Video Tour of Our Young Food Forest – What is a Swale?

As you might imagine, I get a lot of questions from clients, friends, and family about the swale system I established in front of our home.

“What’s up with all the weird ditches?”

“Putting in a septic tank?….. You’re doing it wrong.”

If you’re curious about what a swale is and what it does, or if you just want to take a peek at our young permaculture food forest, then this video is for you.

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Thanks to WDTN NBC for the Interview!

It’s always great talking about Permaculture… and in this instance Vermicomposting… with those in the Miami Valley.  My spring 2015 Speaker Series is wrapping up through the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Parks District.  However, there might be some exciting announcements coming soon about future collaboration!

Waiting to go on air, I kept thinking to myself, “Did I put enough Vaseline on my teeth?!?”

WDTN Green Room



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Zone Analysis of Our Homestead – Part 2

This is Part 2 of dissecting a Permaculture Zone Analysis of our five acres.  You can read Part 1 Here.

This is also a continuation of an introductory series exploring my study and application of Permaculture.  You can find the related articles by visiting GHC’s Site Index.  All of these topics are discussed more deeply during our Workshops and Seminars.

Welcome back!  So… you remember what we’re doing?

How To Create a Permaculture Zone Analysis

Create a Permaculture Zone Analysis

Yes, we’re taking a stroll around our five acres and looking at space through the filter of a Permaculture Zone Analysis.

Let’s pick up right where we left off last time, where we already covered Zones 1 & 2.

Zone 3 – Area You Manage Rarely


H – This area is seven mature apple trees (25 years old?) which produce well and we’re very thankful to have.  I consider this a Zone 3 for now because they’re incredibly overgrown.  I’m pruning a little at a time several times a year until they get back into healthy and even more productive shape.  The ducks are currently paddocked here so they can help fertilize these poor neglected trees, and also clean up fallen fruit and any apple tree pests that are trying to overwinter now that the days are growing cooler.  But putting my ducks to work is a longer explanation for another day and not really relevant here.  Pardon the digression…  When the trees are better pruned, more sunlight will filter through their canopy, and I can establish other supporting elements here to help out the trees… and save me work (theme alert!)

I – Proposed future spot for bees.  I want two hives in each location.  The northern letter I out by the road will pollinate the multitude of trees, bushes, herbs, vines, and other cool stuff in the future Zone 4 Food Forest (you’ll see in the next section).  We’ll begin in the spring with this one as the wife has only recently lifted her veto over adding buzzing chambers of death to our place.  I’m not going to push my luck yet, but hopefully once she sees how docile they can be, and how free the honey is (since she uses expensive bought honey almost every day) we’ll establish a couple hives at the southern letter to help populate the elements down that way.  Yes, spousal comfort levels need to be worked into your design.  I like sleeping inside Zone 0.

J – These areas are currently open and get good afternoon sun.  I want to plant a couple fruit trees and supporting layers here and keep these up a little nicer than a more wild looking, large Zone 4 Food Forest.  As I talk with clients about what is possible at their place, I want it to be clear that someone doesn’t need five acres to grow healthy, sustainable food.  “Oh, you only have a tenth of an acre to work with?  Please come with me over to this semi-dwarf cherry tree and multitude of other edible bushes, shrubs, vines, herbs, ground covers, and tubers” that all fit in my tiny little oval J area.

Zone 4 – Area You Manage Very Rarely


K – Here’s my future food forest.  We’ll talk someday about what exactly that means, but for now imagine a full fledged, healthy forest… except everything growing there, at every level and every layers… is either edible, or aids something else that’s edible.  I’ll walk through this area to enjoy it, but will only manage it when something needs harvested or maybe helped out for a change in seasons.  Man, am I sick of mowing this.  Grow little food forest… GROW!  I’m going to leave alleys in between the tree plantings and tractor a couple batches of pastured meat chickens through here.  That is a small element that will get managed often inside this larger, rarely managed Zone 4 element.

