Permaculture zoning is all about analysing our patterns of human movement, and how we use our time. When we carry out an analysis of the inputs, outputs and characteristics or each element in a garden (or in another system), we can work out where to place them to make most efficient use of our time. But clever design is just one of the things we can do to save time that we can spend on taking other measures to boost sustainability.
Moving out from zone 0 (the home), features in a garden or on a homestead are placed according to how frequently we need to visit them. For example, polyculture vegetable beds/ annual kitchen gardens are more intensively managed than forest gardens or larger crop fields, and so it is best to cut down on ‘travel time’ by placing them closer to the centre of operations.
Common sense tells us that in a good design, an element that uses the output of another should be positioned as close as possible to it. For example, a composting system should be as close as possible to beds where the compost is used.
Permaculture design is often about achieving as much as possible over a given time period. But of course, our slow and small solutions often take time to implement. The goal is not to be speedy, but to save time and effort in the short run. It is not about how long something takes to do, but rather about how much time we expend in doing it.
Forest gardening and other permaculture systems evolve slowly over time. But once established, they can be low-maintenance systems that really don’t take up a huge amount of our time. Growing perennials rather than annuals in our gardens and working with natural systems and cycles rather than fighting them can allow us to create productive and beautiful gardens that, over time, require far less time and input from us.
The principles used in a permaculture garden can also help inform decision making in other areas of our lives. How can be cut ‘travel time’ and wasted time in other areas of our lives? How can we work with nature, and let nature do some of the work for us? Finding answers to these questions can be a key part of moving towards greater sustainability in our lives. It can help us free up time for the more important things.