There’s a variety of ways you can maximize the efficiency of your homestead, and one of them is through zoning.
Zoning is a design principle you’d most often hear of in permaculture circles. Permaculture, as the name implies, is a concept of managing resources in a long-term, ecologically sound and sustainable way. It is a holistic, interdisciplinary practice covering the fields of agriculture, environment, housing and construction, sociology and even economics.
Simply put, zoning in a homestead is designating the areas where you grow crops, raise livestock, store equipment and do repairs. It also includes placing the structures you use in the most strategic and convenient locations. It can provide you – and even your animals and equipment – the efficiency you need in your day-to-day operations.
Most homesteaders already have their work areas down pat. But if you’re thinking of re-designing your acreage, or developing a new section for additional animals or crops, or looking to acquire a new place altogether, this is the best time to think and rethink about zoning. Do the current sections work for you and your animals? Is the chicken coop too far out in the back of your property? There might be a lovely but underutilized pond outside your back door, when you could otherwise be turning it into a high-yield kitchen garden. Are you in need of a new toolshed, since the existing one had been converted into a goat barn?
In permaculture, zones are determined by the amount of use and care they require from a property’s owners. But because each family has resources and needs of their own, zoning would depend on what they do and prioritize around their own farms. But the general idea behind zoning is to make things work most efficiently for the owners, while causing least disruption to the surroundings. Efficiency and sustainability are keys to self-reliant living.
To plan the zones in your homestead, imagine a series of 5 circles spreading outwardly from your farmhouse – like a bullseye target — with your house in the middle. The lowest number would cover the places you most frequent, and the highest number would mark the ones you’re least likely to go. The “rings” don’t have to be perfectly circular, of course, and your house doesn’t have to be right in the center. Each property is shaped and laid out differently from the other.
Just remember, zones are just imaginary – you don’t have to build physical boundaries to separate each one from the other. And often, sections tend to overlap or blend into each other, for practical purposes.
Zone 0 is your home. It is where most of you and your family’s activities are centered – living, working, studying and relaxing. It includes the house, garage or shed, outdoor resting places for your pets, and a deck, patio or pergola where you might keep potted or creeping plants.
Within 20 feet of your home is the area where you can do some focused, intentional gardening which would need most of your attention. This may be your kitchen garden where you grow vegetables, salad greens, culinary herbs, soft fruits like strawberries and raspberries, dwarf fruit trees like lemons, and select perennials like asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb — any vegetable that your family might often consume. Keep it as close to your kitchen or back door as possible, so you’ll easily see if something needs harvesting or special care, and also for your convenience especially during inclement weather.
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Since you’ll be growing a lot of things in this zone, it’s the perfect site for a workhouse or potting shed, a greenhouse or cold frame, a propagation area and a worm/compost  bin. Zone 1 is also a likely place for wood storage, rainwater collection and for keeping small quiet animals like rabbits, quail or fish. The aim of Zone 1 is to keep your home self-sufficient by providing at least the most basic foods you need for daily survival.
If you want to maximize this area’s potential, consult permaculture designers or even just permaculture books which can suggest ways you can assemble herb “spirals,” gourd or squash trellises, vine fences, curved pathways, a small frog pond and other means to make it the most productive, dynamic and beautiful area it can be.
Although this section may need to be managed less, Zone 2 is usually an extension of Zone 1. This is where to station your chicken coop and run and keep a forage area for closely managed livestock like dairy goats and cows. Since you may need to see these animals daily for feeding, milking and egg collection, make this area easily accessible by keeping it along frequently used paths. Zone 2 is also the best spot for longer-cycle vegetables, fruit trees, some bee hives and a larger scale compost  pile.
This is where to grow larger crops, both for domestic and commercial purposes, and to maintain a broader pasture for animals like cows and sheep. This is the best place to situate a barn or stable, and plant hedges and windbreaks along the side. Attended weekly, it is an ideal area for hardier plants needing less attention — unpruned, unmulched natural orchards, oak and nut trees, the kind that are usually resistant to pests and disease.
Needing even less attention, Zone 4 is a semi-managed, semi-wild area for gathering firewood, timber and wild forage like mushrooms and small wildlife. It can be used for pasture, too – let your animals forage there occasionally to control new growth. It’s a good buffer zone to protect your property from the wilderness, any backroad or highway, or just the neighboring property.
This is a totally natural and un-managed area. Although considered wilderness, this is a place your family may want to visit occasionally for hiking, biking and all sorts of recreation. This is best left alone for nature to take its course, allowing the local flora and fauna to survive, rehabilitate itself and actually thrive.
For many urban and suburban properties where space is very limited, zoning is usually restricted to just Zones 0 and 1. Regardless, if you’re blessed to be living in a place that has its own yard — as opposed to an apartment or condominium building — then you have a Zone 1 to take care of. If designed and managed well, it could put you a step forward in your journey toward self-reliance. Put some serious thought into designing and caring for it now, and if you’re able to expand or even acquire a bigger property in the future, work your way toward developing further zones. Then you can look forward to many days of free food, better health and bigger savings.
Have you used zoning on your homestead? What tips and ideas would you add to this story? Leave your comments in the section below: