little input from us, and generally yield less for us. ….

It is useful to think of each zone as characterised by a particular set of plants and animals, management strategies and structures.

According to Aranya in ”Permaculture Design, A step-by-step guide” (2012):

Zoning is all about how energy is being used on the site.

Looby Macnamara in ”People & Permaculture” (2012) defines additionally (p. 41):

Zone 00 is the self at the center.

She also defines (p. 42) ”Zones of People” where zone 0 is partners, spouses, children etc and zone 5 unknown people elsewhere globally.

A more detailed description of the zones needs to be adapted to the bioregional and cultural context and ultimately to the site itself.

In a country like Finland the intensity of interaction with surroundings is very different in different seasons, mainly spring-summer-autumn showing very different patterns than those in winter. For example Philipp Weiss in his Diploma work in Sweden used a different zone analysis for summer and winter (1).

I have adopted the following zones:

  • Zone 00: Me and myself
  • Zone 01: My spouse and other close ones (People zone 1)
  • Zone 0: Our House.
  • Zone 1: Intensive kitchen garden and greenhouse, places that are visited on a daily basis.
  • Zone 2: Garden of annual and perennial vegetables, mushroom cultivation, apiary; places visited on a daily to weekly basis.
  • Zone 3: Forest garden: edible bushes and trees and other perennials, , places visited on a weekly to monthly basis.
  • Zone 4: Managed area that is visited less than monthly. Extensive field or forest where main yield is fire wood.
  • Zone 5: Semi-wild area that is visited less than monthly and not utilised other than picking mushroom and berries.

In the first stage I have analysed the Zone purely based on how we are interacting with our surroundings so far. Much of those surroundings have been designed and constructed by ourselves. I have taken a series of aerial photos on 14th November 2020 with a ’Mavic 2 Pro’ drone and ’Map Pilot’ app flying a preplanned path at 150 metres. Marja stitched the photos together with VectorWorks. Unfortunately the drone ran out of power before finishing the mission so a section of the maps on the west side of the property is missing. However at the time I concluded it will suffice as practically all the area we are actively using is included. Our fields to the NW and SW are not included but we are leasing those for the time being.

Below you can see versions of the Zone-map.

In the first map you can see the whole area that we are currently managing. The red line is the property border (approximately). I will look at zones 0, 1 and 2 further below. I have marked as Zone 3 (green overlay) areas where we have planted trees and bushes on the field. Those need maintenance and eventually will be harvested. That includes

  1. wind shield towards the north
  2. trees and bushes along our road
  3. mainly hazelnuts planted along the ditch to SW
  4. Jugland etc and hazelnuts planted on the east side of the field bordering our forest and the our neighbours spruce windshield to SE
Wind shield plantings to the north (June 2019). On the left of the small ditch is our neighbours field (in organic farming). We have planted Alnus sp., Prunus spinosa, Acer sp. rowan, Corylus sp., sea buckthorn, black spruce, etc. The main activities are planting more trees and managing the grass.

Zone 4 includes most of the forest we own where the main yield is firewood and logs for mushroom cultivation. That includes also the forest on the South side of the field which looks like it has grown on an abandoned field maybe since 1970’s or 1980’s. We actually go there very seldom but it has good potential for firewood and mushroom logs.

The main tree species in the Zone 4 forest are Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, Betula pendula, Corylus avellana, Populus tremula, Alnus incana, Salix caprea, Quercus robur, Sorbus aucuparia.

Zone 5 includes the part of the forest which is north of the old natural hazelnut grove which is anyway too far for fetching firewood from there. Also a zone 5 bordering our neighbour to the SW as a courtesy to them. There is a separate 0,5 ha to the north of the leased field (not shown on this map) which is also included in Zone 5 as it is mostly wetland.

Zone 0 is obviously our house.

Zone 1 includes the immediate surrounding of the house including access to the greenhouse, the storage and earth cellar. A small kitchen and herbal garden is in front of the house.

Zone 2 includes the rest of the garden, the apiary, summer kitchen, sauna and the road and mushroom cultivation areas.

Even here there are small pieces of Zone 5 in order to preserve some wild patches close to the house and otherwise actively managed areas. On the north Zone 1 borders directly to Zone 4 forest.

Closest to the house I have drawn the Winter zone situation separately. This reflects the situation in approximately December to March when outside activity is quite limited and different from the growing season. Zone 1 shrinks to include the area immediately around and under the house. The daily activities include fetching firewood, using the dry toilet and managing the generator when there is no wind. Zone 2 (weekly activities) includes the sauna (every Saturday) and compost (empty the bokashi to outside compost every 2nd week). Otherwise outside activities in the winter relate to construction and reparing and in February-April forest work in Zone 4 (fire wood).

The garden (summer Zone 2) in January 2021.
The main activity in Zone 4 is felling trees for firewood. (April 2020) I am splitting the wood with ax in the forest and transporting the firewood out with a battery driven wheelbarrow.

This chapter was about observed Zones at Iso-orvokkiniitty reflecting the situation in 2020. Later the design will affect the zoning. So I will come back to zoning later in the process switching from Observing zones to Designing zones.

Next article in PDA: Evaluation and site analysis 3: Planning Areas

  • first published 2.2.2021
  • edit 13.2.2021

(1) Philipp Weiss (2015): Ansökan till Diplom i Permakulturdesign.

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