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DECISION MADE

UPDATE, DECEMBER 2 2013:  Some thoughts on what just happened these last couple of weeks. I have had very late shootings, but not such successful ones. By mid-November, while a few poles had emerged and developed in the moist dips, there had been almost no shoots on the edge of the grove and none in the middle. I had given up, especially because the last couple of days before the rains were especially hot and parching, turning grass brown and shrivelling the lantana. The thought of what was about to happen was far from my mind, though rain was predicted.

When the rain came in abundance, I reserved my opinion. Then shoots emerged on the edges. I was not going to be impressed until  I saw them really thrust. They did. Then a few shoots in mid-grove, then a lot. I knew that many would be too small to compete for light, and many would be dummies. However, while there are not a lot of giants, there are now plenty of large new poles thrusting. The old excitement is back, and back when I was thinking it was gone for another whole year.

It has happened quickly, even though the weather has cooled (as it often seems to do after a too-hot spring). Most of the poles which will grow further are already above reaching height for the wallabies, and the wallabies have other things to eat now anyway. The shoots I took for eating from under the power lines (now completely cleared to adhere to new guidelines!) were a little warped and trickier to harvest. Not many of them, and they are now lying under natural lacto-pickle for later consumption.

The lesson? Moso belongs here in NSW. It will tolerate most things because it wants to be here. There are places in the world where people get a thrill when they get a new shoot in a pot of moso. Here we get to look at giants which can increase a metre in a day toward the end of their growth. And its all edible, millable and mulchable, with short turn-arounds. My intention is to surround my house with moso, with allowances for fire-breaks and the like. That something so safe and lovely is also highly commercial should at least get people thinking. Nobody knows better than me how much patience and experience is required to get a starting acreage of the stuff. But after all these years, I’m still convinced that much marginal, hilly, regrowth country can be turned to green gold – with moso bamboo!

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 24 2013: Last year the rain came, but far too late for shoots. A week and a half ago the drought was so bad (again) that I had resigned myself to two years without significant growth.  All changed! The rain has come just in time, the shoots are thrusting everywhere. Amazing sight. I can hardly keep up with the wallabies, who are as determined to eat my bamboo as I am to preserve it. I’m winning, but each time this marvellous rain dumps down I’m obliged to go out and apply more repellent. Now that the grove is a forest, that’s not so easy.

The combination of warmth and wet so late in the spring is making it the fastest shooting ever. What an experience! More later.

UPDATE, DECEMBER 14 2012: Drought! I’m too cranky to blog about it. Only good news: with the few shoots I got, I finally mastered natural pickle (lactose ferment) of moso shoots. I now believe this is THE way to prepare them. Stupendously delicious, and one of the healthiest things one could eat. But I haven’t got enough shoots, have I? When I’m in a better mood, I might blog about natural pickle using something else, like daikon or beetroot. Bloody drought.

UPDATE, APRIL 18 2012: I wrote the post below when I felt very tired after a big spring. Now, October is only six months away, and I’m getting the bug again. Conditions are good, this year should see plenty of maximum-sized culms coming through. It’s going to be huge. Think I’ll stick around for another shooting. Just one more. Of course, that’s what I said last year.

Anyway, I’ll leave the post as it was.

But I’m still here, the property hasn’t been listed with an agent. I expect to blog the next spring’s growth. It will be hard to ignore! The weather has not been dry enough for bulk outdoor charcoaling, so the projected posts on bamboo charcoal haven’t eventuated. In the meantime – my fiction blog!

http://withtwist.wordpress.com/


***

I’m selling. House, land…and moso.

I got old, okay?

Next spring will bring on giant culms, some possibly bigger again than those six-inch-diameter monsters that emerged this year in the grove’s centre. By how much will the grove expand next October? A half-acre? And the year after that?

Time to hand on to someone younger and more adept at all the practical tasks. Opportunities enormous, certainties nil. One caution: between December and August one can relax and enjoy owning a bamboo forest. Or do optional tasks. Between September and November, there will be essential tasks. And springs will only get busier as the forest really does become Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon on the Macleay. The southern hemisphere needs to get ready for moso.

Here’s an advertisement for the place.

Plain, functional house and dam, no shedding or extras. I’ve experienced the usual pleasures and headaches of rural living. Mostly pleasures. But there is one exceptional thing about my property. I’ve left it vacant for months on end – obviously not in spring! – each year of the last three. Nobody came but the guy who reads the electricity meter. The trickiest part about selecting any rural property is the safety issue: secluded does not mean secure.

