In our design practice we rely heavily on three tools, serving these functions:

Creating connections between the elements of your property so they work together in an integrated system

Placing elements where they can be easily and efficiently managed

Sheltering the elements of your property from energies that reduce performance and exposing them to energies that enhance performance.

Thanks to years of testing these tools on client properties, we can guarantee that once you have clarified your vision and values and diagnosed all of the factors influencing your property, these three tools can solve 90% of the issues confronting you. Not only that – they can improve your property’s productivity, stability and resilience tenfold or more!

Let’s go through each tool in turn and look at how to apply them to your design.


This tool helps you to to discover how each element on your property functionally relates to the others. 

Performing a needs -and -yields analysis is easy, fun and insightful. The easiest way to learn how to do so is to watch this short video:


We use zones to place elements on your property based on their frequency of use. Very simply, the more you use an element, the closer it should be to your centre of energy (usually your house). The less it is used, the further away it goes.

Most landowners tend to place elements in random locations, only to find themselves walking literally thousands of kilometers per year going to and from their gardens, compost, chickens and orchards.

To help illustrate the importance of zones, we like to ask a question:

Would you ever design a kitchen with a sink in one room, a fridge in the garage and the stove in the basement?

People always laugh when we ask them this question. 

However, the next question is:

Why do you design your land in that same way?

And then the light goes on.

So to design your Zones, you list all the elements you use on your property and determine how often you go to each one. If you are going to X element once or twice per day, place it close to your home; if you go to it once every couple of days or perhaps once per week, put it further away.

It’s that simple.

But you may be thinking….“I don’t place my chickens and compost close to my house because they stink”!

We hear this a lot. They stink either because the design is wrong or because they are not being managed properly.  Actually, to design and manage elements like these, you want them close to your centre of energy for a few reasons. If you hate the smell you will:

  1. tinker with the design until you solve the problem.
  2. learn how to manage it to solve the problem.
  3. be closer to it allowing you to spend more time observing it, until you solve the problem. 

In permaculture we use zones 1-4 to denote the domestic areas of use. Zone 1 is closer to the centre of energy (typically the house) while zone 4 is the furthest from the centre of energy. Sometimes we use the higher zones for places that are actually relatively close to our centre of energy for areas we rarely use.

In the example below, notice how zones 1 and 2 are very close to the house and that they predominantly contain elements like the kitchen garden, chickens and a recreational space. The outer zones are used for chicken forage, the main crop gardens, and food forestry.

Distance is one of the largest mistakes we see on properties and one of the easiest problems to sort out.

Sample Zones analysis for client property.


Sectors are the trump card in the design toolbox.

We describe Sectors this way: what are the moving factors (or energy flows) that move across your property? You may want to enhance or deflect them depending on your vision, values, behaviours and systems.

Sector energies that we consider when doing property design include the following:

  1. Site specific winds
  2. Wildlife
  3. Local pollution sources
  4. Water flows
  5. Wet zones and dry zones
  6. Sun patterns
  7. Frost patterns
  8. Noise
  9. View
  10. Site specific fire risk

There are many more…

In the northern hemisphere, most sectors relate to the north portion of a property (in the southern hemisphere, they relate to the south) and therefore are easiest to map out on your base map. Here is an example of a sector map that will give you a sense of how they are built.

Sectors like wind, sun, and water cannot be ignored as nearly every element relies on good access to, or protection from, these forces.

Simple as this is, it is amazing how often landowners ignore these forces, thus reducing the productivity, profitability and resilience of their properties.

Good design is all about the optimization of energy flows!







With fossil fuels cheap and abundant, most people have not needed to consider how they use energy, and so the design of most modern-day homes, acreages and farms does not take it into account. However, this ignorance comes at the expense of our life energy, pocketbook, and ultimately our resilience. 

All of the processes that we have taken you through are tools that help you to constrain your (seemingly) limitless options. In reality there are actually only a few options on any property; the trick is teasing out what the “best fit” is between you and your land. 

When you get the process right, and combine your vision, values, and a thorough diagnosis of the property with needs & yield, zones and sectors, the results can seem magical as the land almost designs itself.


  • If you are new to the ideas of permaculture, we highly recommend that you get up to speed with this design system. There are tons of great books, resources, videos and online resources. We also have our own introduction to permaculture course, called The Permaculture Primerand are offering you a 50% discount on this 5-part video e-course.

To Get a 50% Discount on The Permaculture Primer, use the discount code:


  • In the AH Tool inside the “Step 3: Design” folder create additional folders, placemarks, polygons, and paths to represent all of the major elements that you wish to include in your property design. Examples include: pond, road, house, chicken coop, pastures, garden, etc. To create folders, placemarks, polygons, and paths simply right click your mouse on an existing folder click “Add” and make a selection from the list. Make sure to clearly label each element so you don’t loose track of it!
  • Review the Needs & Yield video above and perform several Needs & Yields exercises between elements to see what results.
  • Start playing around with placement of the elements (both relative to each other and relative to the land) such that you optimize energy flows.



Rob & Takota

p.s. Have questions? Don’t hesitate to call us (403-770-9789) or, if you are curious about our Guided & Guaranteed programclick here to schedule a no-fee Good Fit call with Rob.


Start typing and press Enter to search