Archive for December 2018 | Monthly archive page
No doubt, we spend plenty of time talking about bamboo, writing about bamboo, and thinking about bamboo. So sometimes I even get meta about it. That’s when I start to think about what people think about bamboo. And that can get really interesting, because people have been using and thinking about bamboo for at least 10,000 years, making it about 10 times older than the Magna Carta and 5 times older than the Bible, just to give a little perspective.Bamboo Meanings and Allegories
Throughout Asia and beyond, people look to bamboo and admire it as kind of miraculous plant. Since time immemorial they have used bamboo to build houses for shelter, to build weapons for hunting and defense, and to eat its tender shoots for sustenance. It’s no mystery why primitive people would assign bamboo a sacred status, and revere it as a bona fide gift from the gods.
Besides these life giving properties, bamboo also contains a spiritual message that resonates deeply in the Far Eastern ethos. We’re all familiar with bamboo’s remarkable strength and hardness, qualities that inspire respect among both man and beast. But the real genius of bamboo lies in its pliability and resilience, its ability to flex and bend without breaking. More than a mere model of brute force, the one who knows when to give in and how to sway in the breeze is the one who will truly weather the storm and survive.
As important as it is to go with the flow, in the spirit of Taoist philosophy, bamboo goes beyond even that. Characteristically hollow, bamboo is emblematic of Buddhist enlightenment. When the initiate has learned to embrace emptiness, s/he becomes a vessel for the universal spirit. Once free from worldly attachments, s/he begins to find relief from suffering and to attain real wisdom. Such are the teachings of the Buddha.
Consider also the Zen koan, which states that “Emptiness is form, and form is emptiness.” A koan is a riddle meant to be contemplated, not solved, but one interpretation of this saying would suggest that objects and beings do not take shape according to what they contain, but rather from what they lack and from what surrounds them. The structure of bamboo embodies these mysteries almost to perfection.Bamboo Legends and Myths
Such a fast-growing and ubiquitous plant, it’s easy to see why sages of the East would associate bamboo with fertility, long life, and even immortality. Across Asia, there are legends, myths and folktales describing bamboo’s supernatural capacities. Here are a just a few examples.CHINA
From The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars, a classic Confucian text from the Yuan Dynasty (13th century), there comes a story entitled “He Cried and the Bamboo Sprouted.” In this ancient folktale, a boy named Meng Zong lives alone with his mother, as his father died when he was quite a young. When his mother comes down with a serious illness, the country doctor prescribes a hearty soup made with fresh bamboo shoots.
The boy looks everywhere, but because it is winter he can find no bamboo shoots. So he goes into the forest and weeps profusely. As his tears sink into the soil, new bamboo shoots beginning sprouting from the earth. Quickly, the boy gathers a basket of shoots, takes them back to his mother and prepares a pot of soup. On the verge of death, she drinks the soup, and slowly she recovers until her health is fully restored.THE PHILIPPINES
A fantastic creation myth from the Philippines, entitled “Malakas and Maganda” (The Strong One and the Beautiful One), tells a story of the first man and woman being born from a stalk of bamboo. This etiological legend describes a time before time, in which there was nothing but the sky, the sea, and a single bird.
The bird, lonely and exhausted from always flying, goes looking for a place to rest. Eventually, it stirs up a commotion and causes the sky to rain down islands into the sea, and at last the bird has a place to build a nest. Still alone, but relieved to have a nest and a resting place, the unlucky bird is one day struck by a falling bamboo pole.
When the bird retaliates by pecking at the fallen bamboo, the hollow pole splits open and out comes a man (the Strong) and a woman (the Beautiful). Naturally, these two decide to get married and produce a great number of children, but with time the parents grew weary of their children and chased them off.
Some children hid in different rooms the house and later became chiefs of the islands. Other children hid in the walls of the house and became slaves, while others escaped to the forest and became free. Some hid in the fireplace and acquired dark skin, while others fled to the sea and returned some centuries later with white skin, which explains the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.VIETNAM
The Hundred-Knot Bamboo Tree is a popular fable from Vietnamese folklore. It’s the story of a wealthy and devious landowner with a very beautiful daughter, and a hopeful young man who works for the landowner and longs to marry the daughter.
