Tag Archives: permaculture

Property Planning with Permaculture Zones

Many permaculture enthusiasts choose to design their garden and property based on a zone system. The premise of this system is to layout your property in as efficiently as possible. Using this method to plan ahead can help ensure your property is easily accessible and productive. Even if you live on a tiny, already established property you can still utilize permaculture zones to help organize your garden or farm.

Typically there are 6 different zones with zone 0 being the home. While there is certainly variations based on personal needs and property characteristics often zones 1-5 go from outward from the house 1 being the closest and 5 being the farthest. Areas in a zone 1 require the most frequent care while zone 5 requires no maintenance.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is typically the closest to the home or areas you visit most frequently. For this reason features in zone 1 should be those that you use most frequently or need the most care. Good examples include small greenhouses or cold frames which house tender seedlings or have to be carefully monitored, culinary herb gardens, worm farms for processing kitchen scraps, etc.

In this example zone 1 is a small area around the southern side of the home containing a worm farm, small hoop house, and an herb and salad garden.

Zone 2

While it may not be accessed quite as frequently as zone 1, zone 2 is probably where you’ll grow the last majority of your food. Zone 2 areas typically include things like perennial plants, annual vegetable plantings, and food forests with a combination of plants, shrubs, and trees. Other items often located in a zone 2 include compost bins, chickens coops, beehives, ponds, and potting sheds.

In the example zone 2 has a food forest with smaller sized fruit trees, annual plants, and perrenials all intermingled. It also features a duck coop and small pond.

Zone 3

Zone 3 can still be productive agricultural land but needs less tending than zones 1 and 2. These areas may include livestock pastures, orchards of larger fruit and nut trees, and possibly large areas of staple crops.

In the example there’s and large fruit and nut orchard that partially extends around the southern side of the home to offer shade in the summer as well as a wheat field.

Zone 4

This area is a lightly managed piece of the property. It can be used for foraging, encouraging or growing woodland medicinals and mushrooms, harvesting timber or firewood, and even occasional grazing.

For this is example zone 4 is used to harvest wild mushrooms and firewood as well as cultivate a woodland medicinal herb patch.

Zone 5

This is your wilderness area. It’s typically left untouched and pristine for the benefit of wildlife, nature, and your enjoyment and recreation. For many zone 5 will be the farthest away from your home, a place to take relaxing walks but not necessarily visited as frequently as areas that require management. On the other hand some may choose to have a section of zone 5 extend right to their house to offer more frequent opportunities to observe and enjoy nature.

 

If you have a property of any size you can utilize some of the permaculture zones planning method. Breaking your property into sections can help ensure you create a space that’s productive, functional, beautiful, and good for wildlife.

 

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Planning a Fruit Tree Guild

For those who aren’t familiar a fruit tree guild is a permaculture method of planting a fruit tree in combination with other plants that will grow together to create a mini ecosystem around the tree. While there hasn’t been a lot of scientific study of tree guilds they do show a lot of potential. Research has shown that intercropping (planting more than one species together) can be a valuable tool for increasing yields and crop health. Plus, tree guilds, in stark contrast with monoculture orchards are space saving and great for wildlife.

Selecting Plants

The first step is to research the type of tree you’d like to start with. For an example I’ll be talking about a peach tree guild but you can use any type of tree whether it’s an existing tree on your property or one you’d like to plant this spring. The important part is that you do some research into the tree such as its growth pattern and mature size. Also consider what soil types it prefers, where you’ll be planting it, and if it’s prone to any disease or pest problems.

Based on your research you’ll select companion plants. Tree guilds are typically made up of six categories: suppressors, attractors, repellers, mulchers, accumulators, and fixers though there are variations and there’s no rule that you have to plant all of these or can’t plant more than one species from each category. If you see a need you can even make up your own category!

If you’re planting a particularly tall tree or working with a mature tree you can include perennial shrubs on your plant list. Just be careful with smaller, newer trees that they don’t compete for light.

Suppressors

These are plants that suppress weed growth through there own growth habits. Good examples include vining winter squash which shades out weeds, mint or buckwheat which outcompete weeds through rapid, thick growth, or strawberries, pennyroyal, or thyme whose vines form a thick mat of ground cover. For a peach tree guild I would choose strawberries partially because I enjoy eating them but also because they’re an excellent suppressor and their early flowers draw in pollinators.

Attractors

Mona’s Orange Cosmos

Attractors are plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insect to the tree. Examples include yarrow, buckwheat, butterfly weed, and mustards. Many other species can also be used but it’s important to find something that will work well for your chosen tree. For a peach tree guild I would choose to plant cosmos as they attract trichogramma wasps which are a helpful beneficial insect and a natural enemy of oriental fruit moths which can severely damage peach trees.

