Permaculture and the home system … in a school garden?

This blogpost is part of a series about permaculture around my project for the Permaculture Women Guild design certificate. Today’s subject is about the different zones.

What are the permaculture zones?

The permaculture zones are a way to think the whole system and design it to be the most efficient. Each zone is defined by how often it is used.

For example if you store your Christmas decorations on your dining table, they might deprive you from some space at the table, they might brake at some point because someone pushed them to far next to the corner of the table… That’s is puting something you use once a year in a place you use many times a day… This is not well thought. But if I put my Christmas decoration in a « once a year usage » closet, I know where to find them and my kids shouldn’t be able to break them during the year…

If you take a home and it’s backyard, or a home and a larger piece of land, different zones can be defined, usually in a concentric way.
Zone 1 is the domestic zone. It includes inside the house, but also the space directly next to it. It is used all day long, many times a day.

Zone 2 is the home orchard zone. Places we go / use once a day in the garden. Plants that need daily maintenance grow there, Compost, animals are usually a part of this zone.

Zone 3 is the farm zone, where we work maybe once or twice a week. Here a low maintenance plants, for example fruit trees.

Zone 4 is the forage zone, a semi-wild zone, semi-maintained.

Zone 5 is the wilderness zone, a zone left undisturbed, where we can sometimes go observe how nature would do it.

Zone 6 is the great beyond, outside of our site.

These names are the ones from my class, but they can be a bit different, always reflecting the degree of use, maintenance, and human vs wild interactions. Put zone 1 in the center and draw concentric circles and you get the idea.

But if I take our preschool playgrond. It is basically 3 consecutive rectangles, not very well connected to the building.
The classroom would be the zone 1. Children play there, take naps and eat there. They play a lot… Easy to define. Currently this zone doesn’t extend outside of the building.

The first rectangle is the 1 year old classroom space (from 1 to 2). Nothing to climb on, a couple of push toys. Note that the 6months to 1 year old don’t have their specific space though they might mingle some time.

The second rectangle is the 2 to 4 year old classrooms (3 classrooms playing together), with a climbing structure.

These 2 rectangles are frequented daily when weather permit (plus a second time during afterschool hours) (are they zone 2?) but sometimes never during more than a week when the weather is rainy or very cold (are they zone 3?)

The 3rd rectangle is currently not fenced so not a part of the current playground. There are 5 trees on it and the lawn is regularly mowed underneath (would it be some kind of zone 4???).

Obviously there is no zone 5. But there are neighbors and the rest of the world next to the space.

If I should map the zones today, it wouldn’t be concentric, but more like layers when you go further from the building, in only one direction. The site has many concrete structure, pathway, a big shed, and of course is completely fenced (where the children play). And these are contraints on the design of the zones.

How the sectors influence the zones.

The design will also be different according to the people who use the zones, also according to the elements or sectors (aka sun, wind, neighbors, laws…).

I guess that the sector that would have the greatest influence is the « law », or the licensing rules. Very small children may not mingle with children 18month older than they are. This means that there must be 2 separate spaces for the 2 groups of age. So do we have two zones 1 and 2??? This is still something I am thinking about.
The other sector / element to take in consideration is the sun / shade. Some part of the playground currently is in full sun during the whole day. While this is an advantage when growing food, it is a constraint when 1 and 2 year-old play.

So how to think these zones while thinking of the 2 groups of age…
If i would like the kids to go out every single day of the year, they need something to take care of on a daily basis. That means there should be some plants growing for both group ages they would care for on a daily basis. Like a veggie patch, an herb garden. Next to them would be some sand box or digging hole so they can practice their digging capacities…

I am thinking « outloud » here. Would we make our own compost? Would we ask our children to gather food scraps? would this need to be in a zone out of the recess zone? Would there be a place to gather the material donations, like cardboard, compost, seedlings?
Could we harvest some rain without kids having « free » access to the barrel and be at risk of drawning (say the licensing rules)?
Is there any way we could include animals? Again the rule says explicitely no chicken nor duck. So what? Do you think the children would tolerate bee-attracting flowers???
For safety reasons, the playground is currently locked when the children are not in it… Could it be a way to open it to the public, without interfering with the children’s time and while preserving the safety (nobody want a lost needle on their playground…)

The concrete parts of the current playground will certainly guide the setting of the new zones. This is sure.

While writting this blogpost, I jotted down a first draft of what the space could become with the zones, some components, considering mostly 3 sectors (licensing regulation, concrete and sun).

And the idea came to keep the 2 first squares age-related (we would keep the playground which is considered safe for 2 and older), like a very big zone 2. And the third square, could be later on fenced, but could stay opened for the families to come. I could be some kind of zone 4-5, maybe including some zone 3… A place to connect the children and the church / neighborhood…
Connections would be through pathways for people (think wheel chair too for the pathways). The water system should be thought to fit the existing slope.

The zones in life.

This is the cool thing about permaculture. It’s that you can apply the principles and tools to nearly any part of life. I tried once with the different parts of my life. It was something like zone 1 the woman, zone 2 the wife and mother, zone 3 the professional.

Truth is that zone 1 is more the wife and mother and the woman is in zone 5. A wild place nearly unvisited…

If you don’t set your boundaries, someone will set them for you… There is a lot to think about the zones of someone’s life, how to design them, and how to set boundaries. And the moms reading this blogpost will probably aknowledge how hard it can be to take care of self before taking care of small children…

I won’t share here my next attempt to zone my life. But if you want to try, there is a course called Emotional Permaculture that you can find here:

I encourage you to take it, it was very interesting.

Someday I will add here the zone maps of the playground / garden… Come back sometimes!

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