I love bamboo. There, I said it.
I love it for its trellising potential. I love it for how it becomes the skeleton of a garden, the frame from which my sprawling vines will hang and bear fruit.
I would never plant bamboo in my own yard, of course. Let’s face it—it’s an arrogant weed when left to its own devices.
I found an overgrown stand of bamboo not far my house, a living privacy fence gone wild. A quick call to the owner granted me permission to cut and haul away as much as I’d like.
Armed with a pair of loppers, hand pruners, and a roll of electrical tape, I entered the tight grove of evergreen grass, the tall canes rising up all around me. I lopped the canes close to the ground and dragged them out into the open space, where I snipped off the leaves and the skinny tops and was left with the perfect raw material for trellis and teepee.
When I thought I had enough canes, I bundled them together in groups of eight, wrapping them with electrical tape the way an electrician bundles sticks of conduit. I strapped the bundles to the car roof and headed back to my garden.
Why is bamboo so great? It’s lightweight and strong. And—if you play your cards right—it’s free.
The teepee is the easiest bamboo structure to make. You take three or four canes, tie them together about a foot from the end, spread the other ends open, and push the canes into the ground. Wrap a spiral of jute twine from top to bottom to give your climbers something to hold on to. This is perfect for pole beans, morning glories, even cucumbers and some small squash or gourds—really anything that sprawls and climbs will appreciate a good bamboo teepee. Leave one side open, and by mid to late summer your kids will have a fun shady hideout.
Learn more: How to Make a Simple Bamboo Trellis
Another favorite bamboo structure is something that I call the net trellis. It’s essentially two teepees (preferably tripods) connected by a horizontal stick of bamboo at the top, from which you hang a net of jute twine.
Tie lengths of twine horizontally between the tripods, about every 8 inches. Then do the same vertically across the connector piece, again about every 8 inches, looping each string around the horizontals. Be sure to put a little tension on the twine as you go, ensuring that your net isn’t too loose. Tie the ends of the strings off to the bottommost horizontal. Do this all the way across, and soon you’ll have a handsome little net for your climbers to ascend.
The trick to this, like the trick to almost anything, is to take your time. Be patient, watch what you’re doing, be present, feel the air, hear the birds, make the net.
The net trellis is also great for beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and more.
I’m using bamboo in a new way this year, too—as supports for the Florida weave I’m trying on my tomatoes. I’m officially done with those flimsy metal tomato cages. Every year by August, my beautiful tomato plants are cascading over the tops of the cages. I prune and tie up as much as I can, but my plants inevitably grow out of control.
This year, I hope things will be different. I have two main rows of tomatoes—one row of six plants (three ‘Brandywine’ and three ‘Cosmonaut Volkov’) and another row of four plants (two ‘Indigo Rose’ and two ‘Green Zebra’). At the ends of each row and between every two plants, I have driven into the soil very thick and very tall canes of bamboo. (I made a pilot hole first using a long metal rod from a quoits set and a small sledgehammer. I was then able to sink the bamboo into the ground about 18 to 24 inches, leaving 7 feet above ground.)
I will weave twine around the plants and the poles, adding another length of twine every 8 inches or so as the plants grow. By August, I should have a nice, neat wall of tomato vines.
For more detailed instruction on the Florida weave, go here:
As with most things, bamboo doesn’t last forever. It will eventually dry out, become brittle, and render itself useless—which is why I go back each year to cut more. And when I go back, I always cut more than I need, because giving a fellow gardener or two a bundle of fresh-cut bamboo is like adding fresh compost to your gardening karma.
Squash bugs. I hate ‘em. I’m not sure what purpose they serve in the world. All I know is that they’ve made a mess of my squash plants this year. They didn’t really appear in full force until a few weeks ago, so we were able to enjoy lots of zucchini in June and July.
But then I noticed the egg clusters on the underside of some pumpkin leaves. I squished them, but obviously I didn’t get them all. I began seeing those horrid little grayish white nymphs on some of my other plants too. And now they are engaged in a full assault on my butternut squash.
The best way to control squash bugs is to squish them. But you have to be diligent about it. You must let looking for and squishing eggs, nymphs, and adult squash bugs become an everyday ritual. Skip a day and they will win.
I am currently trying to save the butternuts that are growing on the trellis I made for my peas (but which has since become home to tomato plants, cucumbers, sunflowers and squash). Having the plants up in the air makes it a lot easier to get in there to find the bugs—I’m not as old as I hope to one day be, but I can definitely feel my nearly four decades in my muscles and joints after working in the garden, so having the plants up at a workable level is great—just one of the many benefits of vertical gardening, but I digress.
Squash bugs are terrible. They suck the sap—and the life—right out of your plants, especially seedlings and flowering plants. I’ll say it again: you have to be diligent about patrolling your squash plants. Don’t give up.
I almost forgot how much I love butternut squash until I saw a plump fruit forming on the vine. Then I remembered the soup that I make with butternut squash, cannellini beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds. I promise to post the recipe and photos when I make it again this fall. It is this love of food that keeps me fighting the good fight against squash bugs.
Just because no one has ever asked me why this blog is called the Real World Gardener doesn’t mean I’m not going to answer the question. Or at least try.
I am a real world gardener because:
I am a real world gardener because I am a living example of how easy it is to have an organic garden without trying too hard, without over thinking it.
Somewhere, somehow, over the course of my life I’ve come to understand that beauty lies in imperfection, which has led me on an interesting path. If this path had a tagline, it would be: in pursuit of imperfection. So if beauty lies in the imperfection, and if there’s also truth in beauty, then the truth is somehow imperfect. Or imperfection is truthful.
How does this relate to my gardening? And what does it have to do with the real world? Well, I love the way my garden changes from day to day, season to season, year to year. It’s an ever-evolving place for me to learn, to make mistakes, to achieve the truthful imperfection that I so admire in the world. And that is the crux of it: the real world isn’t perfect but it is absolutely beautiful, not despite it’s flaws, but because of them.
Well, I hope this clears it all up for you. -eric