L – This is a small timber harvesting plot.  Since this gets southern exposure, I want to selectively and responsibly thin out the trees in here to help the remaining trees remain as strong as possible.  What I harvest in here is already being used for our winter firewood.  I’ll replant as I go to utilize the southern sun…  just not exactly sure with exactly what yet.

Zone 5 – Area You Never Manage


M – I love walking through our woods.  Every time I do, I learn something.

  • Why does the creek divert right there?  I should think about it and see if I should mimic it in the garden.
  • What’s up with this erosion pattern coming down the hill? Hmm, I wonder if that’s what’s happening to the culvert under the driveway.
  • Pretty cool how squirrels and birds instinctively jump or fly to a higher perch when I walk through here.  I should add more elevated elements to the chicken coop.

I tread lightly and try to disturb as little as possible.  If a tree falls in here, I let it be.  I don’t take rocks out because they’re probably somebody’s home.  I don’t divert or dam up the creek.  I look.  I listen.  I observe.  However, I do make a few exceptions.  I hunt out here (remember the 9 foot tall Zone 1 deer fence?) and forage to take home great stuff like autumn olive berries, wild garlics, black walnuts, morel mushrooms, and much much more.

The last thing I’ll mention is that this is a macro Zone Analysis of the whole property.  It’s just as important to take the next step and create micro Zone Analyses of each space and element.  For example, I have a border strip in the largest Zone 1 garden area that is about 3 feet wide by 100 feet long that I don’t manage at all as Zone 5 habitat for beneficial insects and the like.

So that’s it.  Did you enjoy your look around?


Question of the day: What would you change or improve from my analysis?  Have you done something similar with your place?

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Zone Analysis of Our Homestead – Part 1

This is a continuation of an introductory series exploring my study and application of Permaculture.  You can find the related articles by visiting GHC’s Site Index.  All of these topics are discussed more deeply during our Workshops and Seminars.

This turned out to be even longer than I anticipated… so here’s Part 1.  I’ll soon publish the conclusion.

Last time, we dug in to what a Permaculture Zone Analysis is and defined each zone from another.  Feel free to head over there if you missed that discussion.  It’s pretty pertinent to what we’re creating here today.  That’s because it’s time to get out from behind the desk, put down the textbooks, and get to work.  Let’s see what a real world example of a Zone Analysis might look like.

How To Create a Permaculture Zone Analysis

Create a Permaculture Zone Analysis

Below is a screenshot I took of our five acres soon after we moved in.  It was important that I have a “clean slate” picture I could reference that would not show any elements I later add.

So without further ado, welcome to our home:



After a year of observation while I’ve been adding systems… and a slew of evolving drafts… here is my current Zone Analysis of the property:


That looks a lot different from the picture perfect, cookie cutter graphic I created to explain Permaculture Zones, don’t you think?

Read more ›

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What is a Permaculture Zone Analysis?

This is a continuation of an introductory series exploring my study and application of Permaculture.  You can find my other articles by visiting GHC’s Site Index.  All of these topics are discussed more deeply during our Workshops and Seminars.

If you’ve taken a look at my (lovely! beautiful!) little header graphic up there, you know my two second Permaculture pitch is, “Because Your Garden Should Work Harder Than You”.  I’m all about minimizing (human) effort while maximizing production.

Unfortunately, the first and biggest mistake usually made when planting a garden or fruit trees is throwing stuff willy-nilly all over the place.  It’s only through much site observation, critical thinking, insight discovery, and careful design that you can get nature working for you.

Until now we’ve talked about some Permaculture philosophy.  There’s more of that to come, but it’s time we start putting the rubber to the road and actually get something done.  Today we’ll discuss what a Permaculture Zone Analysis is and how to create one for your landscape.  The next post will walk you through a specific Zone Analysis I created for our five acre property.


Every home or site, when seen through a Permaculturist’s filter, has six potential zones.  In a perfect textbook world, they begin in the center of an area with Zone 0 (your house) and increase in number as they move further out from your home… looking like the above graphic.

How does one zone differ from another? … How do we define each? … Just remember to not get caught in the trap of thinking too much about “stuff” yet (i.e. tomatoes and chickens).  This analysis is all about “where” and “why”.

Read more ›

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