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Zone 1: When 4 Feet is Too Far

You've probably heard about zone planning in permaculture. It's a process of designed energy conservation: put those things you access most close to the house and those things you access least farthest away. Pretty simple and logical. Today I'd like to expand a bit on the concept of the zone 1 garden and what we've learned in the last few years from painful, somewhat embarrassing experience.

Not every piece of land close to the house is zone 1. There are paths you take everyday without any additional effort, walking to the car, the back deck, etc. In our case it is the path to the barn and shop. The area beside those paths is zone 1. If you don't already walk there everyday, it's not really zone 1. When we first established our gardens (I think we're on iteration number 5 now), we put all of our zone 1 plants 20 feet away from our path to the barn in the "official garden area", and it was too far away. We simply couldn't muster the enthusiasm to go out and pick our produce. Odd though it seems, it was easier to go to the grocery store than walk that extra 20 feet to pick our own tomatoes and peppers. In our defense there were other confounding factors involved too, like the pumpkins and butternut squash went insane, and it was hard to even find the peppers and tomatoes in the resulting jungle. Nevertheless, a lot of produce went unused because it was simply too hard to monitor and collect.

Last year we wised up a bit and planted some of the zone 1 produce next to the barn path, and it worked! We could check on our zucchini on the way out to milk and collect them on the way in from the barn in our empty wash bucket. Very convenient.

This year we built upon our success and moved all of our zone 1 garden produce up along the path. I put in a double row of two foot wide sunken beds and we planted our zucchini, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snack carrots, peppers, lettuce and beans. Wahoo!

We've had a few learnings from this iteration already and they are as follows:

  • Half of our path is too shady for growing zucchini and tomatoes well. It is unfortunate that we had to discover this by planting our zucchini and tomatoes there, but such is life. Next year the zucchini and tomatoes move to a different part of the path!

  • We need to plant carrots and lettuce much earlier than we did. In fact, next year we're thinking of starting a lot of our plants well before the last frost and just putting them under covered hoops so that we can start harvesting our summer produce before July/August.

  • Four feet is too far! We can easily monitor both of the lovely planting beds I made, and we can happily harvest from the closest one, but that second bed is just too inconvenient. It's embarrassing to admit, but apparently stepping over the first bed to reach the second is simply too onerous a task to accomplish everyday. Sigh!

So next year bye-bye two beds. We're just going to have one three foot bed, extend it further around the path so we still have the same amount of growing space, change up what we plant where, start everything earlier, and it is going to be great!

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