Carel Struycken has long been interested in the principles in Permaculture, not only as it relates to growing fruits and vegetables, but also in the perspective he takes on most human activities.
He has lived in Pasadena, CA for 25 years, is an actor who played Lurch in the Ad-dam’s Family, as well as roles in Star Trek, Men in Black, Witches of Eastwick, and others. Born in Holland, he grew up in Curacao in the Caribbean, and moved back to Holland at age 15. We met to discuss his efforts at home food production and permaculture.
He showed me the Bible of Permaculture... Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers Manual, which details a way in which we can grow food and live with the land in accord with nature’s principles. (“Permaculture” is a coined term meaning “permanent agriculture.”)
“The whole idea of permaculture is to put in as little work as possible, and allow nature to find its balance,” says Strucken, who produced all the vegetables for a family of five for many years using these principles.
“I am also a big fan of Fukuoka, author of The One Straw Revolution. If I had the time, I’d love to go to Japan, work on his natural farm and learn about his methods,” says Struycken.
Both Mollison and Fukuoka are advocates of natural farming, which means planting what is appropriate for the area, tilling as little as possible, letting the leaves and old plants serve as fertilizer for the new plants, and using natural methods for bug control.
Using permaculture methods, Struycken grew lots of Asian greens, mostly those members of the mustard family that had the highest nutritional value. He grew herbs, tomatoes, yard-long beans, and 14 fruit trees.
His yard is terraced with cement rubble, several pieces of old cement walkways that have been neatly stacked to form impressive and long-lasting walls using a material that is normally discarded. He has also experimented with raised beds since the soil in his garden area was so bad.
The smaller the plot, the harder it is to practice permaculture methods. Still, Struycken never raked up and discarded leaves. Under his avocado tree, he allowed the leaves to accumulate into a thick layer of mulch. “The layer of avocado leaves is well over a foot thick, and when you look into the bottom of the pile, it is all naturally-producing rich soil,” he explains.
All the kitchen scraps are recycled in many compost heaps, and he worked at cultivating the earthworms that naturally occurred in his yard so they would do the tilling that farmers ordinarily do.
He purchased ladybugs years ago since they eat the “bad” insects, and found the ladybugs like fennel plants. So the secret to keeping ladybugs around is to grow fennel, said Struycken.
Permaculture doesn’t involve raking away leaves or garden scraps, but using them for the next generation of fertilizer. Although Struycken has tried to produce all of his needed fertilizer from his own back yard, he has found the need to occasionally bring in chicken and horse manure for his crops. “I stopped using horse manure, though,” he says, “since I found that it produced too many weeds.”
“I was amazed that I never had to do anything to my lettuce, and it was always perfect. The ecosystem took care of itself,” explained Struycken. He said that though there were many spiders and bugs in the garden, whatever bugs ate his lettuce got eaten by some other bug. This is one of the basic principles of permaculture... that nature, largely left alone, will find its own balance.
Struycken, who has been in the movie business for about 30 years, wants to do a series of documentaries where he shows sustainable communities around the world that the principles can be preserved for others to learn from.
“The Amish are the most successful sustainable farmers and they are using early 18th Century technologies,” he says with a smile.
Struycken paused to explain the difference between paleolithic and neolithic in order to make a point.
“Humanoids have been here for at least a million years,” he explains, “and modern humans have been here maybe 500,000 years. The paleolithics were the hunter/gatherers, and the neolithics were those who settled in one place and began agriculture,” says Struycken.
“When we settled, we had to make the effort to force ourselves into the new mindset, but our true nature is paleolithic,” Struycken explains. He shared a few comparisons to make his point.
The paleolithics lived in the here and now, they were more primitive by our standards, but they controlled their populations, had fewer taboos and laws, less possessions, and managed to live on what the forest provided. He cites the Bushmen of the Kalahari as an example.
“Now, when you had agricultural and cow-raising people who lived adjacent to the primitive people, the Bushmen would rarely die of hunger, however the agricultural people would die of hunger. This is because the agricultural people learned to rely on, and expect, much more. When cattle died, due to drought, for example, the agricultural people suffered more than the Bushmen. The farmers also had to work a lot harder, usually 7 days a week, whereas hunter/gatherers worked maybe 3 days a week.”
Struycken cites the Bushmen and others to illustrate that one of our “problems” is because we are so advanced we have lost our primal paleolithic nature. Today, systems for gardening, farming, commerce, building, etc., are all essentially neolithic and therefore unsustainable into the future, according to Struycken.
In this sense, Struycken believes the details of our very survival can be gleaned by looking to the past at the details of sustainable societies. He is optimistic, idealistic, and believes the solution to our problems is to properly understand the living principles of (so-called) primitive peoples.
Nyerges is the author of Extreme Simplicity, Self-Sufficient Home and other books. He teaches regular classes in self-reliance and can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.