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Archive for July, 2009

Dondingalong is a hilly area south west of Kempsey. High, if uneven, rainfall, humid summers, drier winters,  acidic soils…Moso bamboo loves this country.

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Though this is a good growing region, moso won’t grow itself: it needs the discreet hand of cultivation. Moreover, as I mentioned in the previous post, there are places it won’t go. This lovely patch of paperbark-swamp, for example. Moso would rather hang perilously on a steep slope than venture here.

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There used to be a massive timber industry in this part of NSW. Its star product was the Red Cedar.  The old times are gone, the Red Cedar is gone…but does that mean it’s all over for a timber industry? This bamboo is the same stuff we import to make our floors and kitchen benches. It’s the same species that makes the high-end bedding and clothing you see all over Paris. Even here in Oz, where there’s no processing industry, it makes a superb fence.

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I don’t want to make extravagant claims and predictions. Just thinking aloud.

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Here are my own pics of the grove. Firstly, the south-east edge from just outside:  outsidegrove

Note that this is the cool, shady fringe, with the low winter sun on the other side of the grove. The original pots weren’t far in from this edge: moso tends to move more uphill and across-hill. I assume that’s because it doesn’t want to invest energy heading toward possible wet areas where it can’t grow. This runs counter to the popular notion of bamboo as a swamp-loving plant that forms impassable thickets. If you think of a cool-clime pine forest, well-spaced with a fine leaf mat, you’ll get a better idea of a moso grove. This next picture, taken from inside the western edge, makes the point:

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The new shoots (like this one above, snapped by Virginia) popping up in my grove are dummies. Maybe if I googled I’d find out their purpose, but I know these July shoots never amount to anything. The real-deal thrust comes around late September, shortly after the whole grove has turned yellow, has shed leaves alarmingly and looks like it’s going to die.

So, while we wait, a word about tea, and the one that has never disappointed me: the humble autumn flush of Darjeeling. The vibrant first flush, the rich second flush get all the attention and dollars. Don’t mistake me, a Puttabong Estate First Flush is about as good as tea gets – that stuff can be impossibly good – but it tends to lose its airy quality quicker than some green teas, especially if the vendor keeps it loose in unsealed tins. A Makaibari Second Flush reeking of muscatel is nectarous…but too much second flush gives me muscatel fatigue. Plus, when a second flush is low on character it can be a boring, astringent affair: a punishment drink for sophisticates.

The DJ that serves for everyday is the solid, flavourful autumn flush. It’s rounded and grounded, and just about all I’ve tried are good. Stored for a few years, they seem to get a little nicer, if anything. Some, like the sturdy Thurbo Estate, will handle milk and sugar (if you must).

Lastly, when they’re great, the autumn DJs don’t sell for stupendous prices…they simply sell out quickly. This modestly priced Singbulli Estate of autumn ’07 sold out very, very quickly. There’s a reason.

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Have to admit, I’m in this mainly for the thrills. The half-metre-a-day-spring-growth thrills. But I know some people are looking for something to munch up their excess carbon. So, when you look at larger juvenile culms from last years growth, and reflect that they weren’t there eleven months ago…

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(Thanks to Virginia Hilyard, who took the photo yesterday.)

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It’s not funny. Lantana. Huge pest across Austalia’s humid east and north. However…

There’s someone for everyone. Moso loves lantana. Lantana gives it shelter, and sustenance at all stages. Unlike black wattle, which gives shelter and nitrogen, but provides a platform for possums and can shatter new culms in wind, lantana can do no wrong to moso. Where lantana is thin and burnt after frost, the shoots don’t grow so well.

In the end, of course, lantana has to go. It must decrease, moso must increase.  A way to hasten the replacement process is to surf your lantana. Seriously.

In the spring, as the new culms are gaining height, I get a big plank and throw it on top of the lantana thickets near the culms. I then ride the plank, bruising the leaves and bending the stems flat. This means that the lantana is under stress at a time when the moso is booming. It also means I can get access to the new bamboo to protect it. Where the bamboo is thickest, the lantana is almost gone. There is no point in trying to uproot lantana when you have a dominant climax species to replace it. (Cutting is even less useful.) Lantana fades away once its purpose is served.

Of course, on and near pasture, it needs to be eradicated immediately by all legal means. No mucking about. But for moso-growers with a more generous time-frame for eradication, I suggest you break out the malibu and your old Deltone records and ride the wild…

lantana!

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…but you need to know a couple of things.

I knew nothing till necessity forced the issue.

Each year now, fat shoots appear under the power lines leading to my house. Whereas most people, including the electricity inspector, are concerned about the shorter juvenile poles under the lines, the real concern is any new shoot. It’s hard to explain to people that bamboo that has grown in a previous season will never grow another inch…but that a hairy nob on the ground can grow to eighty feet within weeks. So, though I don’t like to sacrifice a single shoot, the ones under the power-lines are harvested and eaten.

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When I obtain my camera, maybe I can show a little about the preparation of shoots for the kitchen. For the time being, I’ll say that the peeled and sliced shoots are blanched in plain boiling water to remove certain bitter or unwanted elements, then cooked in a strong broth of salt, dark-brown sugar and cider vinegar till tender. All cooking water is discarded. What’s left is a nutty, flavourful vegetable that can be eaten alone or tossed into soups, stews, stir fries etc. Because they come all at once and in ever greater quantities, I freeze most of the cooked shoots and find they hold up very well under freezing.

You need a good-eating species, and my moso certainly provides a succulent and fleshy shoot.

There’s talk of bamboo shoots being good for blood-pressure, bad cholesterol etc…but I really wouldn’t know about all that. All I can say is: I’ve just devoured a heap of them cooked with some Aussie-grown wild rice from Deniliquin. Delish.

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br-0607bSome twenty years ago I saw some pots of moso bamboo at a nursery that was about to go out of business. The plants were Australian seedlings from the world-wide flowering of the eighties, gathered and sprouted by the nurseryman himself. His advice to me was to plant the pots on a south slope of my property, using local wattles as a shelter. The advice was taken, in a rough fashion. Of the eight or so pots, three survived animals, exposure, drought, crowding, tenants, fire and general neglect by the writer. Things got better, thanks mainly to the chance preservation of some shoots growing within lantana thickets.

Last year, the first (seemingly) adult culms appeared in the grove, which now occupies some three or four acres of hilly ex-dairy country between the sea and Great Divide in the Macleay Valley of NSW.

Some weeks from now, all being well, large shoots will appear in the soil. If protected from wallabies, possums, bandicoots, brush-turkeys, horses, cattle and careless human feet, the shoots will grow at the rate of a foot or more a day, achieving heights of up to eighty feet in less than a couple of months. (After which they will never grow another inch. Not ever.)

I know nothing about horticulture, blogging, or photography, but I thought it might be fun to follow the progress of the grove over spring and perhaps into the next year.

So, I’m thinking of buying a camera (Fuji Finepix okay?) and keeping a little photo-journal of what, for me and a surprising number of others, is a very pacey and exciting event…albeit of the vegetative kind.

I really can’t say much about the tech side of growing moso. It’s got a half-Greek, half-Latin official name (phyllostachys pubescens), it loves growing here, and it’s the commercial type of bamboo that’s used for just about everything – except feeding pandas (sorry panda-owners).

Moso is said to be tricky to propagate, but thanks to the fact that mine are seedlings I’ll never have to try.

So, please check in to my site in the coming months if the spectacle of a moso spring-shooting interests you.

Rob

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