Zone Mapping and the 5 Integral Components of a Permaculture Homestead

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    Zone Mapping and the 5 Integral Components of a Permaculture Homestead

    Image: Permaculture Visions

    Image: Permaculture Visions

    The Permaculture-designed homestead is an amazing place to be. Even on a tiny piece of land, a permified homestead can produce an amazing variety of healthy, natural food, energy, and medicine. Imagine a normal day on a homestead that is designed using permaculture principles. You wake and step right out your backdoor to harvest herbs for your morning tea. Your morning chores include gathering eggs from the hen house, pulling a few vegetables, and possibly harvesting the ripe fruit of the week. Our breakfasts include eggs, coffee/tea, taro root (like a potato), vegetables, fruits, and sometimes even goat or pork sausage, all from our little homestead.

    It Doesn’t Have To Be HUGE!

    And, in fact, it shouldn’t be. It took us a long time to realize that most of our necessary homestead components can all fit within a ¼ acre parcel. Even on a 1/10 acre, you produce a lot of food. People are often tempted to spread out fast, using up all available land as soon as possible. That can be a recipe for trouble. Upkeep is hard, and knowing how much of each thing you will need only comes with experience.

    Permaculture homestead design is assisted by the use of a Permaculture concept known as Zone Mapping. The idea is simple. Zone 1 is the area right around the house, which is visited most frequently. Zone 5 is the ‘wild’, where nature rules and we go as a visitor. One rule of thumb on how often each zone is frequented:

    Zone 1 – Many times per day

    Zone 2 – Once or twice per day

    Zone 3 – Once or twice per week

    Zone 4 – Once or twice per month

    Zone 5 – Whenever you feel up for it

    By having a zone map of our property, we can then think about the placement of the various components of our homestead. Things that need to be visited daily should probably be in Zone 1 or 2, while things that need less frequent care or interaction can be in Zone 3 or 4.

    5 Critical Components of a Permaculture Homestead

    Here, I have outlined the five most critical components to any Permaculture homestead, even a 1/10th acre one.

    Vegetable & Herb Garden:

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    Even a tiny garden no more than 100 sq ft can produce an enormous amount of vegetables and herbs throughout most of the year, no matter where you live. One trick to the vegetable garden is knowing which varieties of vegetables thrive in your area, so saving seeds of the best producers is super important. Also, it is good to have a source of fertility right on your site (See #3 on this list), which makes composting the garden easy and consistent. Vegetable gardens should be located as close to the house as possible to ensure frequent visits, so placing them in Zone 1 or 2 is a must. Proximity to the house is much more important that selecting a site with good soil. You can amend soil around the house much easier than you can grow a good garden more than 500 steps from your front door.

    Food Forest

    Almost every region in the world can support some sort of forest. Having even just one small space on your land dedicated to local food producing forest species provides loads of benefits. Food forests not only include fruit trees, but also integrate fruiting shrubs and vines, edible herbs and ground covers, and even local edible mushrooms and fungi. The group of plants together mimic a forest, creating an understory of low growing plants and ground covers, with a canopy of short and tall trees, and vines. These systems can produce a diversity of fruit over much of the year, and are very low maintenance once they are established. Given their low maintenance needs, this is a great Zone 3 strategy, which can be visited once or a twice a week with great results. These food forests also provide refuge for birds, beneficial insects, and predators of garden pests. Plus, there is nothing better than strolling through the food forest and snacking hard.

    Hen House

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    If you’re down with animals, then hens are the best choice for your homestead. They just give so much. Fresh eggs, garden tillage, manure, and pest control. And they are lower maintenance than a cat or dog. Our Deep Bedding Composting Hen House provides a solution for hens who are not allowed to free range, but still produce loads of rich compost for your garden. Plus, if they can get outside at the right time they can clean your vegetable garden in between seasons. The compost that is mixed and turned in the deep bedding hen house becomes amazing fertilizer for the vegetable garden and the plants in the food forest. I like placing the hen house on an edge between Zones 2 and 3. This gives me access to the hens in Zone 2, which need care twice a day, but also gives the hens access to systems in Zone 3 such as the food forest.

    Carbohydrate Source

    This may seem like a funny thing to include on this list, but having a staple or calorie crop is incredibly empowering. Even if you don’t have a large garden, potatoes and sweet potatoes can be grown in bags and pots. Jerusalem artichokes are also beautiful ornamentals that can be planted in flower beds. On our homestead, we grow loads of taro root in the bottoms of our swales. You may even try your hand at corn or wheat. Knowing that during the zombie apocalypse, you can survive off potatoes (or taro) with eggs and vegetables is a great feeling. Zone 3 is a great place to grow a calorie crop. Even in a small space, the back five rows of any garden can grow potatoes, and this space can be thought of as a small Zone 3, being visited only once or twice a week.