Learning of the young man’s ambitions, the landowner offers his daughter’s hand in marriage if the innocent bachelor will agree to stay and work as a servant for another three solid years. Naively, the man agrees, but meanwhile the father makes other plans to marry his daughter off to the son of a wealthy village chief.
When the young man discovers the dishonest plot, he confronts the landowner. The wicked man then tells his servant he can still marry the daughter if he can go into the forest and find a bamboo tree with a hundred knots. Try as he may, this turns out to be an impossible task, another dishonest trick. But the young man meets a wise sage in the forest who shows him an even better trick, with which he can take a hundred pieces of bamboo and make then magically stick together like a single piece with a hundred knots.
The young man returns and finds the landowner and the chieftain celebrating, as the wedding of their daughter and son is already underway. When the servant presents the hundred pieces of bamboo, the members of the wedding party all have a good laugh at his expense. But then he magically commands the bamboo to stick together, which it does, along with the landowner, the chieftain and his son. In exchange for setting them unstuck, the young man is finally awarded the lovely daughter. Thus the two marry promptly and live happily ever after.JAPAN
One of the oldest examples of Japanese folklore, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter dates back to the 10th century. In this intriguing story, a beautiful princess named Kaguya who is a discovered as a baby living inside a glowing bamboo stalk. A childless woodcutter discovers the mysterious phenomenon in the forest one day, and he decides to bring the infant home to his wife. They decide to feed and look after and essentially adopt this young girl.
Soon after this, the man discovers that each time his cuts down a stalk of bamboo, he finds a nugget of gold hidden within. Quickly he and his wife grow rich, and also the news of the girls and her unmatched beauty spreads across the kingdom.
Many suitors come proposing marriage, but the man and his wife turn down every request. To discourage more proposals, they assign impossible tasks to the hopeful suitors, and so every effort fails. Even the Emperor, learning of this exquisitely beautiful princess, comes and asks to marry her. But she rejects him, telling him it cannot be done because she is not of this kingdom.
Over a serious of mystical events, it is revealed that the princess Kaguya actually came from the moon, and to the moon she must return. The Emperor, entirely smitten with the otherworldly princess, does everything he can to prevent her departure. But ultimately, she is transported back to the moon on a beam of light.
Before leaving, she granted the Emperor a phial of the Elixir of Eternal Life, but he refused to drink it if he would have to spend eternity without her. After she’d left, the elixir was sent to the top of Mount Fuji to be burned. This explained the trail of smoke rising from the top of the mountain, back in the times when Fuji was more volcanically active.INDIA
A myth from India tells the story of Rama’s wife, Sita, who had an extra finger on one hand. So she cut off one finger, buried it in the ground, and from it sprouted a bamboo plant. Then along came a pig who began chewing holes in the bamboo stalk. Through the holes, people found different grains inside each segment of the bamboo. And this, according to the legend, is how rice and the ancient, sacred grains of India were discovered: millet, sorghum, and amaranth.
Do you know of a good bamboo legend that we overlooked? Let us know in the comments section.
Since Bambu Batu first opened in 2006, a lot of people have come in asking, “What’s a Batu?” Now we also call the shop the House of Bamboo, so a lot of people guess that Batu means House. And a lot of people try to spell it Bamboo Batu.
I’m sorry to point it out, but I’m afraid they’re both wrong.What’s in a name?
The phrase Bambu Batu actually comes from Malay, an Indonesian language spoken by nearly 300 million people, hence the exotic spelling. And it’s the name of a very specific variety of bamboo. The botanical name of that species is Dendrocalamus Strictus. But in English it’s more commonly referred to as Male Bamboo, Solid Bamboo, Iron Bamboo, or Calcutta Bamboo.
In Malay, the word Batu by itself means rock; so the literal translation of the name would be something like Rock Bamboo or Stony Bamboo. The fact is, this particular variety of bamboo is extremely hard and resilient to cracking. Oftentimes it is also solid, or very nearly solid, rather than being completely hollow like most types of bamboo that we are familiar with.
