Are you trying to plan a homestead layout on a bare piece of land or an existing homestead? Both scenarios have their challenges but you can easily break down the process of mapping out your homestead with simple permaculture principles. This article walks you through identifying your homestead’s components, as well as what permaculture zones are and how they can help you get organized. You’ll also get a base map creation challenge, free printables, and all the information you’ll need to start the process of planning your homestead’s layout.
I want to begin this article by saying that you can have every confidence in yourself that you WILL figure out how to organize your homestead layout! It can feel like a daunting task, but you’ll get through this process and be so glad you took the time to make a plan.
It is a process, though, so be prepared to take the time you need to do this well. The most important part of any building is the foundation, right?
The same is true with successful and abundant homesteads – begin at the beginning and take the time necessary to lay a great foundation!
Even if you’ve purchased an existing homestead and aren’t working with raw land that requires a homestead layout design from scratch, all these steps and principles are still relevant and helpful.
Let’s get started!
How Do You Plan a Homestead Layout?
Homesteads are as varied as the homesteaders who live and work on them. However, there are some key elements of abundant homesteads that should be considered when developing a homestead layout.
Ask Yourself What Are the Components of a Homestead?
- Family areas, both in and outside the home.
- Growing spaces for gardens, orchards, fodder crops and pasture.
- Livestock input spaces, whether that’s a very small vermicompost set up or a very large collection of dairy goats.
- Storage areas like pantries, root cellars, barns, etc.
- Pathways to create ease of access
- Water features like ponds, cisterns, rain barrels, water gardens
Even if a homestead is very small, these considerations still apply. The size of a homestead is irrelevant when compared to its purpose, which is to help the inhabitants to achieve a self sufficient lifestyle inasmuch as that goal is attainable for them.
If we live on an existing homestead, we may be concerned that our homestead layout is already pre-determined and that there’s little we can do to change it.
If we’re homesteading on bare land, we may be equally concerned that we’re not up to the seemingly overwhelming challenge of planning a homestead layout from the ground up.
Never fear, permaculture is here to help you design and implement the best homestead layout you can with the home and land you have!
To help you implement what you learn in this article, be sure to grab our FREE printable design element cards
to create your own homestead layout design.
What is Permaculture?
Before you can begin to understand how permaculture can help you create the best homestead layout you can, you need to know a bit about what it is.
These articles can help you learn more:
To give you a brief overview, permaculture is the combination of the words permanent and agriculture. It was developed as a way of teaching people how to create sustainable gardens and farms.
Which means that permaculture teaches us how to grow food and create abundance in ways that are self-sustaining, environmentally and human friendly, and which create abundance of harvests.
It does this in large measure by mimicking what nature does. For example, a forest will keep its soil covered in pine needles, sticks, and other scat. We do the same in our gardens using basically the same materials.
Sometimes, we’ll give our materials fancy names like mulch and compost.
Permaculture Homestead Layout in Zones
The first thing to do to create the ideal homestead layout is to assess what you already have if you’re on an existing homestead. If you are on bare land, this step will require some imagination as you start to brainstorm what your homestead layout could be.
Please Note: Homesteaders on bare land should be aware that there are many factors that go into designing a permaculture homestead layout. These factors include but aren’t limited to:
- water flow on the land
- the sun’s path over the land
- directions of the winter wind and summer breezes
- the elevation and slope of the land
And SO much more!
For today’s exercise, as you begin to imagine your homestead layout, use what you already know about any of those listed items and leave the rest of the details to figure out as you go.
You WILL learn enough about homestead design and how to gather the data you need, but for now simply dream and brainstorm your current ideal homestead layout.
How to Layout the Homestead in Zones
In permaculture design, the homestead layout is organized into areas called zones. These zones are divided according to how often the homesteader access or uses the spaces. Along with the human element, when we consider zones, we also think about the needs of plants and animals on the homestead.
So, for example, zone 0 is inside the home. Zone 1 is immediately outside the home and are the areas that are traversed every day like the path from the house to the chicken coop. If you didn’t take that path daily, not only would you not collect eggs, but your chickens might suffer in some way from lack of food and water or continual confinement.
The farthest outlying area, zone 5, is often referred to as the “wilderness” area because it is left largely untouched. This is a good thing! All homesteads should have places left alone wherein nature can do its thing. These areas often attract wildlife, encourage healthy decay and rebirth, and provide areas where we can quietly observe natural cycles on our land.
Below is an example of a simple zone map created on Canva.com
Be sure to check out our article Permaculture Zones on the Homestead to learn more specifics about the idea of labeling your homestead this way for design purposes.
There are some other factors to consider when marking your homestead in zones besides how frequently you visit those spaces. The article above will teach you about those factors and help you consider how they’re relevant to you.
