Friday, August 16, 2013

Bamboo—the superhero of plants
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 16, 2013

Bamboo Giant Nursery is located on 31 acres on Freedom Blvd. in Aptos.
With over 15 acres planted in bamboo, it is one of the largest displays
 of timber bamboo in North America.
What plant produces the most oxygen and consumes more carbon dioxide than any other plant,  has a tensile strength greater than steel, can be harvested without destroying itself, and comes in over 1500 species, some of which can grow up to 4 FEET PER DAY?

You guessed it—it’s bamboo—the invincible, superhero of plants, able to do so much more than your average piece of lumber. Bamboo is so mighty and resilient, it survived the1945 atomic bomb drop in Hiroshima, Japan and was the first plant to re-grow after the blast.

Known for its strength and versatility, bamboo is used worldwide to make food, medicine, textiles, furniture, housing, and many other useful products. And, for the curious craftsperson, gardener and environmentalist, sustainably harvested bamboo poles are available at many home improvement stores, garden centers and nurseries.

Michael Kanner shows Sarah Hoole, 2 1/2, and her mother
 Jennifer Riley, how to drill the finger holes for a bamboo
flute at the Los Gatos Fiesta de Artes Fair last Sunday.
 For the two day fair, Kanner helped about 70 children
 make their own flutes, and will also be teaching at the
 Bamboo Giant Arts and Crafts fair.  He has been a programmer
of world music at KUSP for 30 years and is a member of the
 American Bamboo Society.
One Santa Cruz musician who understands the versatility of bamboo is Michael Kanner, who’s been making traditional Japanese shakuhachi flutes from bamboo for over 45 years. Kanner loves to share his techniques with children whenever he has the opportunity. He shows them how to mark the finger holes using a prototype as a guide, and burn the holes using a hot inverted drill bit with a wooden handle. After they sand the holes, clean the shaft, and decorate the end with feathers and beads, Kanner provides instructions for playing and caring for their instrument.

Another bamboo fan, local cycling entrepreneur, Craig Calfee, made his first bamboo bike as a gimmick for a trade show. Calfee’s workshop in La Selva Beach assembles some of the most advanced carbon fiber racing bicycles in the world. But he also directs a project called Bamboosero, which supports micro-manufacturers of bamboo bike frames in developing countries. The assembled frames are shipped back to Calfee’s workshop for inspection and hardware.

Brano Meres found an article describing a bamboo frame built by Craig
 Calfee and was determined to build one, using a method he developed
 from building a carbon  frame.  He provides instructions for building a
 bamboo bicycle frame on, and writes that the most
difficult part was finding quality bamboo rods.
Promoting the beauty of bamboo, fine artist Carolyn Fitz of Scotts Valley, is well-known for her bamboo graphics. Fitz has traveled to Japan and China and has been sharing her passion for calligraphy and ink painting for over 25 years. Her sumi-e workshops explore a traditional style of Japanese ink painting using a bamboo brush. Fitz created the logo for Bamboo Giant—a bamboo nursery on Freedom Blvd. in Aptos which specializes in bamboo consulting, design, delivery, installation, fencing and furniture, and has over 50 different species of bamboo growing on 15 planted acres.

All three of these bamboo enthusiasts will be on hand at Bamboo Giant this weekend for what promises to be the ideal introduction to the possibilities of bamboo. The two-day arts and crafts fair will have bamboo-related workshops, crafts, products, face and nail painting, as well as live music, a raffle and barbecue, and an opportunity to wander through bamboo-forested trails and learn more about bamboo.

A basket I made from bamboo chopsticks.
For crafters and builders, Bamboo Giant sells raw canes harvested onsite and imported kiln-dried bamboo. For ideas and inspiration, you can see fencing and garden structures made from bamboo, plus a full range of bamboo products for sale, including birdfeeders, ladders, chimes, bird cages, floor mats, easels, tables and chairs.

“The Craft & Art of Bamboo” by Carol Stangler provides good details on planting, harvesting, cutting, preserving, and attaching bamboo, as well as instructions for making 30 different projects, from water features, to furnishings, to fencing, to gates and railings. Bamboo fencing is especially lovely in the garden, and can vary in color, style and effect depending upon the species and diameter of bamboo used.

In her book, Stangler notes that bamboo’s popularity has increase in recent years. “Once seen as an unwelcome invasive, it is now hailed for its eco-friendly properties. ‘Rapidly renewable’ describes its spectacular growth rate: bamboo reaches 80 percent of its full height, diameter and leaf canopy in only two months!” Bamboo is actually a giant perennial grass, and its dynamic growth is anchored and nourished by a shallow, underground network of rhizomes.

In Bali last May, I saw this platform constructed from large-diameter bamboo,
at a  foot bridge construction site, used for holding tool and materials.
 I thought the way of joining the poles was really unique.
Left on its own, bamboo will multiply rapidly, a challenge for those with limited space or close neighbors. To contain bamboo, the roots must be surrounded by a 3-foot-deep high-density plastic barrier. Healthy bamboo requires regular maintenance such as removing unwanted shoots in the spring, harvesting mature culms (stems) annually, and removing dead and dying culms.

Bamboo is ready for harvesting in about four to seven year, when the culm is dark or dull green. Use a coarse-tooth pruning saw to cut the culm as close to the ground as possible. Remove branches with a machete or loppers. Cut lengths needed for your project or store long lengths out of the weather and off the ground. Annual cleaning and sealing greatly increases the life and appearance of bamboo structures

In addition to Stangler’s book and others, the Internet is also a good source of bamboo projects. One website, has a long list of projects including how to make a cutting board, tree house, raft, compost bin, birdhouse or candles from bamboo. offers a wide variety of step-by-step bamboo projects with photos, including:
·         15 minute bamboo easel
·         Bamboo bike frame adapted from Craig Calfee’s original design
·         Japanese bamboo stilts
·         Bamboo chaise lounge chair padded with wine bottle corks

And of course has photos for an inspiring assortment large bamboo creations, including beds, walls, ceilings, and bridges.

A bamboo chair made in Indonesia.

1 comment:

Jade Graham said...

They can even last the the lifetime of the house. But beware that the size and height of the fence is directly proportional to the price. split rail fence cost