I'm sure it's been a long and strenuous week waiting for more of my gardening exploits, but dear readers I'm here to relieve you.
Two weeks ago I searched high and low, racked my brain, outsourced, resourced, scoured and did it all over again trying to think of a non-consumer solution to a nagging problem: the 32+ feet of white vinyl fencing in our backyard.
I kept thinking I'd cave and buy some long, cheap tomato stakes or pressure treated 2 x 2s from the big box hardware store, but decided on one last, desperate attempt at forking over a wad of money to some sort of corporate giant.
A little back story (annotated version): We live in a house, immediately beside 50 or so condos on one side, an older, working class neighborhood on the other. We have a partially fenced in yard for our 2 medium sized dogs. The fence is about 50% recycled--reclaimed from a house being moved in order to make room for condos. Some condo dwellers vocalized disapproval of reusing fence panels.
Said condos are fairly new and adorned with fencing of their own in white vinyl.
We, me, my Mr. and the condo dwelling neighbors had a few incidents with some neighborhood hooligans and decided to deter them from both areas (which they used as a cut through to get from one street to another) by joining our fences. Discussion ensued, and the HOA of the condos offered to hire someone to do the work. Sounded good and the next thing I knew, a large white vinyl fence was jutting out into the yard. Not exactly what we had in mind, but it's cemented into place, so it's there for a while.
The problem desiring resolution: Tying said fence into our more natural appearing yard via a trellis for the already thriving hops and loofahs newly planted around the base of the fence. Um, yeah, I usually garden first, think second. And yeah, I wanted to fix all this doing so with a budget of nada, and renewable resources to appease the guilt of indirectly supporting 32' of 6' tall plastic.
The steps to approach the resolution: I finally decided on bamboo: an exotic and invasive species here, which means there should be plenty of dense patches, and homeowners wanting some relief from their overgrown mega-grass.
An easily renewed, quickly growing, rather sturdy resource, bamboo is gaining popularity in flooring, furniture, even fabrics. Actually, it's tensile strength is greater than steel!
Constructing the trellis: First I staked out some areas that were dense, and appeared to be on unkempt property. I tried working
up the courage to just go get it, but didn't quite find my muster.
Instead I searched Craigslist. I found several people offering to sell bamboo, and no matter the price they wanted ($2 a stalk, $50 a truckload, etc) they all were cut-it-yourself. I couldn't rationalize me paying to do them a favor. Instead, I put up a wanted ad stating my budget requirements (free!) garnished by my desire to beat that plant bully back into submission. And I got a response several days later! After initial contact with the offerer of the free goodies, a little coordination, and mapquesting for directions to get there, me and my main squeeze went bamboo huntin'.
The tools we took: Our able bodied selves, a pick 'em up truck, some rope (to tie the bamboo to the truck), and a hacksaw.
Considerations and reconsideration after the fact on the tools we took: Even with the temperate, mid-70s weather, it was too hot for Charlie in a black tee shirt. I, was even smarter in 2 shirts and jeans. So consider the weather, and plan your harvest earlier in the A.M. if it's hot, and definitely dress accordingly or plan to sweat, because there is a goodly amount of work involved.
Loppers or pruners would've been much more helpful to trim the small, leafy limbs off the tops of the big stalks.
We only harvested 5 or 6 stalks, but here's what we learned in the process. The stalks get much harder as they develop leaves. The "greener" stalks were very easy to cut, but also very difficult to carry, since they were so wet and flexible. These stalks were still sheathed in a pinkish, papery husk, covering the soft rubbery feeling lime green stalk. Several of the young ones split and splintered just with light movement. (See second image down: far right is youngest stalk, ages in progression to left, grayish, silvery oldest stalk)
I'm sure you've had bamboo in your Chinese take out before, but this stuff was an entirely different flavor from the brown shoots familiarly covered in soy sauce. Not that we were feasting on it or anything, just really exploring the resource in different manners.
Fresh, young bamboo has a cucumbery, grassy taste; it is wet underneath the leaves covering the stalk. We removed those leaves in hopes to dry it out more quickly. It is very flexible, but also soft and split easily. It took no effort to cut down, but great care in chopping into smaller sections, due to it's proclivity to split the length of the fibers.
Middle aged bamboo tastes like raw chestnuts; can be cut relatively easily.
Older bamboo tastes like a stick--and is nearly impossible to chew; still possible to cut, but progressively harder as it ages.
There are many kinds of bamboo with many different growth characteristics, including height and width. This particular stuff was 30+ feet tall, which is why we only cut a few down--then chopped them into 10 foot sections. They were also an astonishing 3-4 inches in diameter, probably 3 times the thickness of the patches I'd been eying on the side of the road. With just a few stalks, we met our needs.
When I got home, I placed the softer pieces to the side to dry before further handling. A simple mock up in their new home and I decided 7 feet tall was an appropriate height to 1) allow for about 1 foot of the stalk to be buried, providing adequate structure and support to prevent the wind from knocking it over; 2) provide a great deal of surface area for the vines to climb all over; 3) diffuse the glaring white of the fence.
Cut stalks to appropriate height.
Dig your holes deep enough to create a sturdy support: Since the bed had plants in place, Mr Charlie took the corded drill and an auger attachment and drilled just under a foot down in the dirt for each post.
Posts went in, dirt was tamped back into place.
Tie on the cross beams: We used cheap jute. Actually, Charlie was also given this task since he has many years experience in sailing and knows his way around a knot or two.
We only put up several crossbeams at that point, deciding to marinate a little longer on the design. Leaving the project that started out looking like appropriate decor for a limbo line at a tiki party, looking delightfully Japanese minimal. The fence has transformed into a stark white background rather than the object of my gaze. Success is within reach.
But, practicality will have to come into play with this design.
I think we'll end up either weaving in prunings from around the yard to create smaller gaps in the trellis or going to confiscate some of that thinner bamboo to weave back in with. The smaller gaps will make it easier for the new growth to climb up and out. Which will also make harvesting a much easier job.
The Journey to a Nearly Free Trellis (or why it was worthwhile to scavenge rather than forking over the dough):
The people who volunteered their bamboo would've chopped it down anyway. Immediately reducing waste.
It was a good excuse to exercise, as well as sweat out some of the toxins in the body. A good sweat feels so revitalizing, that is, after it's cool down time.
The experience of walking through such a dense patch of thick bamboo was like taking a small vacation to a place I'd never been before. It was magical--
But the true magic was interacting with a new material: handling it, feeling the differences in age, the sturdiness, the light weight, smelling the new-to-me fragrance, and the fresh taste I'd never been privy to before. It was a hands on learning experience, which is really cool, and a vastly different experience from wandering down the fluorescent aisles of a big box store.
So yes, I could've spent $50 on hardware and supplies to give my vines a more organic jungle gym, but the experience of DIY is infinitely more invaluable.
Renee Garner has a passion to make things grow, although her brownish thumb wants her to believe otherwise. When mud pies aren't on the menu, you can find her doodling the days away at Wolfie and the Sneak.