by Ben Gramkowski
Bamboo might not be the first thought for an abundant Martha’s Vineyard resource, but take a quick drive up State Road or Middle Road, and there’s as much bamboo visibly growing as hay. For a creative gardener these small forests of fast-spreading grass look like future trellises, fence posts, tomato stakes, beanpoles, and a wide variety of imaginative garden decorations. The best part is it’s cheap and sometimes even free. A majority of the bamboo owners on the Island will admit that their decorative plot has, “Gotten a little out of control.” It’s only a small matter of negotiation later and you’re at their house with a machete, hacking away with abandon.
At my place, I use tripod and pyramid shapes with great success for all our climbing plants, simply by tying three or four long pieces together with twine. With bamboo, any height is doable. We use four-to-five foot pyramids to train our blackberries, seven-foot tripods for beans, melons, squash, any vine whose fruit we wanted to be able to reach and pick, and eight-to-10 foot tripods for decorative flowers such as morning glories. A friend of mine suggests sinking a short length (one foot) of two-inch PVC into the ground and inserting the bamboo therein as an effective way to secure the bottom of our bamboo structures (naturally, make sure you cut your bamboo that much longer). As a bonus, if you perforate the PVC pipe with small holes every few inches, it will aid in the drainage of your garden bed as well.
I use bamboo stakes and a simple Florida weave network of twine to grow our tomatoes to seven feet high, much to our surprise. To set up a Florida weave, put a stake in every second or third plant, and weave two lines of twine (one on each side of the main stalk of the tomato) between the stakes, every foot or so high. This is an easy and effective method just as long as you keep up with the weaving as your plants grow, but it can become a terrible mess very quickly if you let the main stalk grow too high over the last weave. Particularly if your stakes are not driven in very deep (or secured in PVC), you can topple entire rows of trellis, which causes plants to snap.
Bamboo can be used as fence posts for small fences—just make sure you have a light fencing material. My friends (who came up with the PVC idea) built a fence around their new garden using plastic netting and bamboo. They had to tie makeshift guy-wires to the posts, however, to stabilize the fence, so a sturdier material might be the way to go here. Similarly, our attempt to build simple fences of bamboo and burlap to protect young fruit trees from some crafty deer proved too unsteady. In a pinch, though, a temporary fence can be made with bamboo posts, but it’s a good idea to upgrade if a storm is coming.
My experiments with this abundant and cheap material were successful overall, and as we look towards the coming growing season and start to make plans, we realize we’re going to need more.