UPDATE, JANUARY 24 2017: Spring 2016 was yet another fizzer. When I consider that 2011 was the last good season (after a succession of good seasons), I’m inclined to get frustrated. While the grove stays perfectly healthy in poor years it simply refuses to advance. As I’ve said before, drought on a mature grove is a good excuse to take things easy, but when you are a few seasons short of achieving a mature grove it’s a disappointment. I want acres of hundred foot poles!
From the rainfall record starting 1882, it’s clear that one can never rely on the critical high rainfall in October and November which moso needs here, despite the fact that this is a wet part of Australia. It might come, it might not. 1950 was legendary for rainfall in Eastern Oz, and the spring rain was sensational in that year; yet the late winter-spring-early summer of 1951 was legendary only for drought and widespread fires in northern parts. All that regrowth from 1950 gave plenty to burn!
While 1914 was a bad drought year for much of Oz, and hot everywhere, here we were saturated, especially in the crunch month of October. It was followed by the hottest year and second-driest year in our record, the hellish 1915. I’ll bet there was plenty to burn.
Like all who came before me on this continent, I’m punting in the great lottery called Australian climate…and therefore should not complain. But we do complain anyway, right?
UPDATE, OCTOBER 21 2015: Well, well. Got a bit of rain over the last fortnight, not much, and quite a few shoots have turned into poles, some large and internal along with some healthy pioneers on the fringe. The odd five mms of rain with the odd thunderstorm should see them to full height, though drought is still on the cards. Maybe the moso really did know more than me by shooting so ambitiously mid-grove. Note how I’m shaping the grove to come right up to the south edge of the house. Looks like I will soon be able to step off my deck and into bamboo (though the sector SW to NW will have to stay somewhat bare as a firebreak).
UPDATE, OCTOBER 5 2015: I’d decided not to update till there was something exciting to add to the blog. Poor spring seasons since the boom years, especially those of 2010-2011, have meant that the grove stays healthy enough but makes little progress. While conditions overall are still better than those of twenty years ago, how rain falls around here for moso is far more important than how much rain falls. Look at overall precipitation figures for the midcoast of NSW since the late 1800s and you’ll see that we are still the same well-watered part of the world, and we still tend to have our driest months in the winter/spring. A dry winter is no problem, but dry springs once the heat comes are a problem. As I’ve said before, if you have enough moso, drought is just an opportunity to take a break and do other things with the grove. If you are eagerly waiting, as I am, to bring a grove to final maturity and get a critical mass of moso (ten acres will make me happy), you need good springs.
So what happened so far this spring? Well, unlike last year when winter (August) rains encouraged some new pioneer culms on the fringes, reasonable September rains this year have convinced my moso to send up biggies in the middle of the grove, a sight I have not seen since 2011. Now the heat has arrived, late but very pronounced, and some of the shoots are showing their potential. I’ll just leave visitors with the photos, since I am not nearly as excited as the moso, which is feeling much more optimistic about this season than I. All the climate indicators are poor and I am not convinced. However, one day the magical conditions will recur, we’ll have a double or triple La Nina, maybe, as in the 1950s, 1970s or as we got just a half decade back, and even more and bigger shoots than these will actually soar to their maximum height. All I can do about these optimistic babies is hope that they know more than I do about what sort of weather is on the way in the next few weeks. If the rains don’t come I’ll be sulking too much to update. Just so you know.
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 6 2014: Another disappointing season, though interesting in some ways. Very good August rain in an otherwise dry year caused quite a few pioneer shoots to appear outside the grove, but there has been almost nothing inside. I’ve waited till now to be sure there will be no second shooting; but it seems unlikely. Moso can always surprise, so unexpected rain in great quantities might cause a miracle if it falls soon. My feeling is that it is over for the year, I will have a somewhat expanded grove, but no new monsters.
Lesson: you can’t expect a good run of seasons like 2008-11 to continue. This is Australia, and it doesn’t work that way. As ideal as this region seems to be for growing moso to its full potential, there will be late winter/springs when the rains are insufficient and even disastrously so. Our worst winter here was in 1895 and our worst spring in 1897, but there have been plenty of bad seasons in the past according to our old rainfall records. When you have plenty of moso a drought is just a chance to catch up on other jobs, since the culms handle drought easily once grown. When you are anxious to get new shoots to expand your grove into a true forest, drought is hair-tearing frustration. As it is for me now.
If anything dramatic happens in the next week or two, I’ll blog. Otherwise, I’m sulking again.
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!
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…
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.