For all of these reason, Dendrocalamus Strictus is a top choice as a construction material and for building furniture. It also seems like a solid foundation on which to build a business. “And upon this rock I build my house.” Last but not least, the name Bambu Batu just rolls off the tongue so nicely. It’s pretty much impossible to say it without cracking a smile. Go ahead, try it.Dendrocalamus Strictus
What else do we know about this exotic very of bamboo that’s so much fun to pronounce?
Growing to heights of 60 feet or more, with canes up to 5″ in diameter, Bambu Batu is a giant clumper. This giant, tropical timber bamboo is native to southeast Asia and the Indonesian archipelago. It is widespread in India, but can also be found in Central America and Cuba. Young shoots are powdery bluish in color, but gradually turn green and then dark yellow or brown as they mature. It is considered the supreme variety for furniture and construction.Second thoughts
For a short time, it was a dream of mine to grow some Bambu Batu in my backyard. While many varieties of bamboo grow commonly throughout California and are widely available in nurseries, Dendrocalamus Strictus remains pretty difficult to come by, even from large online bamboo dealers. I suppose it would be different if I lived in Vietnam or maybe Colombia, but California is not the climate for this species.
Furthermore, despite its impressive size, and the fact that it’s a clumper rather than a runner, Bambu Batu doesn’t seem to be the most desirable strain. This massive bamboo is not nearly as attractive as some other timber varieties, like the Vivax for example. So in the end, I put the idea to rest, and settled for several other species that would be much happier growing on California’s central coast. By the way, if you’re trying to pick some out for yourself, check out this great article on selecting the best bamboo varieties for your garden.
Finally, if you’re planning to build a House of Bamboo, the Bambu Batu might be your best bet. But if you’re looking to plant a garden, you better maybe think twice, And then remember to ask for it by name, Dendrocalamus Strictus.
Featured Image: Bambu Batu owners Jon and Anna, in downtown San Luis Obispo.
These days, it seems like there’s nothing you can’t do with bamboo. Surely you’ve heard about bamboo flooring. If you’ve ever been to Bambu Batu then you know about bamboo clothing and sheets and towels. You’ve probably heard about things like bamboo bicycles and toothbrushes. Then there are the more obscure items like bamboo charcoal and bamboo toothpaste. Most of those topics have been covered in our blogs, so you can follow the links to read more about them.
NOTE: To make shopping easier, this article may include one or two affiliate links.Can you eat bamboo?
So if you can wear bamboo, and sleep on it, and brush your teeth with it, and build a house from it, you sort of have to wonder: can I eat it too? Not surprisingly, the answer is YES.
Eating bamboo is actually one of the oldest bamboo uses of all. It’s difficult to say for certain, but people in Asia have probably been eating bamboo as long as they have been eating rice. Some sources suggest that the cultivation of bamboo as a food source dates back some 7,000 years.
You might wonder how people could eat such a woody plant, prized for its hardness, used in flooring and cutting boards. In fact, when the fresh culms (or shoots) sprout up at the beginning of the growing season, usually spring or early summer, they are actually quite soft and tender. The important thing to know is that raw bamboo contains natural toxins (glycocides), and therefore must be cooked or fermented before they can be consumed by humans. So when we say to eat it fresh (which is usually best), that does not mean uncooked, it just means not dried, canned or fermented.What are the best varieties of edible bamboo?
Of course, it’s a different story for the bamboo-loving panda bears. Their massive and specialized jaws, teeth and stomachs allow them to eat their bamboo mature and uncooked (i.e. hard and woody). For obvious reasons, we do NOT recommend trying this at home!
Among the couple thousand species of bamboo, there are just a handful of varieties that the connoisseurs consider most suitable for eating. So unless you’re growing one of the following strains, don’t go rushing into your bamboo garden to throw together a bamboo salad.Bambusa oldhamii: Here’s a variety that might even be growing in your garden. Oldhamii is a giant timber bamboo, and the most widely grown strain in the U.S. Its shoots are highly valued and known to be tender, fragrant and delicious. If your grove is fully grown and healthy enough, you might try harvesting some fresh shoots. Just remember to boil them before eating. If you buy canned bamboo shoots from the store, they are likely to be this variety. Phyllostachys edulis: Also called Moso Bamboo, this giant timber variety is indigenous to China and Taiwan, and is also the most widely used for bamboo textiles. Mature stalks can grow nearly 100 feet tall and get to be several inches in diameter. Fresh shoots from a well-established grove can weigh more than 5 pounds; that’s a quite a meal. Depending what time of year it’s harvested, it may be dried or eaten fresh. Phyllostachys bambusoides: a large timber bamboo from Japan whose shoots are eaten either fresh or dried.
