Zones in Permaculture Design


The main objective in zoning a farm is to define the location of the functions and elements in order to optimize human logistic and resources distribution in the integration between Technical and biological Closed Loop.

Zone 0 is defined as the domestic center of the farm, Zone 5 as the wilderness center of the farm. The subsequent zones 1 to 4 inherit in different proportions the properties of zone 0 (human domestication) and zone 5 (biome autonomy).

The current representation on the left shows a bipolarity and differ from the 1 polarity circles you may find in usual documentation which shows an anthropomorphic view not so adequate with Permaculture philosophy.

The graphical representation of zones in circle is  theoretical and get reshaped by physical constraints like relief, existing infrastructure and vegetation, water flows, exterior influences (sectors), soil composition, the dimension of the elements included in the zones, etc. The objective is to optimize movements, resources (including fauna and flora) distribution and ecosystems interactions within the zones.

This picture below shows how a slope may influence the zoning of the farm; (See vocabulary ; Keypoint)


– In ecosystem design two concepts need to be considered; the system and its boundaries. If a zone represents a sub ecosystem the interface between 2 zones needs as well special attention and represents an ecosystem in its own.
– every design will tend to drive away the Permaculture functions in order to keep close to zone 0 only the functions or sub-functions which require frequent attention. This rule allow to minimize the need for movement.

Zone 0

Zone 0 is the human habitat. It includes usually the office, the living room, the bedrooms and the kitchen. In tropical countries the shower may be situated on the interface with Zone 1 or in Zone 1 to facilitate the integration with the garden and gray water recycling.

If the toilets are connected to a bio-digestor they can be located in Zone 0. In case of dry toilets with urine/feces separation they can be located in Zone 0 assuming that the ventilation will be adequately managed in order to avoid residues of smell. If there is no feces/urine separation then it is advisable to locate the dry toilets in zone 1 and install an urinal in the habitation in order to avoid unpleasant smells. These advises are based on a tropical context. In temperate climate the dry toilets can be located in zone 0 assuming large efforts made on the design in order to optimally manage ventilation.

In tropical countries the kitchen is often an open space with only one or two walls, allowing air circulation and heat evacuation.

Zone 0 interface with Zone 1

The kitchen has 2 particularities;

– it is an area of communication with zone 1 allowing resource exchanges in both directions (kitchen scraps for animals or composting system, vegetables harvesting, spices harvesting, gray water recycling, etc.). The kitchen can be considered the interface in charge of food transformation (both ways) between the house (Zone 0) and the garden (Zone 1)
– the kitchen is the most frequented space in zone 0, specially if food is served here.

For these reasons the kitchen is the space which needs the most attention during the design phase in order to integrate the large number of parameters related to the resources exchange optimization with zone 1 and the comfort of living.

Another element to locate at the frontier between zone 0 and zone 1 is the herb spiral. In absence of herb spiral spices can be grown in pot at the limit of the kitchen, specially plants like coriander, thyme, mint and lemon grass.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is the ecosystem visited everyday for collecting and recycling resources or for monitoring. It includes spices and herbal tea plants, vegetables used/cared all year around or very frequently for long periods, worm farm, shed and hardware storage, compost piles, green house or plant nursery, lemon tree in tropical countries, etc.

Zone 1 interface with Zone 2

If chicken monitoring is light. E.g. if chicken are able to enter the coop on their own using a system of ladder or if they are protected from predators by an efficient edge the chicken coop can be located in zone 2 assuming that eggs are collected every 2 or 3 days and the chicken manure once a week. An extension to the coop can be included in Zone 1 dedicated to growing chicks as well as a trap between Zone 1 and Zone 2 for giving food to the chicken.

Hybrid systems using Mandala and African Keyhole Garden can be used as an ecotone between zone 1 and zone 2 as defined in this picture;


If you decide to have a fish pond connected with a natural swimming pool then the rest area and the entrance of the swimming pool should be located in Zone 1 although the rest of the pool should be located in Zone 2.


Zone 2

Zone 2 gather plants and animals which need reduced maintenance (e.g. once a week). In this zone can be planted fruit trees which have more than one period of harvesting during the year or which have an elongated period of fruit production (Mangaba, banana trees, coconut trees, …) or edible part (sugar cane, Moringa, pigeon pea, …). Can be included in Zone 2 elements like ponds or water tanks.

Another criteria to consider is the shape of the trees present in this zone. Small trees will allow reduced light and root competition with annuals present in the same zone. You may as well consider the capability of the trees to handle frequent pruning/chopping for mulch harvesting and clearing for sun light availability. The absence of winter in tropical/subtropical latitudes allow more flexibility in this area since perennials can recover all year along after pruning.