    Water, irrigation, watering, Permaculture, zone, zone mapping, Permaculture zones, homestead, homesteading, off grid, survival, prep, prepping, sustainable, organic, agriculture, small farm, regenerative agriculture, water source, Atitlan Organics, …

    Without water, you can’t grow anything. I believe that every homestead should have at least two separate and distinct sources of potable water and irrigation water. If you have city water, you may still chose to collect rainwater. In permaculture, they say that every important function should be performed by at least three different elements in the design. On our homestead, the important function of irrigation can be achieved through collected rain water, our spring, or the nearby river. This ensures that we always have water, even if one or two of the sources momentarily cut out. Beyond drinking water and irrigation, all homesteads benefit from wetlands or ponds. Even just a little pond that is lined with plastic can hold some fish, attract dragonflies, and grow edible plants like cattails and arrowroot. Water sources should be available in all zones 1-4. Ponds are great additions in any zone, but small ponds are great for Zone 1 while larger wetland areas are better left to Zones 3 and 4.


    With these five pieces, any homestead can be transformed into a beautiful and productive landscape that supports a family and provides lots of useful outputs. Using permaculture design, these five elements can be integrated so that each one supports and is supported by the others. Considering the relative location of each system and using the Permaculture concept of Zone Mapping, a harmonious layout can be achieved that is both efficient and beautiful. If the vegetable garden is near the hen house, then compost can go to the garden and garden waste can go to the hens very easily. If the hen house opens into the food forest, then the trees can be weeded and get fertilized regularly. Permaculture Design encourages us to created integrated landscapes that function as a whole.

    At Atitlan Organics, we have been working with these types of systems for over 9 years. Our Permaculture Design Certification Course covers all of these topics and more. We dive deep into lots of design methods including Zone Mapping, and we also get lots of hands on practical experience with vegetable gardening, food forest design, water systems, and more. Check out our courses and start your permaculture homestead today!



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    Nicolas Hernandez Chiyal

    Born and raised in the town of Tzununa, which lies right below Atitlan Organics, Nicholas and Shad have worked since Day 1, helping to craft the this amazing landscape. Nichloas is a supreme ninja farmer with skills beyond explanation. Visitors are endlessly impressed with his resourcefulness, ingenuity, and sheer motivation. Nicholas now owns and operates Las Ensaladas de Atitlan Organics, a business that sells organic produce to over 50 restaurants, hotels, and stores around lake Atitlan.

    Neal Hegarty

    Neal is originally from Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and has been around animals all his life. He studied agriculture in Ireland and has worked as a permaculturist for the past 10 years. Neal was the Volunteer Manager at Atitlan Organics for 2 years before co-founding his own Permaculture-based enterprise, Abundant Edge Farm, in Tzununa. He brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and energy into each Intro to Permaculture Course and Permaculture Design Certification Course and we’re happy to continue to collaborate with him!

    Rony Lec

    Rony is one of the world’s leading experts in permaculture and Mayan ancestral knowledge. Rony has spent the last 20 years teaching and implementing permaculture throughout Central, South and North America focusing on promoting food sovereignty and preserving biodiversity for the survival of Indigenous communities.

    Through his extensive work with Indigenous communities on traditional ecological knowledge, seed saving, native plants, local/global food movements, livelihood security, and the interaction between communities and the environment, he has made a key contribution to the empowerment of Indigenous people around the world. Rony is a co-founder of IMAP.

    Zach Loeks

    Hailing from Ottawa, Canada where he and his partner run the 50-acre Kula Permaculture Farm, Zach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the course. He works as an educator, designer, consultant and farmer, with an emphasis on integrating diversity, conserving soil and maximizing farm ecosystem services while maintaining high productivity.

    Last year Zach published The Permaculture Market Garden, which explores ways that permaculture can be scaled up be a profitable whole-systems enterprise. Zach is a leading figure in permaculture, who brings a new and exciting vision of how it can be integrated into the wider community and marketplace.

    Ashley McDonnell

    Ashley’s work focuses on resurrecting our relationship to the natural world through the development of earth based skills that deepen our connection to place while increasing our sense of sovereignty and resilience. Devoted to the arts of permaculture, natural building, herbalism and birth work as her mediums, Ashley explores with humility the diverse modalities that support us in living in right relationship with the world around us. She views permaculture as a practice that not only creates healthy ecological communities but one that helps to reweave the very fabric of who we are as people. Her work is an offering to the future.

    Holly Mech

    Holly fell in love with yoga because of the sense of connection she felt every time she came to her mat. She began teaching yoga in Chicago in 2011. Her desire to deepen her teaching and personal practice led her to continue her yoga education in California, Bali, Australia and Guatemala. Holly now travels around the world teaching yoga and facilitating yoga teacher trainings. She enjoys helping new teachers sequence yoga classes and incorporate philosophy into their teachings. Her classes are creative and dynamic with an emphasis on making yoga accessible to everyone.

    Holly studied English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and frequently draws inspiration for her classes from literature and poetry. When she’s not on the yoga mat she enjoys exploring nature, singing, dancing and working with textiles.