If you plan to harvest shoots from your own bamboo garden, do it early in the growing season when the fresh culms are just beginning to emerge. Supposedly, the new culms that are still completely underground will taste the best. Slice them lengthwise in narrow strips for preparation.How nutritious are bamboo shoots?
You wouldn’t think of woody bamboo stalks as being particularly high in nutrients. And they’re not, which is why panda bears have to spend almost the entire day eating (and chewing) just to get enough vitamins and minerals.
But as with many freshly sprouted seeds and grains, the young and tender bamboo culms are actually packed with nutrition. That’s the stage when the nutrients are available and most highly concentrated. And when you think about the growth rate of these giant timber bamboos — some of them shoot up a foot or two a day — it should come as no surprise that those fresh, new sprouts are just loaded with fuel.
Essentially, the young bamboo shoots are a great source of protein, minerals and fiber. At the same time, they are low in fat and sugar. By virtue of its growth habit, bamboo does not require any pesticides or fertilizers, unlike most commercial food crops. New research on the subject also suggests that bamboo can improve appetite and digestion, and even treat diseases like cancer.How does it taste?
Today bamboo shoots remain a very popular component in a wide variety of dishes throughout southeast Asia and beyond. But we don’t usually cook with bamboo because its exquisite flavor. Instead we use bamboo to add a little extra texture, as well as some fiber and protein. When it comes to flavor, we let those exotic Asian spices do the talking.
Bamboo makes an excellent addition to just about any kind of soup, curry or mixed vegetable dish. Meals that incorporate bamboo and coconut milk are especially popular in Indonesia and southeast Asia. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!
Fermented bamboo is common in Nepal and northern India. If you’re a fan of fermentation, you can check this recipe for Bastenga and Kesei. You might also enjoy this recipe for kimchi and this article on the science of sauerkraut.
The variety of culinary uses for bamboo shoots is virtually unlimited. So get a hold of some culms and get into it. If you don’t have a good grove in your backyard or a fresh bamboo vendor at your local farmers market, you can find canned bamboo shoots at most Asian specialty shops or major supermarkets.
If you have a favorite bamboo recipe you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments section below.Cooking with bamboo kitchenwares
If you like cooking and eating bamboo, chances are you also enjoy cooking and eating with bamboo kitchen implements. Bambu Batu carries a wide selection of kitchen tools, from travel utensils to cutting boards. If you check online, you can also find some very high quality bamboo cutting boards at Amazon. Ideal for use in the kitchen, wood from bamboo is extremely hard and naturally antimicrobial, making it resistant to germs and easy to keep clean.
Featured Image: Bamboo shoots in a Japanese market (Wikipedia)
I’ll never forget my first set of Bamboo Sheets. It was a game changer, a revelation, a paradigm shift. As a kid I always loved my flannel sheets, so fuzzy soft; I just had to put up with the night sweats in the summertime. In my bachelor days, I once tried to pimp my pad with some deluxe satin sheets from a high-end lingerie store, but every night they would slide off the bed, and after just one wash the fantasy was already unravelling.
My first encounter with Bamboo Sheets came in 2006. Bambu Batu had only been in business for about eight months. At that point, we were mostly still selling bamboo furniture and home decor: lamps, tiki statues and suchnot. We had a few pairs of bamboo socks and t-shirts in the shop, and we’d just discovered the miracle of bamboo towels, but we’d yet to fully appreciate the wide, wide world of bamboo textiles.
So I tracked down a small family-owned company called DreamSacks in Ashland, Oregon. At the time they were specializing in silk sleep sacks, but they were also something of a vanguard in the realm of bamboo fabric, offering a limited assortment of 100% bamboo sheets and small line of women’s blouses and tank tops.
I went ahead and ordered a few sets of sheets for the shop and one for the home. One night on those sheets and the world would never be the same. Who knew that such comfort was even possible? Just unthinkably soft, somehow silky and fuzzy at the same time, warm but also cool. I couldn’t wrap my mind around these sheets.
