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Our zone map is a little complicated because we are not starting with a blank slate; we are starting with an old homestead and a traditional family garden that is spread out all over the place. The questions are, then,
- How do we better define our zones;
- How do we align zones with sectors;
Zones are, after all, all about making things more efficient.
To begin, we used Inkscape and a previously designed outline of our project site, based on a downloaded Google Earth image. The drawing includes the main property lines, buildings, access roads, and the irrigation ditch, along with a rough outline of all the main garden areas.
Our first step was to identify our main traffic patterns, which included to and from the parking area to the barn/shop and the home, from the home to nearby garden areas, to the back side of the shop, to the beehives, greenhouse, and areas for future small animals (chickens, rabbits). Other key traffic areas include the main access to the back side of the property (where we like to camp in the summer; future site of a gazebo for gatherings), as well as main garden paths both on the west side and to the east in the orchard.
Zones 1 and 2 are usually around primary traffic patterns. Zones 3 and 4 might have key pathways, but are less traveled. Zone 5 has no paths.
This exercise in itself can be quite revealing. A pattern emerged in which I realized that yes, things can be made much more efficient, but they already make a lot of sense.
Insights into Zones:
Zone 1 (green):
- Eureka! A Zone 1 garden does not have to be right around the Zone 0 home. It can be anywhere along a frequently traveled path.
- Zone 1 areas around the house can be better worked to make things easier. We have plans for outdoor cooking areas, a new and larger herb spiral, and assorted salad gardens.
- A particular challenge in this area is the invasive grasses and bindweed, which have defied all attempts at chop-and-drop and heavy mulch methods of suffocation. Zone 1 implies “daily efforts,” and we will persevere to make the most of this prime real estate. Zone 1 is heavily mulched.
- Another challenge is that much of this area is fairly shady; many of the herbs and annual vegetables that make up our daily meals prefer full sun.
- There are plants in this area that could be better located in a Zone 2 or 3 area (e.g., lingonberries); these could be transplanted to make room for more often used varieties.
- Zone 1 is intense. It is a place you need to be every day. So make it a place you WANT to be every day. Whatever it takes! Zone 1 should be fun. Zone 1 is beautiful. Zone 1 is fruitful.
Zone 2 (blue):
- Zone 2 is “right on the way.” As we take the main path to the barn, it’s easy to check on the bees (or in the future, chickens, rabbits, and the aquaponics system in the greenhouse). Similarly, the future site of the greywater discharge will pass through a filtration system of plants and a small pond, where we could house some ducks. It would be a pleasant walk at any time of year, but particularly when the beach plums, autumn olives, and rose hips are ripe. And we might pass by a little lettuce, chard, and kale on our way back to the house for some easy pickins.
- Zone 2 is the berries! We grow a lot of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, marionberries, jostaberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, honeyberries, aronia berries, and you get the idea! They don’t need our presence every day; in fact, they are rather self-sufficient; but when they are ripe, we are out there daily. Zone 2 is nearby but low maintenance. We like that.
- Zone 2 is an extension of the Zone 1 fun zone. Zone 2 takes us out to campouts in the far field throughout the summer, a place where we can gather, have a fire, look at the stars and passing satellites. Zone 2 is a place to gather and play music. It is away from the house and gives a feeling of being “out there.”
Zone 3 (orange):
- Realization: A Zone 3 can be tucked in right next to a Zone 1 area. For example, one walks right past the little goldfish pond every day (a great place for strawberries!). Behind the pond, things are basically left on their own – and all the plants are quite bold. Lovage, bay, bamboo, butterfly bush, Joe Pye weed, angelica, medlar, willows, sunchokes, a huge rosemary…everything holds its own and there is no reason to micromanage it. It’s a great place to hide out and read a book.
