Our land came with a stand of bamboo. It was definitely a selling point for us because we could see the benefits of bamboo for garden trellises, transporting water, art projects, and more.
The previous owners had used the bamboo to make a deer deterring fence around their garden. They built the fence out of nothing but bamboo and about a billion black zip ties. It was a good, low cost idea in theory, but the black zip ties dried out in the sun, cracked, and broke. Matt and I spent a lot of time our first year here replacing broken zip ties with cut wire. When we started noticing the deer using their noses to push aside the bamboo posts and squeeze through the gaps they had made, we realized it was time for a more official fence.
We laboriously collected all zip ties and took down the bamboo posts. We piled them up to the side of the garden until we figured out what to do with them. Most of the poles were moldy, brittle, and no longer useful. Contrary to popular belief, untreated bamboo does not stand up to the elements for more than a couple years. To endure, it must be carefully cured and annually treated with grease or paint in temperate areas like ours and even then will not last as long as pressure treated lumber.
We’ve had to move the stack of useless, but barely decomposing bamboo several times as we plant up more of our land. We initially thought about putting it through our mulcher and using it for paths since it is very slow to decay. However, until recently, we couldn’t find much on the internet about what bamboo did to the acidity of soil or how it would fare in a our non-commercial gas powered mulcher. Now, there are a lot more people experimenting with bamboo. Garden forums have posts about bamboo being successfully run through gas-powered mulchers like ours. And there are even some manufacturers making mulch specifically for garden use. So, we will likely give it a go in the mulcher soon and see how it goes.
That’s the “bad” stuff about bamboo. There was some tedium and irritation in taking it down and moving it around. And it surely is an eye sore in it’s present state. But, it did let us start a garden our first year here with some deer protection until they really started putting on the pressure in early fall.
However, since those early experiences, I have done my own cutting and using of bamboo. I cut new posts to use as bean teepees this year and they worked beautifully. I made them too tall, so I couldn’t harvest the beans at the top. So, I just left them and let them dry to keep as seeds.
Today, I cut down eight stalks to use to make stakes for laying out my beds to prepare for our new irrigation set-up. They were almost 30 feet each. I cut the top few feet and all the branches as fodder for our goats. Then I cut the next five feet as my new (shorter) bean teepees for this year. The rest, the thicker parts, I cut into about 10-12 foot lengths so I could fit them in our workshop and then cut them into two foot stakes. I used a pocket saw to cut the stalks into the three portions and the loppers to cut the branches off.
I used a table saw, with the blade set to a 45 degree angle to cut the stakes down to size. I used one stake as a guide so I could cut the rest quickly.
The whole process including feeding the bamboo leaves to the goats and lingering awhile to watch them enjoy those fresh winter greens took about two hours. At the end, I had (8) 5′ posts for teepees and about 75 two foot stakes. If I had bought pine stakes from the hardwood store, it would have cost me about $30 and taken me an hour to go to the hardware store and back. The goats wouldn’t have had treats and the resources used would not necessarily have been sustainably harvested. There also would have been more carbon emissions in the transaction.
Even without curing, these posts will last about two years in the ground which is about the same as pine garden stakes. Then, we will either turn them into mulch them if that works out.
Alternatively, I have just figured out another use for bamboo. There are a lot of places on our property with steep slopes and really dense, compacted clay soil. I am planning to dig trenches, lay bamboo and back fill with dirt, straw, forest debris, and manure to create more “sponges” on our steeper hill sides. The bamboo will decay slower than other woods so when the perennial plant roots reach that deepest layer, the bamboo will give the roots lots of breathing room.
So there you have it. The good, the bad, and the beautiful about bamboo on the reLuxe Ranch.