Here I’ve been safe in a completely private setting for many years. One reason my bamboo isn’t often talked about locally is that few people ever see it. Yet I’m not far from town: when energetic and training up for my European pilgrim hikes, I’ve been able to walk to Kempsey and even back. Seclusion and security without isolation: that’s a common claim but a rare find in bush living. It’s my property’s biggest plus, apart from, well, obviously…

***

UPDATE:

Today I did what I hate doing, and cut two new poles of this season. Control and shape of the grove is best achieved by removing those delicious shoots (some of which I’ll be eating tonight from the freezer) before they start to soar. But every year I miscalculate and leave a shoot to grow where it shouldn’t be growing.

New poles are heavy, brittle and all but useless. Their only value is as a flavouring and aroma for tea, as far as I know. Certainly, when I cut these big guys today they splattered a powerful perfume just like that of my bamboo-roasted puerh tea.

Really, one should never waste a pole by cutting it fully grown in its very first year – but it happens.

What also needs reporting is the length of these felled giants. One was twenty five paces long, one was a couple of paces longer than that. In a grove that still has not peaked, I seem to be getting moso as big as moso is supposed to get.

Just so potential buyers or investors know: this region produces serious timber bamboo, just as it produced those kings of yore, the red cedars, along with the great eucalypt hardwoods.

Not just a hobby-farm thing, is what I’m trying to say.

MOSO ON YOUTUBE

The grove – or forest? – has taken some work this spring. It’s getting big!

Because of my age and my very slender “skill-set”, I may soon have to let go of it all. I’ve known that for a while; this boom season has confirmed it. I’d love to expand my moso, keep it as a reserve –  but it probably should pass to new owners who have the energy, capital and ability to take it to commercial levels. (I’m someone for whom “commerce” and “industry” are two of the noblest words in the language. It’s just that I’m not terribly good at either.)

In recent posts I’ve remarked on the need to understand the species not in theory but in place. The place is called Dondingalong, the grove is in ex-dairy “tallowood” country between the Pacific and the Great Divide, and it swarms with hungry, brawling possums and rapacious wallabies. The good seasons that bring rain also bring strong southerly winds at shooting time; the sun is strong, the frosts can be sharp.

I know how to help moso along in this country.

But a large and mature grove needs professionals. For example: here’s a guy in Anji, China, who can cut a moso pole with professional ease and speed.

Er, I can’t do that.

Here’s a guy who harvests a fat moso shoot the way I should be doing it.

This is an inspiring story of an early planting of moso in Louisiana. I just hope these people realise that an untidy leaning pole, even if dead, may be helping to support heavy new culms in their first year. But I’m not certain of my theory, and I do love the open effect resulting from such tidiness…so just enjoy.

Enthusiasts have one thing in common with professionals. We can be bitchy. I just fancy that my biggest poles and shoots are a touch superior to the biggest ones shown in these films. And my grove hasn’t peaked yet!

Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

LANTANA: TURN IT TO MOSO

The grove over the last few weeks has been coming into new leaf. Here, from a photo taken a fortnight ago, you can see the bare new culms, topping the older ones which have shed some of their old green for the spring burst.

You can also see again how the awkward transition to mature grove is hard on the late-adolescent culms of a previous year. Having poured their energy into sending up newer and bigger culms, many will soon lose their light.

I complain. But, really, it’s exciting.

***

It should be clear, if you’ve read previous posts, that I know nothing about horticulture or bamboo in general. I’m besotted with moso, and fostering moso on my land is what I do. This means I work in isolation, and have developed my own ideas about what works. As to whether I’m right, clearly I’m right about something, because I have a large and healthy acreage of moso, with culms to rival those of Asia. However, I’m in the position of the American businessman who knew half of his advertising did not work – but he did not know which half. A portion of what I am doing is unnecessary, but I don’t know which portion. By adhering to certain policies, I’m getting results: this year saw zero wind damage and only a few animal attacks on huge new shoots. I’m not game to change the formula.

My belief is that moso should not be started on rich flats or even on very “permacultural” swales. It should not be planted out in cleared ground, however sheltered. Strong light and direct heat are the enemies of new shoots and culms. Browsers, wallabies above all, should be repelled by keeping fresh blood-meal on all accessible new shoots, even if there are thousands to be tended. Possum-friendly branches of nearby trees should be cut off, and such trees may need to be possum-proofed, perhaps by heaping spiky bunya pine branches around the trunks. Someone may ignore all these cautions and succeed, but that is how I think on the matter.

This brings me to lantana. It is an official pest in Australia, and should be eliminated. I have no gentle or “natural” solutions to the problem of lantana in pasture or bushland. However…

On the right you see a wall of lantana, on the left you see pioneer moso of this year, which has used the lantana for protection and insulation. Now that the lantana’s useful role is fulfilled, I have trampled down its brittle stems all around my new culms – using this highly specialised equipment:

That’s a wooden plank, used for lantana surfing. I chuck it on to the lantana, then jump aboard to crush the stuff. I have done acres this way.

