Thursday, 19 May 2011

Getting to Grips with Permaculture Zone 1

One of the key factors to think about when planning a permaculture garden is the way you zone up your space to make it easier to use. You set it up so that you've got a number of zones radiating out from your home, with the elements that make up each zone arranged according to how often you use them. I've been working on our 'zone 1' this week, looking at what we've got where and how the different elements work together. I've found this way of thinking really useful in helping me come up with ideas to make our space work better for us.

So firstly, just to give you a quick overview, in permaculture design, zone 1 is the space closest to home and so contains all the things you use most frequently - vegetable garden, herbs, outdoor eating space and so on. At the other end of the extreme, zone 5 is the outermost zone and is the wilderness zone - space set aside for nature and which you access very rarely. Inbetween are zone 2 (orchard, forest garden - lower maintenance perennials) zone 3 (not always included - farm scale systems - grazing animals, arable fields) and zone 4 (farmed forest for e.g. timber, coppice products and mushrooms).

Here at Oak House, our most productive and developed area so far is our zone 1. Before I tell you about the zone 1 analysis I've been doing, I'll give you a virtual tour!

Firstly, this area contains our flower garden, including edible flowers, such as borage - our young plants are just starting to bulk up now and will give us lovely, blue, tasty flowers to pretty up our salads later in the year. This photo is from last summer:

Borage is also great for bee forage, and so are a lot of our other flowers, such as the lupins in the photo below. In the background against the house in this shot, you can see our grapevines.

and we have other soft fruit in this zone too - black currants, raspberries, strawberries...

And yet to fruit - kiwis:

Zone 1 also contains our vegetable beds, the greenhouse, small composters, rainwater storage and our herbs. We've let some wild edibles self seed in this area too. Below is some hedge garlic ('jack by the hedge').

We've also been happy to welcome in some self seeded rosebay willowherb, who's dead winter stems are great for kindling on the fire, especially when they grow so close to the front door! You can see one of the old stems below with the broken end sticking through all the fresh growth that's come up this year.

But although all these things I've mentioned are certainly zone 1 elements in that they're used frequently, this area could be better designed to make it more user friendly. This is where my little zone 1 analysis has come in handy. I've basically listed out all my zone 1 elements plus their inputs and outputs and have looked to see how easily these input/output needs are being met and where improvements can be made.

For example, we have an outdoor eating area at the front of the house, which is used mainly in summer when we have lots of lovely salads growing in the veggie patch.

But the veggie patch is out on the other side of the house. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to reach over and pick fresh lettuce to stick in your sandwich? Or if you decide you've not got enough tomatoes, to be able to stretch your arm out to pick yourself a few more, still warm from the bush?

In permaculture speak - good permaculture design is all about making sure each element (table) has it's inputs (food) met by the system (our land) and that the work needed for that to happen is minimised (grow salad by table) meaning you have an abundant, almost self maintaining system (in this instance - easy grab food for lunch).

So I've set to work! I've placed my tomato pots against a wall on the edge of the patio, rather than in their usual spot out at the other end of the house.

And then... As you can see in that photo of our table, the patio it's in is surrounded by a big brick planter filled with flowers. What a wasted opportunity I'm now saying to myself! So in a couple of small areas, I've cleared back some of the surface gravel.

How I hate that gravel! So nice to have the excuse to get some of it out (another relic of previous owners).

Then I've cut out the plastic liner and have added some good organic compost. I've transplanted some self seeded Red Orache (mountain spinach). This tastes like spinach and grows quite ornamentally into tall spires, so it won't look out of place amongst all its neighbouring flowers. I've also sown lots of cut and come again lettuce.

Super fresh summer salads, here we come!

And finally, a few other thoughts I've had from thinking in terms of the inputs and outputs relating to our zone 1 elements are:

That I could be growing comfrey near to this patio area as we have lots of fruiting crops here at the front of the house - be good to have easily accessible nutritious mulch material for them.

I'm also considering getting another composter to go in this area as the closest one is out at the back of the house next to the veggie patches.

And I'm thinking about getting more rainwater storage for both sides of the house. After the drought this spring, I've decided that you can never have enough water storage!

Well I've found it very useful to do this element analysis. Has anyone else tried doing anything like this? Have you got any good set ups worked out that save you some work?

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting to read about a practical application of the permaculture principles. I love the idea of being able to easily grab tomatoes and salad leaves for lunch by merely walking a couple of steps - or even just reaching! Much food for thought.



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