- Similarly, around the house is not necessarily all Zone 1 just because it is around the house. In fact, we don’t often go on the eastern and southern sides; they are not optimum as far as water and sun go (the south side is heavily shaded by trees), nor are they good “hanging out” areas for recreation. I have identified them (based on frequency of use) as Zone 3. These areas are, however, a wonderful place to feed and watch the birds from inside the house (lots of native plants and a birdfeeder). We may find that when we build the sun room on the eastern side, that the surrounding garden will take on a bigger importance. We may also find that as we get better at harvesting rainwater, that irrigation is not quite as problematic in these areas. Challenges here are as everywhere: grasses and bindweed threaten to take over everything, despite all efforts in mulching and digging them up. For now, we pick our battles and will focus our attention on Zone 1 areas, but there is room for evolution.
- Zone 3 tends to be quite diverse. It comprises areas that grow on their own without being “needy.” It is the old orchard and the understory plants, such as comfrey, plantain, dandelions, costmary, some St. John’s Wort, a vining grape or two, groundcover squashes, some native shrubs, like saskatoon and red flowering currants, scattered with sorrel and gooseberries.
- Zone 3 is where I grow a lot of the bee forage plants and native species for wildlife. It is the dry, rocky area along the driveway that is mostly groundcovers, an old lavender, and a few shrubby sages. It is also the shady, damp area on the south side where reside wild huckleberries, black cohosh, oxalis, sweet woodruff, salal, elderberries, mints, and much more….it eventually blends into Zone 4 & 5 blackberries. On the opposite side to the north, it also includes several groupings of native plants near the beehives and in the “wildlife corridor” that extends westward.
- Zone 3 is also reserved for the 2 northern plots where we grow a series of nitrogen fixers (goji, Autumn Olives), Nanking cherries, hazelnut trees, and 8 species of basketry willows. In the NE Plot, a couple of ponds catch the overflow from the tanks that catch the rainwater off the barn roof, which spills over into the nearby rhubarb patch. The entire area grows into a dense thicket of diversity.
- Zone 3 is also the open field and mulch crop, i.e., where we let the grass grow tall and then cut it down with a scythe. It’s a meditative, zen-like activity that helps us get centered and provides a useful product in the process. We have started experimenting with a few grain crops, such as quinoa and amaranth, and with a little work, we could turn this open area of mostly weeds into a lush crop of hulless oats. We could also grow animal feed for chickens, ducks, rabbits, and our wild bird friends.
- The open field is not all reserved for mulch and grain. Some of the Zone 3 is just grass. We mow it with a gas-guzzling walk-behind mower, as shameful as it sounds. Some of the Zone 3 is reserved for running around, throwing a Frisbee for the dog, or just making sure I don’t plant anything in it that would obstruct our mountain view. It’s a “quality of life” thing.
Zone 4 (purple):
- Considering the project site comprises just under 2 acres, there is quite a bit of Zone 4 area. Zone 4 is an extended version of Zone 3, where we plant native plants for pollinators and wildlife. Once they are established, they require very little care. We have identified a quiet shady spot under a row of firs and cedars that should be ideal for growing mushrooms (although a little dry). Our “wildlife corridor” was our first attempt at changing our property into something more in tune with the natural surroundings, and it is starting to take on a life of its own. Zone 4 wraps around toward the south, where there are blackberries (folding into Zone 5), salal, Oregon grape, rose hips. It is also the neglected patch of wildflowers, mugwort, wormwood, lupine, and the native plants that border the ditch that provide protection to the three young fig trees. It could use a little whacking back of the invasive grasses, but it hangs in there on its own until I get around to it.
Zone 5 (grey):
- Zone 5 falls over the hillside in a tangle of blackberries and snowberries and assorted invasive weeds. The west side has good afternoon sun exposure, and we have thought about attempting a terraced garden there (but only after we get the other areas more under control). There are tunnels that wind through the brambles, obvious runways for raccoons and rodents, as well as quail and little birds. We just leave them alone. Everyone needs their space.