Saturday, August 14, 2010

A childhood dream come true

When I was a kid, my family had access to a fantastic public library. As home schoolers, visits to the library were a weekly tradition, especially during the summer months when the southern California heat made sprawling across living room furniture with a book a favorite pastime.

Joseph reads Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, 2004

Along with mainstays such as the works of Jacques and Hergé, I remember being absolutely fascinated by a particular book about clumping bamboos.[1] I'm pretty sure that, from the time we discovered this treasure until we moved out of the area years later, my family checked this book out more often than did all the other library patrons combined.

The book started out by describing the many and obvious advantages of "clumping" bamboos over "running" bamboos[2] and culminated[3] with several chapters detailing construction techniques for everything from saxophones to building frames. In between was an overview of species and growing techniques illustrated with beautiful photos that sparked my love for clumping bamboos. Bamboos with towering culms[4] as thick as a tree, as graceful as they are strong, as supremely elegant in the color of their bark as in the quivering leaves of their canopy. My dream of some day living among such bamboos became similar to my dream of walking among giraffes and Acacia trees on the savannas of Africa. As exotic and as distant.

Imagine my delight, then, when I toured the ECHO farm last December and found not only a few, but dozens of well-established clumping bamboos growing there!

Bamboo is strong, lightweight, and grows quickly, so it makes an ideal construction material in many situations. Because the designers of ECHO's demonstration farm recognized the value of bamboo as an alternative to wood in the tropics, they planted it all over the place. Now, less than a decade later, we have a beautiful and steady supply of construction poles, and they sure come in handy!

An elevated strawberry bed, made from bamboo

Most of the bamboos I had previously encountered in landscaping were plain green and narrow, usually less than 4 cm. in diameter. However, this is not the limit of color or size in the genus. In fact, in our collection it's not even the norm!

Dendrocalamus minor

Bambusa lako

Most of our bamboos have been planted since 2004. This one is already producing culms over 10 cm in diameter:

Dendrocalamus latiflorus 'Mei-nung'

Occasionally, these clumps are thinned, and the culms placed on a rack to dry before being used, as needed, for construction projects on the farm.

Recently harvested culms laid out to dry

Sometimes it seems that every trellis, fence, stake, wall, railing and flower bed on the farm is made out of bamboo. But with such a fast-growing and sustainable source, why not?


[1] It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure the book was Bamboo World by Victor Cusack, unfortunately now out of print.
[2] Clumping bamboos grow faster when they're young but don't take over your yard the way running bamboos do.
[3] No pun intended.
[4] That's grass for "stems."

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