As great as these sheets were, they were only the earliest and first generation of bamboo bedding. With time, research and development, they would just keep getting better and better. Eventually bamboo sheets became quite the hot trend, and for good reason. In addition to being remarkably soft, bamboo fabric is also naturally antimicrobial (odor resistant) and temperature regulating (warm in the winter, cool in the summer).
But as with anything else in such high demand, the market would be flooded with competitors, and a vast range of quality, from the exceptional top-of-the-line to the lowly imitators at the bottom. So we did our due diligence and spent some time inspecting innumerable brands of bamboo sheets in order to find the very best.
NOTE: To make shopping even easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.What to look for in a set of Bamboo Sheets BAMBOO CONTENT: While some products, like the bamboo towels, seem to get better results from a blend of bamboo and cotton, the best bamboo sheets consist of 100% bamboo. (NOTE: Because of the process used to turn bamboo into fabric, regulations require bamboo products to be labeled viscose or rayon. So if the packaging or label on your sheets or says “viscose from bamboo” or “bamboo rayon”, it’s all the same thing.) THREAD COUNT: Usually thread count is the most important factor to look at when comparing sheets. In my experience, however, the bamboo sheets are so soft, that the thread count can be a little misleading. Bamboo sheets with a 250 thread count, for example, can feel more like cotton sheets with 800 or 1000 thread count. Still, it’s something to consider if you’re comparing products and prices. DIMENSIONS: Of course, you want to be sure to get the right size sheets for your bed. This can get a little confusing with things like standard kings, eastern kings and California kings. (I find the chart from Wikipedia very helpful in this case.) Also, pay attention to the mattress thickness. Some brands offer sheet sets for different depths; others only make extra-deep sheets, and if you have a standard thickness mattress you just have to tuck the excess fabric underneath. COLOR OPTIONS: When I lie down in bed and close my eyes, the color of my sheets is not my greatest concern. On the other hand, if you’re laying out the extra cash for a set of supremely comfortable sheets, you probably want them to look good too. Some brands will have more options to choose from, and if you’re looking to match a very specific color, you may have to dig around a bit. EXTRA, EXTRA: Sheets are one thing, but what if you’re looking for a comforter to match, or a duvet cover? You might want some extra pillow cases in different sizes, or some little accent pillows. And how about sham covers? Some brands offer all these things, while others only provide the basics. RESULTS: The Best Bamboo Bedding
From our extensive experience in the realm of bamboo fabrics and textiles, we’ve come up with a short list of the products that we believe represent the best quality and value available in the way of bamboo sheets. And to make shopping for bamboo bedding even easier, we’ve included a few Amazon affiliate links to help you find them more quickly.YALA Bamboo Dreams Sateen Luxury Sheet Set
Formerly known as Dreamsacks, Yala has long been a pioneer in the bamboo clothing business. Their first line of bamboo apparel debuted around 2006, and with each season their fabrics and fashions have just gotten better and better. If money is no object and you absolutely must have the best bamboo sheets, there’s no substitute for Yala’s Bamboo Dreams Sateen Luxury collection, available conveniently from Amazon.
Yala’s founders, a husband and wife team from Oregon, were teaching English in China when they came up with the idea of starting a business as way to create jobs and opportunities among the local population and to promote innovative, renewable resources like bamboo. They’ve always been into it for all the right reasons. And Yala remains committed to providing excellent working conditions and sourcing products that are Certified Organic and Fair Trade.
The bamboo sateen material that goes into these sheets has a 300 thread count (that feels like 1000 thread count cotton) and is made from 100% organically grown bamboo. Using only low impact dyes, the sheets are available in a range of soft earth tones, and in all the standard sizes. Yala also makes coverlets, comforter covers and pillow case sets from the same exquisite fabric. For softness and sublime comfort, nothing else compares to this heavenly bedding.YALA Bamboo Dreams Sheet Set
If you’re not quite ready to splurge for the Sateen Luxury set, but you still want to experience the magnificence of bamboo bedding, then these are your best bet. Yala’s original line of 100% bamboo rayon sheets set the standard for the industry.