Repellers

These plants job is to repel unwanted pests from feeding on your fruit tree. Lemon grass, marigolds, lemon balm, and almost any allium like garlic, chives, or perennial onions are all commonly used to repel pests. Knowing your specific tree’s common pest issues will allow you to best select a variety. For the peach tree example I’d use garlic as there’s some evidence that planting garlic around peach trees helps repel peach tree borers.

Fixers

Red Clover

Fixers refers to plants that are nitrogen fixing meaning that they add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. Great examples of these plants include white clover, red clover, beans, alfalfa, lupine, and peas. For a peach tree guild I would choose red clover. It attracts pollinators, beneficial insects including trichogramma wasps, and makes a wonderful tea.

Mulchers

Probably the most commonly used mulcher plant in permaculture designs is comfrey. It’s hardy, perennial, easy to care for, and its leaves do in fact make excellent mulch. Hostas have the same benefits. You can also use annual cover crops like buckwheat that winter kill and provide good mulch. Buckwheat also has the added benefit of self seeding. For this example comfrey will be used because it doubles as an accumulator.

Accumulators

These are plants that “mine” nutrients from deep in the soil and bring the to the surface where other plants will be able to access them. Good examples include alfalfa, comfrey, borage, and chicory. For more ideas look at deep rooted perennial plants. For my peach tree guild I would opt for chicory as it offers medicinal benefits for both humans and livestock.

 

Once you’ve got all your plants you can begin planting. Obviously it’s easiest to start with the tree and work your way out. You should consider how much space it will need and shade it will create as it grows when selecting locations for other perennials.

Utilizing this permaculture method can help you make the most out of your orchard space by incorporating other edible, medicinal, or flowering crops into your design and keeping your trees healthy and productive. It can also make your space more habitable for beneficial wildlife like birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects which lose habitat when space between trees is mowed. Lastly it may even help reduce erosion when compared to traditional orchard set ups. What’s there to lose?

 

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11 Ways to Make Your Garden More Eco-Friendly This Year

Of course growing your own food is in itself environmentally friendly. Food from a backyard garden uses significantly less fossil fuels than produce from the grocery store. It’s not kept refrigerated for days or shipped halfway around the world.

Backyard gardens still have there own impact though. Through growing food humans are impacting the environment. It doesn’t have to be a bad impact though. You can make your garden a benefit for the environment and species around you.

Install a rain barrel.

If you live somewhere that they’re legal a rain barrel can be a great addition to your garden. You can use water that would otherwise run into the ground.

Grow a pollinator garden.

Pollinator’s numbers are dwindling. They’re losing habitat and being killed by pesticides. You can help make life a little easier on them and encourage them to pollinate your plants by planting a pollinator garden with our handy guide.

Make compost.

Composting is easy and not as smelly as you’d think. You also don’t have to purchase a fancy bin. You can do something simple like a bin made of pallets or even no bin at all. Mother Earth News has a great article on composting here.

Use natural garden amendments.

Even certified organic chemical fertilizers and amendments are far from perfect. Using them can lead to excessive nutrient run-off causing algae blooms in nearby creeks.  Natural fertilizers like compost, plant materials, and wood ash are better alternatives. Check out more options here.

Use grey water.

Grey water is water thats been used in your sink or shower. In some places it’s legal to route this water to your garden rather than your septic tank and use this water to water fruit trees and bushes.

Grow cover crops.

Cover crops add nutrients to the soil without the risk of over fertilizing. They also add habitat for beneficial insects and microbes and prevent soil erosion.

Make your garden water efficient.

There’s a variety of methods to do this including adding swales, berms, and terraces to hold water. It’s also good to use drip irrigation rather than overhead which can evaporate.

Go no-till.

Gardens don’t actually need to be tilled if they’re managed properly. No-till gardening is actually better for soil health and uses no fuel like running a rototiller would!

Add mulch.

I talk about mulch all the time but it’s super important. As far as keeping your garden as eco-friendly as possible, mulch helps to hold in moisture, lessening the need for watering and helps prevent soil erosion. It also adds habitat for beneficial insects.

 

Add habitats for pollinators and beneficial insects.

The addition of pollinator and beneficial insect habitats can be great for your garden and them. You can find a lot of free plans on the internet for houses for beneficial creatures like birds, bats, toads, and insects. Many birds also appreciate a variety of different height plants to land on in the garden while birds and beneficial insects will utilize plant material left standing through the winter.

Utilize permaculture principles.

An entire book would be needed to explain permaculture but many of its principles can be used to help design a garden that works with nature to produce harvests without the need for large water or nutrient inputs. If you want an eco-friendly garden researching permaculture can help get you there.

 

All of our actions impact the world around us. Backyard gardens minimize some of the negative impacts that are found in our current food system but as growers we can choose to take that a step further and make our gardens as eco-friendly as possible.