Permaculture Zones on the Homestead Are NOT Growing Zones
One Quick Note: Permaculture design zones are not to be confused with the USDA growing zones that map the first and last frost dates of each region of the U.S. These growing zones are very helpful for determining what we can grow in a permaculture garden, but they are not at all related to design zones on the homestead.
To find what your climate information, please visit this link for the USDA’s Growing Zone Map.
For beginner gardeners, I suggest my friend Angi’s course below to learn more about how to use this information and grow plants specifically for your growing zone.
Homestead Layout Exercise: Mark Your Zones on a Base Map
To identify the zones of your homestead layout, you’ll need to create a base map of your homestead.
First Step: Make a Base Map First
A base map is a simple picture with the general location of at least the largest things on your homestead.
For example, your base map might include items like your:
- storage sheds
- compost pile
- chicken coop
- outdoor fire pit or oven
- veggie garden
- herb garden
- large trees & other large landscaping items
- ponds or pools
In short, any permanent or semi-permanent structure. Your house would certainly qualify!
You may also note items that will probably stay where they are but could possibly be relocated if the design shows that they’d be better somewhere else on your homestead layout. An example of such an item might be the chicken coop or the compost pile.
There are ways to make very detailed base maps that are super accurate. You can read this article from Milkwood on How to Create a Base Map but if it’s too overwhelming right not, don’t worry about it.
- For today’s purposes, simply sketch your homestead the best you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect to begin!
- Keep in mind the scale of things like your house and your barn. Be careful not to make the chicken coop the same size or bigger than the house.
Next Step: Consider & Mark Your Zones
Once you’ve made a base map sketch, go over it in ink and make several copies on a printer. You will use this generic map to mark the zones of your current homestead layout.
- Pick one color per zone.
- Create a map legend to explain the zones to the side of your homestead layout on your base map paper. Pick one color to use per zone.
If your usage of an area changes over the seasons, make a new base map with those seasonal zones colored in. A large part of design is accurate observation! This process will help you really think about how, when, and where you use your land.
Keep all versions of your base maps for awhile until you become more comfortable with this design process. You will want to refer to early versions of your ideas as a reference.
Also, it’s fun to see how far you’ve come when you look back a year or more from now!
Next Step: Identify Which Elements are Missing or Need Improvement
Take a few days to look at your map with the zones marked on it. Ask yourself some questions like:
- Have I marked all the places I actually go on the homestead? Have I forgotten anything?
- Have I drawn all the permanent structures onto my base map with their relative size and distance from each other? (Remember, the scale doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage of homestead layout and design.)
- Would other members of my household agree with my zone decisions? Do they go other places on the homestead more frequently than I do?
It can be helpful to have everyone who actively participates in homesteading make their own map just to see if you get some new perspectives.
Even if they don’t make their own maps, be sure to share your drawings with your family. Ask for their feedback.
Start Brainstorming Adding to Your Homestead Layout!
You’ve identified and marked the existing elements of your homestead – you’ve even organized them into zones! Now it’s time to start brainstorming about the things you’d like to add.
Write a list of all elements of a homestead you think you still need to incorporate to be self-sufficient. Even if your ideas are a bit wacky and/or you know you can’t afford them right now – just write them down!
- Ask your family for input here, too. If you all had your druthers, what would you love to have on our homestead?
- Go online or into your homestead community and ask experienced homesteaders for their ideas. People and their experiences are a fantastic homestead resource!
Here’s a random assortment of homestead elements to consider for sustainability:
- Bees and bee keeping equipment – space for an apiary
- An outdoor kitchen – even just an outdoor seasonal canning kitchen
- Rainwater collection in cisterns or ponds
- Specialty perennial growing spaces like an herb or dye garden, a children’s garden, cut flower garden, food forest
- Wind or solar power collection
- Passive solar or natural design – if you have a building to construct, have you considered straw bale, cobb, earth berm, etc.?
- Niche market production areas like soap making or other crafting areas
- Biochar production area
- Wood lot for fuel
- Specialty livestock areas like broody hen and chick coops, butchering facilities, or dairy
- Root cellar and/or cheese cave
- Farm stand area for customers to easily access and pay for your homestead produced items
- Educational area for local classes and community events
What’s on your list?
How to Fit it All Into My Homestead Layout
You may be looking at your lists and thinking that there’s no way you’re going to fit it all onto your homestead. Or that you’ll never have the funds to do any of the things you’re imagining.
Those are valid concerns, however, nothing – repeat, nothing – will EVER HAPPEN WITHOUT A PLAN. The idea, big or small, will never come to fruition if you don’t take time to dream it, plan it, try it.
You may not end having space or time or capital to add each of the elements you’ve brainstormed onto your homestead, but this process of thinking through them will help you do a number of valuable things.
