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I’ve shared before the unexpected garden treasure I received from my elderly neighbor next door, whose husband planted bamboo some years before his passing, hoping to furnish the growth to our local zoo’s red pandas. The zoo turned him down, evidently having certified food sources for these valued animals, but the bamboo next door grows on.

I accepted the bamboo, planning to use it to support my pole beans. (And I do have several bean teepees in place, increasingly covered with growing bean vines.) What to do with the rest didn’t come to me immediately, until my compulsively overplanted tomatoes took off and passed my knees in height. In my ever-stringent effort to keep garden expenses to a minimum, it occurred to me that I could put my excess bamboo to use in the form of tomato cages.

I'm using my excess bamboo to make tomato cages.  Okay, yes, I know I need to do a bit of weeding.  I've been a little busy, but that's next.

I'm using my excess bamboo to make tomato cages.

There’s nothing special about their design. I don’t have a lot of extra time, so I wanted to keep their construction as simple as possible. First, I use a wood stake to make four post holes, into which I drop four sturdy pieces of bamboo, cut to 40 inches in length.

The holes are about eight inches deep and help keep the bamboo tomato cages in place and upright.

The holes are about eight inches deep and help keep the bamboo tomato cages in place and upright.

I used plain old yarn that I had in my closet to tie four smaller pieces of bamboo to join them surrounding the tomato plant, and I do this on two levels, although I could add a third if the tomato plants outgrow these.

Yarn wrapped around the bamboo and tied with square knots is all that holds these cages together.

Yarn wrapped around the bamboo and tied with square knots is all that holds these cages together.

I had enough bamboo to make cages to support 30 tomato plants. That’s about half of what I have planted. I haven’t yet decided what to use to support the rest, but I have to think of something soon. (I’ll let you know how that goes. My sister says she has a few wire cages left over from past seasons that she can lend me.) Whatever I come up with, I don’t think I can match the rustic charm of the cages I have in place so far.

I have bamboo tomato cages in place for 30 tomato plants in the garden bed along the south side of my little farm house.

I have 30 bamboo tomato cages in place along the south side of my little farm house.

The thing about using natural materials is that the pieces are not always uniformly straight, but I don’t mind. It all adds to their beauty. I’m not sure how bamboo weathers, but I’m hoping that these cages will last for several seasons.
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My tomatoes share their bed with 18 pumpkin vines growing from six hills, along with random plantings of herbs, nasturtiums, marigolds and sunflowers. I can’t wait to see what this garden bed will look like in a few weeks.

My granddaughter Jadyn loves to help water my garden.

My granddaughter Jadyn loves to help water my garden.

One of the best things about a garden is that it can involve the entire family, particularly children. Ever since I began digging in the dirt this has not been an entirely solo project. My sons turned over the dirt for me when their father found a rototiller that we could borrow one weekend. Never underestimate the power of a motor-driven gadget to pull in the interest of men. I would still be digging up our two garden plots — one 12 by 15 feet and the other 10 by 60 feet — had it not been for their contribution.

Now that green is sprouting up everywhere, I have the attention of my grandchildren, Jadyn (who will be nine this summer) and Jaxon (who just turned two). That’s good, because I have planned quite a few things with them particularly in mind. Why else would I have planted six hills of pumpkins — 30 seeds — if there weren’t children to share in the harvest?

Today I am working on the two teepees of pole beans that I hope to have functional for the children before the month is out. Each teepee has 15 beans around three poles that meet about six feet up. The beans have all sprouted now, and my generous next door neighbor (who also furnished much of my pine needle mulch) has given me an unusual treasure.

You can still see the work of Rita’s husband, who passed away a few years ago, in place behind her back yard. This garden must have been a marvel, although all that remains now is the crops that return every year — strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. Among these crops, on each end of the garden, are very large stands of bamboo.

Now, I didn’t even know you could grow bamboo in northern Indiana. Evidently, Rita’s husband had the idea of planting bamboo to help feed the red pandas that our community zoo had acquired a decade ago. Unfortunately, it turns out that the zoo is pretty selective about what it feeds its animals and must get its bamboo from approved growers, so the bamboo never actually made it to the pandas. Instead, I am reaping the benefits, as there are plenty of towering bamboo poles left from last year’s growth that Rita’s daughter and grandchildren would have burned had I not asked for them. And several of these poles will form the support poles for my own grandchildren’s pole bean teepees. And there will be plenty left to construct tomato cages as well.

But garden architecture is the last thing on my grandchildren’s mind just now. A couple of weeks ago, during that crunch week in which I was hurriedly sowing seeds in the large plot next to my garage, I uncovered a rabbit’s nest under a pile of pine needle mulch. Only I didn’t know it was a rabbit’s nest at first, and the image of what seemed like dozens of palm-sized brown rodent bodies streaming from the ground will haunt my nightmares for a very long time.

Although the bunnies seemed perfectly able to get around quickly on their own, there remained a touch of that white blaze on their foreheads that marks the immature bunny. I rounded up as many of them that I could — five, which was probably less than half of them — and successfully returned them to their nest. They have since flown the coop (so to speak), but wouldn’t you know it, one has taken up residency in my garage. This is an older, farm-style garage with a large number of possible entrances and exits that I’ll never be able to block off without bringing in a professional contractor. So, for the time being, we have a juvenile rabbit living next to my garden. My challenge now is to keep him happy outside the garden and safe from the three golden retrievers who live here too.

Our resident bunny, hiding in the clutter in the garage

Our resident bunny, hiding in the clutter in the garage

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