    Laura Palmieri

    Laura ‘Lala’ Palmieri is a clinical herbalist, a biologist, plant and fungi lover and grower. She offers health consultations to balance body, mind and soul working with medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Her approach to health integrates the knowledge of many ancient traditions and teachers, fusing spirituality with nature, and science with alchemy through the transformation of the elements.

    Lala has spent her years in dialogue with Nature, which has fueled her passion to integrate scientific knowledge and the connection with all beings to help humanity. She integrates her practice with cooking, gardening, and exploring ecosystems. She teaches and facilitates herbal clinics and programs in permaculture, herbalism, botany, fermentation, and medicinal mushroom cultivation, with a regenerative earth care approach and techniques that are accessible to most. She and Sarah co-created the Envision and Cosmic Converge Herbal First Aid Clinics, other relief Clinics in Guatemala for the volcano eruption. You will find Lala crafting remedies for her diverse communities in Guatemala and Costa Rica, where she is actively creating a world with integrated healthcare.

    Sarah Wu

    Sarah is a clinical herbalist of 20 years, studying and practicing planetary eclectic, regenerative herbalism with a foundation in Wise Woman Reclaiming philosophies. Influenced by global traditions, Sarah focuses on local food-based healing and ethnobotanical traditions. She leads trainings and workshops in herbal medicine, Permaculture Design Courses, Therapeutic Deep Ecology, Social Permaculture, field-to-the-plate holistic nutrition, herbal first aid and Tarot. She is a passionate mentor and educator, who believes in the teacher’s role in unlocking the innate wisdom of the student. Sarah is the co-founder of the Village Witches project, and is a Co-Founder and Co-producer of Envision Festival.

    Don Fransisco Simon

    Don Fransisco knows the lands and waters of Tzununa deeper than most anyone alive. His intuitive handling of plants makes the whole system glow, and he is an avid duck enthusiast, maintaining the breeding flocks at Duck Willow, along with his own homestead flock. Aside from that, he oversees the establishment of the perennial agroforestry and aquaculture systems on Duck Willow Farms.

    David 'Brock' Barker

    Brock Barker was raised as an outdoorsman in the marshes and forests of south Louisiana, where he developed a passion for all things plants. After studying horticulture at university, Brock has worked in nurseries, landscaping outfits, and in the facilitation of a horticultural therapy program, and more. His primary ‘work’ for the last 12 years has been developing a 10 acre homestead which serves as personal garden of Eden and educational space for volunteers and workshops. Brock’s proficiency in areas such as mushroom cultivation/ foraging, fermentation, and botany, combined with his infectious enthusiasm make him an integral part of our team.

    Jeremy Dexter Fellows

    Jeremy has focused ten years of study, mentorship and implementation of permaculture design systems back home in Massachusetts. With many years of experience in botany and horticulture, he is fascinated by the world of plants. After working many years in Guatemala, Jeremy has dedicated his focus to land and water management systems that lend to ecological acceleration and social integration through food production. Jeremy now runs granja tzikin, works as a designer and consultant with Regenera and teaches in the Atitlan Organics teachers guild.

    Julia Forest

    Julia is an international yoga teacher, birth doula, women’s health advocate, and closet artist who is passionate about health, environmentalism and empowered birth. She is co-creator of the Sacred Birth Yoga & Doula Training, is founding director of Awakened Spirit Yoga and co-founder of the Wellkind Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on community empowerment and wellbeing through the lens of permaculture. She also created the Sacred Earth Yoga Training, the first yoga teacher training program that combines yoga, mindfulness, permaculture and leadership to transform lives and communities.

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    Your Curriculum

    Your curriculum for the Permaculture Design Certificate includes 20 short courses consumed over a period of 7 weeks, with a final design project to be finalised in the 8th week.

    Week 1: The Spirit of Permaculture

    Week 2: Design Methodologies

    Week 3: Water and Earthworks

    Week 4: Soil and Compost

    Week 5: Plant Power

    Week 6: Animals

    Week 7: Permaculture Niches

    Week 8: Final Design Project

    The Final Design Project Course Module becomes available after completing all of the Content for Week 1 and Week 2. The module serves as a guide for your final design project. We suggest that you work on this throughout the course. The 8th call is reserved for students to present their final design projects. Upon completion of the Final Design Project and all of the Course Content, a Permaculture Design Certificate is awarded.

    Shad Qudsi

    Shad Qudsi has over 13 years experience in organic and commercial gardening and farming. He is certified in Permaculture Design and has over 3 years experience in permaculture design consulting. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a double major in Applied Math and Psychology, Shad and his wife, Colleen, moved to Central America with only vague goals of farming at some point in the near future. In January of 2010, Shad and his wife bought and moved onto a very small farm located in the traditional Mayan village of Tzununa, which on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. The farm developed into Atitlan Organics and now mainly focuses on greens and chickens, a large edible and useful plant nursery, a food forest, and training and education.  Shad is an enthusiastic teacher who truly believes in the work he is doing. Human resiliency cannot be erased from the landscape and now, it is coming back with a loving grace.