Does the lantana come back? It does, but providing one continues to walk about the grove and bruise the new leaves, it gradually dwindles to an inconspicuous ground cover which cannot flower or fruit. It is best described as a flimsy bully, throwing out abrasive but fragile stems to ward off intruders. However, it is also an ideal companion plant, and has very few real defenses when trampled or “surfed”: the only thing that stops me clearing quickly is the presence of other woody weeds like tobacco, privet, cassia and cockspur, which are not nearly as brittle and surfable as lantana. [CAUTION: Only lantana is a useful weed in this regard; the sooner you get rid of wild tobacco, privet etc the better. Also, let me repeat: Lantana is an official pest, and I'm only suggesting it may have some unexplored value as a ground-cover and companion plant in very limited circumstances.]

If you do your surfing  right, and with follow-up control, an impassable thicket of lantana will look like this in an amazingly short time, without any digging, cutting or poisoning:

Look hard at this snap and you’ll see what happens to older culms in a grove approaching maturity.

In a grove’s formative years, the difference in height between one year’s growth and that of the next is not so significant in actual metres. A giant culm, however, can tower several metres above its immediate predecessors. Several in one area will block out the sun for anything branching well below, however large. Now, when a culm is deprived of light, it dies prematurely; consequently, many fine culms in my grove are perishing after only a couple of years. It’s part of a natural and long-desired transition to adult production, yet I’m not happy that some cherished bamboo poles have to die off before a good harvesting age.

None of this matters in the long term, since one wants a forest of adults culms, and that’s now going to happen. But even if those prematurely dead culms can’t be harvested, shouldn’t they be cut and taken away for the sake of neatness?

The answer is this: moso knows what it’s doing. Look harder at the photo above, see the drab lower culms which are leaning and even criss-crossing.

Then consider what is happening through the entire grove during this spring burst. Out on the perimeter, new shoots have grown and branched rapidly.

These scattered pioneers, of moderate size, seldom break in wind. The established part of the grove, however, sends up culms much more slowly and puts a lot more juice into them. These are the towering giants we’ve been talking about, and for some weeks they are tender and very heavy with sap. (How would you like growing to your full lifetime height in under two months?) At the base they are in shelter, but their tops are above everything and exposed to everything, especially to the worst southerly and westerly winds.

If you had to design a perfect support for these tottering monsters, it would be something strong but springy, with the ability to bend and slide while offering just the right amount of resistance, preferably through fine, wiry branchlets…

That’s right! Those seemingly useless dead or dying culms are acting as ideal supports for the new generation of larger culms.

What is good order and economy for tidy humans, may be disorder and waste from the point of view of the plant or animal you are trying to raise.

BIG SPRING

At last. A grove coming into maturity in a perfect season. The new culms topping the old, and topping twenty-year-old bunya pines after a mere eight weeks of existence…

This sweaty new giant is vaguely pornographic…

It’s all so cool that I’ve invited a few culms into the yard. I could have eaten this guy when he was a tiny shoot in late September. Instead he can be a pet.

I eat a lot of these.

They are prepared in any number of ways, as described in previous posts, but lately I’ve been having them as bamboo-shoots-rice or as English pickles for a cheese sandwich.

Nutty and crisp, moso shoots are simply a delicious vegetable which I can enjoy in abundance.

Now it turns out that bamboo shoots, and those of moso (phyllostachys edulis) in particular, are being taken seriously as a source of Chlorogenic acid. This phenol or anti-oxidant, now marketed as the product Svetol, has a role in the dietary treatment of diabetes. Apparently, it slows glucose release.

Chlorogenic acid also has potential in other areas of medicine. This is the kind of thing I usually ignore, but it’s good to know that, once I’ve boiled out the toxic elements from moso shoots, what’s left is doing me some good.

Wiki’s article would suggest it’s not just a fad. There are many other sources of Chlorogenic acid, but moso shoots are the best way to take it on board. So eat ‘em up!

With its six inches of diameter, our five-week-old culm is now the height of many fully grown trees. I’m guessing it’s between twenty-five and thirty feet – but I haven’t checked for some hours.

Most people don’t believe that something can grow like this. Or that in a couple more weeks it will never grow another millimetre in height. Or that it will have a subsequent subterranean and canopy growth as remarkable as its height-spurt.

Everything about moso is extreme, exceptional, radical, ambitious.  Growing moso is like living with a compulsive gambler – but one who usually wins. It’s a ride!

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