24 February 2014

Permaculture inside the home - 1

Permaculture is a design system started in Australia, originally for permanent agriculture and homesteads, but now the principles have spread world-wide and the design system is much more far reaching. Last year I wrote about how the permaculture could be applied inside the home as well as in the garden. I got a reminder recently that this subject might be an interesting one to write about again and hopefully by doing so I can encourage you to look to permaculture principles to examine your home life closely.

I am not a trained permaculturalist. I read the books by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the 80s, then, shortly before we came to live here in the mid-1990s, Linda Woodrow's superb book The Permaculture Home Garden was published. Linda's book showed me the possibilities lurking in backyards and even before we arrived here I'd decided to continue vegetable gardening, install a water tank and buy more chickens when we settled in. We don't follow the traditional design elements of permaculture, we prefer a more organised garden. It was enough for us to garden organically, but I never forgot the excitement I felt when, after reading Linda's book, I realised that a vegetable garden wasn't just a garden. It was a gateway into another kind of life.

This is going to be a good year for passionfruits.

The principles of permaculture are applied to working zones, generally in the garden and outdoor areas of a home, but they can also work well inside. Some folk get stuck when they stop spending and start working towards a simpler life and they don't know what they should or could be doing. I'm not saying that permaculture has all the answers but it will give you guidelines to apply to your home, it will encourage you to think deeply about the work you do there and maybe that will be the key that opens it all up for you.

Martha, Jezebel, Tammy and Annabell.
Tricia and Kathleen who always look important, busy and slightly surprised.

Maybe as you work through the zones and customise your home using them, you'll organise your work spaces in a more logical manner and discover ideas you never thought about before. Basically the house is Zone 0 and the work zones are the lower numbers. The further away you go from those zones, the less time you spend there and the less work is done there. I have listed my zones below. My list goes from Zone 0, which is the house itself, and works out from zone 1 through to zone 5; I added zone 6, which is my community. Go through the list, think about your home if it could work for you and then define for yourself what your zones are. 

Permaculture zones in our home and possibly many suburban, urban and rural homes:

Zone 0
The house. Here babies are conceived and cuddled, toddlers turn into school children, then teenagers. It is where people like you and me develop, create, think, relax, grow older and often thrive. Here in my home the house is now a place for grandchildren as well. The home is where families grow into strong units. At the edges of your property, your community starts. From here you'll reach out and be part of your community and hopefully you'll help build an active and thriving neighbourhood.

Zone 1
This is the zone were most of the daily domestic action happens and for me, that's the kitchen. Included in this zone are the freezer, pantry, stockpile cupboard and kitchen table. This zone is mainly for food storage and preparation as well as family meals and visiting guests. this is where all the action happens.

Zone 2
This is the living and relaxation area of our home - the lounge room, front and back verandahs. Zone 2 in the house is also directly connected to zone 1 in the garden. It is where I sort seeds, tie garlic and onions, write plant labels, process loofahs and store excesses of lemons.

Zone 3
This zone requires a little less attention but still it's busy. This is the laundry where we wash clothes, make cleaners, make and store soap and keep the ingredients for all our cleaners. Here is where babies are bathed when they visit and where our dirty clothes and stored and then washed.

Zone 4
This is our maintenance zone. It's is sewing and work room and the linen cupboard. In here I mend, sew, store fabrics, yarns, sewing machine, knitting needles, buttons and sewing tools.

Zone 4
Takes in the garage, the garden shed and Hanno's big shed. These areas are where we store broken furniture, bits and pieces waiting to be fixed, tools, lawn mowers, wheelbarrows, hay and backyard equipment.

Zone 5 
Budgeting zone. Although this is not an actual place and doesn't require daily monitoring, it's an important part of the system because it relates to every zone. Zone 5 must be working well for all the zones in the house and garden to function to their potential.

Zone 6
Your local community. In a functioning local area, the homes and the people who live in them are connected to and support their local community. Occasional work may be done there in the form of committee work, support for the local school, youth and sports clubs. If there is no community support, towns die, professionals such as doctors, midwives and dentists leave and CWA, community gardens, and other neighbourhood groups close down. A thriving community always has the support of its citizens.

These zones are set up according to your work and how often that works needs to be done. Zone 1 work is usually repeated many times every day. It's also the area where you place things that need attention every day.

But the zones are only part of this. There are 12 permaculture principles that play an important role because they make you think about what you're doing, they help you improve your work practices and they guide you to effectively apply the principles of permaculture to help you live according to your values. The principles of permaculture are guided by three ethics: earth care, people care and fair share. These three ethics are a way of saying we look after ourselves, our family, our community and we don't use more than we need - we share.

This post is getting to be a long one so tomorrow I'll write permaculture principles. Hopefully today you'll share your thoughts on how you might use these zone to help you organise your work at home.



  1. It's interesting to read about these zones. I certainly find if things aren't working well in our kitchen everything else seems to fall apart too!

  2. I've always wondered about how permaculture applies to the house Rhonda, I look forward to tomorrow's post. I gave Tony Linda's book for Christmas, I must have a read myself.

  3. Thanks Rhonda, Loved this :) Linda has a blog too I htought you might be interested in :) http://witcheskitchen.com.au/

  4. Yes, I know Linda's blog. She used to write for my other blog, the Simple, Frugal, Green Co-op. She's a great gal.

  5. This is a refreshing take on permaculture, Rhonda. I have been looking forward to the day you wrote about it. That said, I didn't know whether you knew much about it. But with the way you conduct your life, it was always there... in the background.

    Your interpretation of the zones is a good one; one that could be understood by the mainstream. Many of the interpretations given elsewhere assume an awful lot about the common needs and desires of your average individual, family and community.

    Something that may be of interest, on this topic, to you and your readers, is a new Australian permaculture magazine that's going into print in the next few weeks. Pip Magazine is its name and it aims to help people build, connect, create, eat, grow, and nurture their way to a better life and better world. They are running a crowdfunding campaign in the spirit of the permaculture principle, "share the surplus". The campaign ends tomorrow so if you could maybe share the link in the comments or in a post, that will help them put together an Issue #2.

    Pip Magazine: pozible.com/domain/rd/pipmagazine

  6. I would love to read the post from last year in permaculture in the home, but I cannot find it. Would you please link it for me and others who may benefit from it?

    Thank you,


    1. Here it is, Sally - http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/working-in-your-home-your-system.html

  7. Interesting discussion here. I'm not at all familiar with any of the books you mention or any principles of permaculture, so I'm looking forward to reading more about it!


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