Zone 2 interface with Zone 3

In the interface with zone 3 can be planted fruits vines which locations depend on the sun course, taking advantage of larger trees available in zone 3.

Another plant useful to locate at the border with zone 3 is large clumping bamboo. The clumping bamboo are not invasive and propagation can be controlled by harvesting the young shoots in the springtime. (Chinese used to walk barefoot on bamboo field to feel the new shoot arising from the soil). A giant bamboo located at the interface with zone 3 will produce large amounts of leaves on the floor located in zone 2 which can be harvested for dry toilets, compost piles or bedding for animals.

Zone 3 and 4

These 2 zones are dedicated to elements like timber trees, large wind breaks, large fruit trees, nut trees, certain plants like cassava, sweet potatoes, trees and plants used for handcrafting, etc. In these zones can be included pastures for large animals and plants producing large quantities of biomass (anapie, large bamboo). These zone can be used as well to store building material (making sure to be located at the up side of a slope).

Zone 5

Zone 5 plays as an important role as Zone 0, being the counterpart of the farm, where a natural ecosystem can develop without the necessity to feed humans. Here the ecosystem is entirely autonomous and self-sufficient.

The idea that Zone 5 should be left untouched is true only once Zone 5 has reach its climax. It is not true when it comes to ecosystem rehabilitation starting with a land which has been deforested and over used. In this case human can participate to fauna and flora species reintroduction to help succession to take place toward endemic vegetation. Human can as well help this succession by creating vegetation corridors between Zone 5 and the natural surroundings (e.g. primary forest or any other endemic types of vegetation)

In classical Permaculture documentation the bipolarity between zone 0 and zone 5 is often omitted, showing mainly a human centric perspective. This necessary bipolar vision provide with a reminder that an ecosystem possess an autonomy and gives tools to better consider the mechanisms at work in the natural interactions.

Western culture, starting in the 17th century, defines nature as exterior to human sphere, an object of study of secondary importance available for modification and transformation without limitation. It is called Naturalism.

Opposite to it is Amerindian culture where human communicate with the animals and the plants. We should not depreciate this behavior and may instead wonder if this communication is indeed physically effective in a certain extend, considering the complexity of exchanges between biological organisms (symbiosis, hormones, sound and vibrations, contact, chemical interactions, etc…).

However the important part in this dialogue is about ethical education. In this act of observation, understanding, respect and reduced intervention toward independent ecosystems human find a framework to educate himself. It could be associated to the healing psychoanalytical process of overcoming our oedipal wish to possess the parent of opposite sex. Two Oedipus equivalent factors play a role in the resolution of this infantilism;

– the realism of the “ego” who sees the necessity to protect a now vulnerable nature and refrain the “id” which desires only uncontrolled predation.
– the identification to nature as a biological model, a mirror to our own humanity.

In Amerindian culture a forest, a lake, a river are elements of the community and either respected or feared. If a company or a government intend to destroy an ecosystem to extract minerals or petrol the main resistance is not about dispossession and destruction of the conditions of life it is indignation against injury made against a member of the community. Digging into the foundations of such a vision of the world allows to question the notion of value and yield in Permaculture.

To summarize; Naturalism (Western vision) does not see any continuity between the different subjects of the ecosystem (human, animal, plants, abiotic elements) but a continuity only in the constituent (materials, atoms, structure) of the elements of the ecosystem.

All other cultures sees a continuity, an exchange, between the different subjects of an ecosystem and recognize the discontinuity as being represented by the different forms and functions, adaptations of the elements to the ecosystem. A fish is different than a mammal by its capability to stay and breath inside water. It is however identical to another organisms as it is a subject of the ecosystem in relation with all other organisms.

The first approach allowed human sphere to make rapid technological progress but cause the danger of ecosystem destruction. The second approach allows to develop a society and its complex relationships beyond the human sphere, integrating nature in its network.

Human should be able to handle both perspectives in Permaculture.

When walking in the different zones and observing an ecosystem phenomena we enunciate a first concern : can I cope with this natural mechanism or organism. If not directly useful to the farm; may I accept its presence on the different zones I have defined. What is the nature of its impact, what are its qualities ? Removing a species from a specific zone may represent a threat to the zone food web, biodiversity and resilience. A series of questions raise which get deeper and richer as we get familiar with our environment and overcome many preconceived ideas we may have.

Zone 5 is an important if not the main source of feedback on how our farm environment should be designed (or left alone) for higher yield (in a broad sense of the term).


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