Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.9 –

Zone and Sector Analysis in Permaculture

Design by the application of a master pattern

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Zone and sector analysis is a primary energy conserving placement pattern for the whole site. When we come to an actual site design, we must pay close attention to locating components relative to the two energy sources of the site:

First, energy available on site: the people, machines, wastes, and fuels of the family or society. For these, we establish ZONES of use, of access, and of time available.

Second, energy entering or flowing through the site: wind, water, sunlight and fire may enter the site.


To govern these energies we place intervening components in the SECTORS from which such energies arise, or can be expected to enter. We also define sectors for views, for wildlife, and for temperature (as air flow).To proceed to a discussion of the pattern in its parts:


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We can visualize zones as series or concentric circles, the innermost circle being the area we visit most frequently and which we manage most intensively. Zones of use are basic to conservation of energy and resources on site.

We do not have endless time or energy and the things we use most, or which need us often. must be close to hand. We plan our kitchens in this way and we can plan our living sites with equal benefit to suit our natural movements.

We should not pretend that any real site will neatly accept this essentially conceptual conformation of pattern, which will usually be modified by access, site characteristics such as slope and soils, local wind patterns, and the technical problems of, for example, constructing curved fences in societies where title boundaries, materials,  and even the education available is “straight”.

In zonation, the village or dwelling itself is Zone 0, or the origin from which we work.

The available energy in Zone 0 is human, animal, piped-in. or crated on site. Whatever the sources, these energies can be thought of as available or on-site energies.

In order to conserve them, and those other essential re-sources of work and time, we need to place components as follows:


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Zone 0 (the house or the village).


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In this zone belongs good house design, attached glasshouse or shade house, and the integration of living components as sod roof, vines, trellis, pot plants, roof gardens, and companion animals. In some climates, many of these structures are formed of the natural environment and will in time return to it (bamboo and rattan. wattle and daub, thatch, and earth-covered or sheltered structures).

Zone 1

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Those components needing continual observation, frequent visits, work input, complex techniques (fully-mulched and pruned gardens, chicken laying boxes, parsley and culinary herbs) should be placed very close to hand, or we waste a great deal of time and energy visiting them, within 6 m (20 feet) or so of a home, householders can produce most of the food necessary to existence, with some modest trade requirements.

In this home garden are the seedlings, young trees for outer zone placement, perhaps “mother plants” for cuttings, rare and delicate species, the small domestic and quiet animals such as fish, rabbits, pigeons, guinea pigs, and the culinary herbs used in food preparation.

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Rainwater catchment tanks are also placed here.

Techniques include complete mulching, intensive pruning of trees, annuals with fast replacement or crop, full land use, and nutrient recycling of household wastes.

In this zone, we arrange nature to serve our needs.

Zone 2

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This zone is less intensively managed with spot-mulched orchards, main crop beds and ranging domestic animals, whose shelters or sheds may nevertheless adjoin Zone I or, as in some cultures, be integrated with the house.

Structures such as terraces, small ponds, hedges, and trellis are placed in this zone. Where winter forces all people and animals indoors, joint accommodation units are the normality, but in milder climates, forage ranges for such domestic stock as milk cows, goats or poultry can be placed in Zone 2.

Home orchards are established here and less intensive pruning or care arranged. Water may be piped from Zone 3, or conserved by species selection.


Zone 3

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It is managed by green manuring, spreading manure from Zone 2, and soil conditioning. This area is the “farm” zone of commercial crop and animals for sale or barter.

It contains natural or little-pruned trees, broad scale farming systems, large water storages, soil absorption of water, feed-store or barns, and field shelters as hedgerow or windbreak.

Zone 4

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This zone is an area bordering on forest or wilderness, but still managed for wild gathering, forest and fuel needs of the household, pasture or range, and is planted to hardy, un-pruned, or volunteer trees.

Where water is stored, it may be as dams only, with piped input to other zones. Wind energy may be used to lift water to other areas, or other dependable technology used.

Zone 5

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We characterize this zone as the natural, unmanaged environment used for occasional foraging, recreation, or just let be.
This is where we learn the rules that we try to apply elsewhere.