Don’t be shocked when they come out of the washing machine feeling like a ton of steel; once they’ve dried they become the pinnacle of sumptuous softness, and they are remarkably durable as well. The 250 thread count is comparable to 800 thread count cotton. YALA’s bamboo sheets can also be found on Amazon.Bed Voyage
Bed Voyage also produces a very nice selection of bamboo bedding. It may not have quite the elegance of YALA’s Bamboo Dreams fabrics, but their pricing is very competitive. Bed Voyage also delivers a marvelous range of colors, about 15 hues in all, available in all the standard bed sizes. As with all bamboo sheets, these are extremely soft, in addition to being temperature regulating and anti-microbial. Wash cool or warm and dry low, it’s as easy as that.
We typically stock a good selection at Bambu Batu, and Bed Voyage bamboo sheets are also available for convenient delivery from Amazon.Cariloha
Classic bamboo sheets from Cariloha are very hot on the market. Made from 100% bamboo rayon, they promise all the softness and hypo-allergenic properties of a good bamboo fabric. I don’t have any personal experience sleeping on this brand, but they offer a 100% money-back guarantee, so you really can’t go wrong. Cariloha bamboo sheets are also available for order at Amazon. They come in five handsome colors and in all the standard mattress sizes.
So there’s a few options to consider, and we’re confident that if you stick to one of these brands of bamboo sheets, you won’t be disappointed. Just watch out, there are some inferior brands out there, and some bamboo sheets that are really only 40% bamboo blended with 60% polyester. When it comes to bamboo bedding, go with the 100% every time. And sweet dreams!
For the last dozen years or so, we’ve had the pleasure with providing our customers with nearly every bamboo product imaginable. From bamboo pens to bamboo paper, bamboo water bottles to bamboo towels, bamboo cutlery to bamboo underwear. But no matter how hard we try, seems like people always manage to come up with a request for a bamboo item that we don’t carry.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had people ask about bamboo bicycles. Over the years, we did have one bamboo bicycle in the shop, and it turned a lot of heads, but before anyone could buy it, I decided to keep it for myself. To be honest, it was a actually more of a novelty bike than a high-performing mode of transportation. Still, while running short errands around town, it never fails to fetch a lot of compliments.
The fact is, when you buy a good bike, you want to buy it from a place that specializes in bikes. You also want to have a selection of bikes to choose from, so you can get the right size and color and style that you like. And finally, you want the assurance from a real bicycle mechanic that everything is in ship-shape, and that when it’s not, you know you can trust them to repair it.
As a bamboo specialty shop, Bambu Batu doesn’t really meet any of those criteria, and it’s not really our style to pretend that we do. That’s why we never really got into the bike business. Sure, we shared a few bamboo bike stories on social media when they came across our radar, and some really cool photos, too. And if we knew someone in town that was carrying bamboo bikes, we’d gladly send our customers there. (San Luis Obispo is fortunate to have a couple of great bike shops with some very helpful and knowledgable staff: Art’s Cyclery and Foothill Cyclery; also Trinity Cyclery in Grover.)
So although we don’t sell bamboo bikes, we’re happy to answer all your bamboo questions. And we always love to talk about and promote a good bamboo product. So if we know where to find a good bamboo bike, we’ll point you in the right direction.Bamboo Bicycle Backstory
It would be easy to assume that the bamboo bicycle is a recent invention, the brainchild of some new age, granola-hugging tree lovers. But in fact, the origins of the bamboo bike go back more than a century. The Bamboo Cycle Company of England patented the first bamboo bikes in 1894, only eight years after the first gas-powered automobile from Karl Benz.
The advent of stronger and lighter-weight metals rendered the bamboo bicycles impractical and uncompetitive, so they never really took off. At least not for another hundred years or so. In the past decade, environmental enthusiasts have taken the idea to a new level, where the 19th century innovators would have never dreamed. Today, there are a tremendous variety of bamboo bicycles available, including some very high performance mountain bikes and racing models. (See below.)Why Bamboo Bikes?
In addition to bamboo’s long list of environmental benefits — renewability, sustainability, carbon sequestration, oxygen production — the material’s light weight and tensile strength make it an excellent option for bicycle construction. Take a closer look at bamboo’s characteristics, and the choice is obvious. Most varieties naturally grow like straight, hollow tubes. It really doesn’t take a ton of imagination to turn a few stalks of bamboo into a bike frame.
