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June 16th, 2011

Building With Bamboo

dougCan a gardener have too much bamboo? Ask anyone who made the mistake of planting one of the aggressively running bamboos in a small back yard and the answer is an emphatic “yes.” But I’m talking about having a supply of cut bamboo poles for making trellises, fences, and plant stakes.

Last week at the Organic Gardening test garden, a volunteer helped me build a new trellis for pole beans using nothing more than bamboo and twine. It’s a simple rectangular frame, supported by four tripods of bamboo spaced 6 feet apart, for a total length of about 18 feet. Vertical twine strung every 6 inches along the length of the trellis provides plenty of climbing room for the three varieties of pole beans we have included in this year’s variety trials.

Bamboo is a fast-growing woody grass. Here in Zone 6 we can’t grow the massive timber bamboo that’s used for home construction in the tropics, but we can certainly harvest poles up to about 2 inches in diameter and 20 feet in length. Most of our stockpile at the test garden is about an inch in diameter, in lengths of 8 to 12 feet—a handy size for pole beans. We also used bamboo to build a broad A-frame trellis for the snow peas, and shorter lengths to mark rows of seeded-in-place crops.

Too much bamboo? Hardly!  —Doug Hall

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June 7th, 2011

Ambitions vs. Reality

dougThis time of year, gardeners are pulled in all directions by ambitious planting projects, fast-growing weeds, and endless to-do lists. It’s a busy season in the garden. There’s never enough time, and a large garden can quickly veer out of control. Suddenly the perennials that should have been staked are lying flat on the ground, the bed that needed mulch a month ago is a weedy mess, and the market packs of tomatoes and basil that never made it into the ground are dead.

The problem is usually an issue of scale and not of the gardener’s abilities or determination. In spring, when enthusiasm levels peak, we take on more garden than we can reasonably maintain through the growing season. I’m as guilty of this as the next gardener. After a long winter indoors, I’m ready to plant the world. Reality kicks in by Memorial Day.

I will always want a bigger garden than I have time to care for. For me, a sensible solution to that dilemma is to limit my access to land. My yard in Emmaus is about one-third acre—a modest size I can keep up with. Any more and the garden would escape from my control, going wild around the edges.  —Doug Hall

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