Now, any one component can be placed in its right zone, at the best distance from our camp, house, or village.

As our very perfect “target” model does not fit on real sites, we need to deform it to fit the landscape and we can in fact bring “wedges” of a wilderness zone right to our front door: a corridor for wildlife, birds, and nature (Figure 3.7 ,3.8, 3.9).

Or we can extend a more regularly used zone along a frequently used path (even make a loop track to place its components on).

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Zoning (distance from center) is decided on two factors:

1. The number of times you need to visit the plant, animal or structure; and

2 . The number of times the plant, animal or structure needs you to visit it.

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For example, on a yearly basis, we might visit the poultry shed:

  • For eggs, 365 times;
  • For manure, 20 times;
  • For watering, 50 times;
  • For culling, 5 times; and
  • Other, 20 times.

Total = 460 visits; whereas one might visit an oak tree twice, only to collect acorns.

Thus the zones are “frequency” zones for visits, or “time” zones, however you like to define them.

The more visits needed, the closer the objects need to be.

As another example, you need a fresh lemon 60-100 times a year, but the tree needs you only 6-12 times a year, a total of 66 to 112 times.

For an apple tree, where gathering is less, the total may be 15 times visited.

Thus, the components or species space themselves in zones according to the number of visits we make to them annually.

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The Golden Rule is to develop the nearest area first, get it under control, and then expand the perimeter. A single perimeter will then enclose all your needs.

Too often, the novice selects a garden away from the house and neither reaps the plants efficiently, nor cares for them well enough.

Any soil, with effort and the compost from the recycling of wastes, will grow a good garden. so stay close to the home.


Let us think or our zones in a less ordered way, as was well described for Central Honduras:

Close to the house and frequently more or less surrounding it is a compact garden-orchard several hundred square feet in extent. No two or these are exactly alike. There are great plantations more or less grouped together. There are various fruit trees (nance. citrus. melias, a mango here and there, a thicket of coffee bushes in the shade of the larger trees). There are tapioca plants of one or two varieties, grown more or less in rows at the edge of the trees. Frequently there are patches of taro. These are the framework of the garden- orchards. Here and there in rows or patches are corn and beans. Climbing and scrambling over all are vines of various squashes and their relatives. The chayote (choko) grown for the squashes, as well as its big starchy root, the luffa gourd. Its skeleton used for dishrags and sponges. The cucurbits clamber over the eaves of the house and run along the ridgepole, climb high in the trees, or festoon the fence. Setting off the whole garden are flowers and various useful weeds (dahlias, gladioli, climbing roses, asparagus fern, cannas). Grain amaranth is a “sort of encouraged weed that sows itself”. (Edgar Anderson, 1976) See Figure

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Around the “dooryard gardens” described above, Anderson notes the fields (in Mexico) “dotted here and there with volunteer guavas and guamuchiele trees, whose fruit was carefully gathered. Were they orchards or pastures? What words are there in English to describe their groupings?‘”

Anderson is contrasting the strict, ordered, linear, segmented thinking of Europeans with the productive, more natural polyculture of the dry tropics.

The order he describes is a semi-natural order or plants, in their right relationship to each other, but not rigorously separated into various artificial groups.

More than that, the house and fence form essential trellis for the garden, so that it is no longer clear where orchards, field, house and garden have their boundaries, where annuals and perennials belong, or indeed where cultivation gives way to naturally-evolved systems.

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Monoculture man” (a pompous figure I often imagine to exist, sometimes fat and white like a consumer, sometimes stern and straight like a row-crop farmer) cannot abide this complexity in his garden or his life. His is the world of order and simplicity, and therefore chaos.

When thinking of placing components into zones, remember that intrinsic properties and species­ specific yields are available from a component whenever it is placed (all trees give shade), so that we don’t include these “intrinsics” in assessing function in design.



Place a component in relation to other components or functions, and for more efficient use of space or nutrient. Look for products that serve special needs not otherwise locally available.”

The amount of management we must always provide in a cultivated ecosystem is characterized by conscious placement, establishment, guidance, and control energies, akin to the adjustments we normally make to our environment as we traverse it on our daily tasks.