|Nebraska, United States|
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Posted by Kerry Given about 12 years ago
I've been thinking about what zones might look like for permaculture on the prairies.
As I mentioned in my earlier update, I haven't taken a PDC, so I'd welcome comments from those who have. Nor is this written with a specific property in mind, it's more a brainstorming session for what grassland permaculture might look like in the absence or near-absence of woody plants.
Zone 0 - The indigenous tribes and early settlers to the Plains used mainly earth for buildings due to the scarcity of wood. The Mandan, Omaha, and Pawnee, for example, created circular or oval earth lodges, with the floor usually dug down several feet below ground level.
Tipis made from buffalo hides were the other primary indigenous shelter of the Plains.
Early European settlers built dugouts or sod houses.
Earth sheltered and rammed earth homes seem like a couple appropriate modern equivalents that can help fight both the bitter cold and the extreme heat of the Plains in a sustainable, energy efficient way. Another is straw bale homes. The oldest existing straw bale homes are located in the Nebraska Sandhills!
Zone 1 - Herbs, salad greens, thirsty or tender exotics.
Zone 2 - The three sisters - corn, beans, and squash - and other native or exotic edibles that require less care or more room.
The Pawnee alone cultivated 10 different varieties of corn, 7 types of pumpkin and squash, and 8 types of beans.
Zone 3 - Prairie plot with a focus on edible and medicinal wild plants, insectary plants, and legumes.
Some more interesting native edibles include prairie turnip, American
groundnut, Jerusalem artichoke, chokecherry, and wild plum.
For lots more, check out this fascinating PDF: http://www.slowfoodusa.org/downloads/raft/Bison.pdf
Zone 4 - Bison or cattle on native prairie. Depending on which species and on the size of the pasture, these could be largely unmanaged, or managed via rotational grazing or patch-burn grazing. Pasture cropping or wind turbines are more possibilities for this region. (Wind turbines may have the same affect on grassland bird nesting habits as trees and should probably be kept away from conservation areas until this has been studied in more detail.)
Zone 5 - Native prairie managed for biodiversity and conservation. Traditionally, this would mean free ranging bison and fire, but cattle and/or mowing can be substituted on smaller properties: http://www.amazon.com/Ecology-Management-Prairies-Central-United/dp/1587298651
On larger acreages, conserving habitat for smaller grazers such as pronghorn and mule deer, as well as grassland birds such as grouse and prairie chicken, would not only benefit biodiversity but also provide some good eating. Prairie dogs aren't generally eaten by humans, but are considered keystone species and should be encouraged where possible as well. Larger properties, especially in Wyoming and Montana, could also conceivably expect to play a role in wolf conservation, since lone wolves migrating from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have occasionally been reported in prairie regions of both states.
Depending on the property, riparian zones or wetlands may be incorporated into this zone as well. Riparian zones close to the house could also be a good area to create a more traditional style permaculture food forest.
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