- When you make lists, you naturally prioritize. You can more easily see which projects are the most important by how often you come back to them on your list.
- There’s something very freeing to the imagination when you draw, even if you’re not much of an artist. You start to see spaces, angles, niches that you didn’t see before. Possibilities for designing/cramming in one more thing open up!
- When you sit down to design your homestead layout, you’re telling your heart, mind, family, self that this is a serious project and one worth investing time and energy into. This is your whole lifestyle, after all – it IS serious business!
- When you plan anything, you’re one step closer to achieving it. You also mature through this process. As you mature and gain experience in your homestead lifestyle, you will see which projects are actually vital to the homestead and which ones can be done later. Or laid aside permanently.
- A design helps you see that everything is connected to every other thing on the homestead. You don’t need to have anxiety that you will run out of time or miss an important homestead element entirely because you can feel confident that all the pieces fit together over time. Any improvement you make, no matter how small, contributes to the success of your homestead.
Final Step: Create Your Idea Homestead Layout
- For this step, take a fresh copy of your base map but keep your zone map somewhere you can easily see it.
- Get creative with this step, if you like. Get out some colored pencils, art paper, pens, even paint! To begin with, use a soft pencil and eraser, followed by a blank ink pen.
- Start adding homestead elements (the list of needs and wants) onto your base map. Try to keep things to scale but don’t sweat it too much.
- BE SURE you draw in the paths you walk between zones. In fact, if you draw the paths early on in the design process, you may find that the other elements place themselves with ease. Pathways have an almost magical ability to connect the elements of a design.
- Work until you’ve fit in all the elements you think are crucial. Walk away for a bit and come back to your drawing. What stands out?
- Add some color to give your design life and interest.
- Repeat this process until your satisfied with it. For now.
Remember that fixed elements like your house won’t move. So, how do you design appropriately around those spaces? Use your zone map to see where you go most often and what function each space on your homestead performs. For example, if you visit the chicken coop each day, it should be somewhere near the house in zone 1. If you place the coop in zone 5, the chickens will suffer because they’re simply too far away to get regular care.
Another example is the compost bin; if you only visit the compost once a week to add kitchen scraps to it, where is the best place for it?
What about the wood pile? If you heat with wood all winter, your wood pile should be in zone 1, but what if the pile is too large to fit into a zone 1 area? After all, you probably won’t visit the wood pile during the summer at all (unless you start building up stores for winter in the summertime).
What’s the best decision to make? I could give you an idea; for example, maybe split up your wood pile into a large one in zone 2 or 3 that feeds a smaller pile in zone 1. Honestly, though, the best decision is the one you come to with your family and specific to your homestead.
Questions like these are the very reason we take time to design our homestead layout!
Homestead Layout Design Tips
This process isn’t a one and done, as you can see! There are many factors that go into finally deciding where everything on your homestead layout will go. Today’s article hopefully helped you see where you’d like things to go, and where you currently think they’ll fit the best.
Other articles will help you learn to factor in realities like the path of the sun, water flow on your land, soil compositions, slope, etc.
However, to wrap up today’s exercise, here are a few tips:
- Make as many drafts of your homestead layout as you like. Get the kids involved and, like I said, use colored pencils to have some fun with it.
- Fill in homestead elements as you can agree with your family that they’re good and necessary. However, don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit and re-think the design of each element. For example, if in one homestead layout you have a stationary chicken coop, try drawing the next layout with a moveable coop. How does moving the chickens around daily affect the rest of your design?
- Don’t neglect drawing in your paths and imaging new ones!
- Be bold and brave when filling in elements. If you don’t know where they should go yet, put them in with your best guess and have confidence that you will educate yourself enough to come back and adjust as needed.
- Share your homestead layout for feedback – this step is not optional! Healthy systems encourage feedback and apply self-regulation to make improvements. You homestead is a collection of systems; keep it thriving by asking for opinions and making adjustments!
- Don’t stop here! There’s so much more fun to have with the development of your homestead layout. Plan to do more research – we have articles linked that can help you learn to gather more site data to improve your design.
- Just remember to take things as you’re ready for them and don’t try to run faster than you have strength!
One thing at a time and that done well is a good plan.
Homestead Layout Fun – Design Elements Activity
Remember to grab your copy of the FREE Homestead Elements Design Cards when you join our newsletter family (up above or upon exiting this article)! We’ve included a black and white version for economical printing, FYI.
Simply print and cutout the cards that are relevant to your new or existing homestead. Use large butcher paper or even a big piece of fabric to arrange the cards in brainstormed designs. Reuse the cards until you’ve got a homestead layout that you’re comfortable with.
The design may change a few more times (in fact, I can guarantee that it will!), but this will give you a basic idea with which you can work for your homestead layout.
—>>>PIN IT FOR LATER<<<—