In the zoning principle that is applied to permaculture garden design, Zone 2 sits just beyond Zone 1, which is the zone containing most of your vegetables and herbs. If zone 1 is the most visited of all the zones, Zone 2 is next. Typically you will visit this zone once a day or once every other day.
As with the other zones on your plot, the precise formulation of Zone 2 will depend on the analysis you do of the area’s maintenance needs, potential productivity and water and energy requirements. However, there are several fundamental characteristics that are likely to be evident, whatever shape your final design takes.
Zone 2 of a permaculture garden is sometimes referred to as the ‘food forest’. It is designed in such a way as to resemble natural forest systems where plants and animals interact, supporting each other and thus requiring little maintenance input from the gardener. This zone also resembles a forest in appearance, with plantings of different heights, creating a stacking effect. Zone 2 will likely have ground cover crops, a variety of sizes of shrubs, large and small trees, as well as vines and creepers that live on them. This stacking method allows you to make the most efficient use of the available growing space, as well as each canopy layer performing functions to benefit the whole ecosystem, be it providing a habitat for insects, adding nitrogen to the soil or creating shade.
Wide Variety of Plants
Linked to the stacking nature of the zone 2 garden is the wide variety of plants that are typically placed within it. The food forest allows each niche to be exploited by both food and non-food plants. And these plants all interact to create a sustainable system. In many respects, the food forest garden in Zone 2 can be regarded as one big plant guild, with all the organisms within it living interdependently. However, within that larger structure, smaller groupings of plants can benefit from judicious guild planting. For instance, larger trees can provide a windbreak to protect smaller species from damage, while those smaller plants may provide a habitat for beneficial insects that control pests that could attack the trees.
Some of the food plants that are likely to be sited in Zone 2 include smaller fruit trees and fruit varieties that grow on trellises, vines and brambles, such as grapes, passion fruit, kiwifruit and blackberries. Hardier perennial herbs can also be placed here, such as a bay tree, turmeric and ginger.
The wide variety of plants that can be placed in a Zone 2 system also allow you to grow plants for purposes such as mulching or livestock feed.
It is in Zone 2 that you are likely to keep smaller animals. For many permaculturists, chickens are the first foray they make into keeping livestock. Because you are likely to visit the chickens once a day – to collect eggs and check on general health and wellbeing, they fit the profile of Zone 2 perfectly. They can also be an integral part of the ecosystem, providing fertilizer for plants through their droppings, controlling insect and weed populations, and turning over the soil with their foraging, helping to aerate it. And, of course, chickens provide edible products in the form of eggs and meat.
Bees also provide an edible food source in the form of honey, but also have an important role in the pollination of many plants. If you intend to have a beehive in your permaculture garden, site it in Zone 2 for maximum impact.
If you are interested in starting aquaculture, Zone 2 is where you would site your pond. A pond will require a visit each day if it is just stocked with fish or if it is supporting a flock of ducks as well. Both fish and ducks will help to
Heirloom and Local Species
Because Zone 2 is the site for plants that are not harvested as regularly as those in Zone 1, and are part of an ecosystem based on perennials and rootstocks that will persist over years, it is the ideal location in a permaculture garden to utilize local and heirloom species of plant.
Local species are adapted to the climatic and soil conditions in your area and so should thrive in an integrated food forest system, and in doing so providing benefits to plants and animals around them. Using plants that are suitable for the local conditions is also likely to result in healthy specimens and so better yields.
Heirloom varieties are also going to be species suited to the local environment, but they are also more scare (many other plants have been interbred to create specific forms of cultivar). You are doing a service to the preservation of their unique genetic properties by incorporating heirloom species into your Zone 2 planting, particularly in a zone that is based on preservation of the ecosystem rather than regular re-planting.
With so much going on in Zone 2, with a wide variety of plants in a stacked ecosystem, livestock and possibly water bodies, it makes sense to make your daily visit to the zone as efficient as possible, so you avoid wasting time and energy. Paths will thus take in several tasks along their length, allowing them all to be completed in a single ‘turn’ around the garden, such as collecting eggs, mulching and monitoring microclimates. These walks should also be designed to enable you to observe as much of the zone as possible, making it easier to monitor changes over seasons and both reflect on your successes and learn from your experiments.
Remember that, for all the talk of zones in permaculture, there are no easily definable borders between different zones in your permaculture garden. It is a very useful design principle, but zones will interact and shift over time as your garden develops, you observe more and more, and you decide what works and what doesn’t for your needs.