We talked about how to set up your land according to permaculture zones a little while ago. But how do you go about setting up your zones? They will pretty much set up themselves if you take a good look at your land and all the outside factors that affect it. The very first thing to consider is topography. Here is my pathetic attempt at drawing the topo map of my lot on the computer:
I haven’t figured the computer out all the way so I can’t make this pic any bigger, sorry. To the right is the main road access to the property and to the left is the stream and the trail access to the property. If you aren’t familiar with topo maps, each line represents a drop in elevation, in this picture it is about 10 feet per line. The black dot I added is what I think is the perfect spot for the house. Here it is built into the hillside, midway down the hill. That way it isn’t terribly windy or sitting in a big wet area. There really couldn’t be a better spot for the house. Does this make sense that when you look at the lot it sort of lays itself out? From the house location, you just start laying the zones where they fit in.
There are plenty of other factors to consider when you are laying out your land. Water is another big one. I happen to have the stream on the lot, but that is not going to work as a source of water for us. You need to be sure that when you pick the spot for your house that you have reasonably close water access. We are going to do rainwater collection for our house. This can be set up pretty much anywhere, but we want to take advantage of gravity to reduce pumping costs. This just means that there has to be somewhere of higher elevation near the house to set up the cistern and collection area. Where we chose to put our house has the perfect spot for this cistern right above the house. Not too close just in case the cistern leaks or something crazy like that. The other side of the water is that you definitely don’t want to put your house too close to a very wet area. Flooding is not an issue you want to have.
If you plan on using passive solar heating, you also need to be aware of sun patterns. The most direct sunlight comes from the south. Our house will be south facing. You don’t want too many trees blocking the winter sun, but you might want some trees blocking the summer sun. You can also set up your house to collect and block the right amount of sun by knowing the different angles of the sun according to the time of year. A nifty little tool I found for this is at this website and this one. There is a lot to learn about using the sun to its fullest.
There are more things to look at on the land, but they get more specific depending on what you are trying to place. I plan on planting a woodlot at some point. I don’t want to have to drag cut trees uphill so I will try to put the woodlot on a higher elevation. Just think about the needs of everything you set up before you put in too much effort. I am doing my best to figure things out from far away, but chances are good that I will have to put at least one thing in a place different than I thought I could. I have a big drawing of the lot taped to my wall with movable representations of everything I want on the lot. That way I can look at it often and change things as I feel I need to. I have been doing tons of moving for sure! Be sure to spend lots of time on this step, it is really important.