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How Many Zones

Do You Have in Your Garden?

permaculture-zones{via lovelygreens.com}

You may have heard the term permaculture and wondered what it means and how it applies to you as a vegetable gardener. According to the Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture, it is defined as “an approach that encourages the home gardener to work with nature rather than against it to design a garden that thrives with minimal intervention.” In other words, growing more food with less work!

One of my favorite permaculture design techniques is the idea of zones. In the permaculture garden the zones closest to your house contain the elements that need the most frequent attention and the most care. As you move further away from the center you begin to layer in the garden features that require less work.

I encourage my clients to locate their vegetable garden as close to their house as possible. Right outside the back or front door is ideal. Having a garden in close proximity makes it easy to pop out after dinner for 15 minutes and pull weeds and harvest. When you interact with your garden on a daily basis (like walking through it on your way in and out of the house) you will find you are much motivated to spend time and energy on it. You notice when it needs to be weeded, or when the carrots are ready to be harvested, or that the bean seedlings need watering.

I have seen this in action in my own garden. I have a backyard garden that is steps away from my kitchen door. I can even see it out many of my windows. I take a lot of care in planting it in creative and colorful ways, adding lots of my favorite flowers, and keeping it weeded and mulched. I interact with it a lot, and when it is looking great it brings me such deep joy. I am invested in maintaining this garden because it is a part of my daily life.

On the other hand, I also have a community garden plot that is on land adjacent to my house. It’s only about a 3 minute walk from my back door, yet sometimes I find that days and weeks go by between visits. I know it sounds crazy, but it just feels so far. This garden functions more as a utilitarian garden for me. I plant things that need less attention (like garlic, onions, peppers) and I don’t bother with planting many flowers there. Because I don’t see it or interact with it on a daily basis I am not as invested in this garden. I just want it to be low maintenance and produce a lot of food. Without being aware of it I set up my gardens in zones because that’s what made intuitive sense to me. My backyard garden is in zone 1 and my community garden is in an outer zone (probably a little too far out for a vegetable garden).

Within my backyard, outside of the zone of my vegetable garden I have located my orchard and my raspberries. They both only produce for short amounts of time so I don’t need them as close to my house. My chickens are also in this zone since they don’t need me every day. My asparagus, which is also harvested for a short time each season, is over in my community garden plot.

If you are planning a new garden, try to locate it as close to your house as possible. If you have a community garden plot consider planting crops that need less constant care and harvest. If you are planning to add fruit trees, berry bushes or other less frequently harvested crops to your garden locate them in the outer edges of your yard or property. Save the areas closest to your house for things like herbs, flowers and crops that need to be harvested every few days (such as beans, peas, summer squash).

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