Furthermore, bamboo’s abundance in developing countries makes it a very practical and ideal alternative to industrial metals like steel or aluminum, especially in tropical regions. And as environmental awareness spreads globally, the interest in natural alternatives to industrially intensive materials is growing everywhere. So sometimes, entrepreneurs in some pretty far-flung places are finding ways to capitalize on a very readily available resource and sell their uniquely stylish bikes to eager and affluent westerners. But today I just want to take a look at a handful of my favorite bamboo bike companies.A Survey of Bamboo Bicycles
Boo Bicycles of Fort Collins, Colorado, probably produces the biggest selection of bamboo bikes anywhere. Their 10 different models include an amazing array of mountain bikes, city bikes, gravel racing bikes and an urban commuter bike. When you’re ready to invest in a serious bamboo bike, give these guys a call.
Each of their bikes is handmade, using the highest quality bamboo in combination with aluminum and/or carbon fiber. Boo Bicycles’ website features dozen of photos of cycle races in the Rockies, various bamboo bike models, and close-ups of the technical features. It’s also filled with information and videos describing the ecological benefits of bamboo as a readily renewable resource that grows without pesticides or fertilizers and doesn’t require industrial processing.
Boo Bicycles sells directly on their website. They offer completely built bikes as well as separate bicycle frames. Keep in mind, these are some serious high performance cycles, and some of them sell for $10,000 or more.
A young company based in Minnesota, Greenstar conceived their first bamboo bike in 2010 and had their earliest prototypes on the road by 2012. Today they offer two basic styles, a single speed fixed-gear and a 21-speed EcoCross Hybrid. Each model comes in a wide range of sizes and colors, and every bike is handmade from bamboo and recycled aluminum.
Greenstar touts their product as the Affordable Bamboo Bike, with the EcoCross Hybrid selling for around $549. Their website includes a directory of dealers across the country who carry Greenstar Bikes, including Trinity Cyclery of Grover Beach, just 15 minutes south of Bambu Batu.
Located in prime cycling country, on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, CA, Calfee Design makes an remarkable line of high performance bicycles that combine bamboo, hemp and carbon fiber. Calfee claims to have created the first modern bamboo bicycle back in 1995. Their website lists tremendous selection of bike frames, priced roughly between $2-5000.
What I really like about Calfee are their Do-It-Yourself bamboo bike kits. DIY bamboo bike frame kits for a couple hundred bucks, and you won’t need any welding equipment, because the bamboo is so easy to work with. And of course, since you’re building it yourself, you can customize many of the features to make a bike that’s truly unique, just like you!
The bamboo bicycle business is really booming in Ghana, and here are a couple examples to prove it. Boomers International produces a very attractive line of bamboo bike frames which are available for purchase online and from My Boo in Germany. Most frames are priced around £350. In cooperation with Boomers, My Boo also sells the complete line of electric bikes in Europe, for around £1,400 – £4,000.
In addition to delivering an impressive product, Boomers is making an important difference in Ghana. Their factory has delivered more than 2,500 bikes since they began production in 2014. Today they have a staff of 50, who all receive a livable wage under fair working conditions with breaks and health benefits. They also employ more than 200 bamboo farmers.
Not only that, but Boomers also provides free job training for young Ghanians and sponsors hundreds of local children with school scholarships. In conjunction with UNICEF, the company has donated more than 150 of their bamboo bikes to local schools, mostly to young girls.
We couldn’t do a story on bamboo bicycles without including this philanthropic enterprise. More than just another company selling bamboo bikes, the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing carbon in the atmosphere and to improving lives in the west African nation of Ghana.
Over the past decade, they have manufactured thousands of bamboo bikes for rental in Ghana’s urban centers and for free distribution in more rural areas. The organization is committed to re-greening the country with huge plantations of bamboo, to be harvested for bikes, biofuel, and other modern applications. At the same time, they are creating jobs and opportunities for young men and women throughout the country.
This is just a small sampling of a few of the most interesting bamboo bicycle companies operating today. There are plenty more out there, like Simple Bikes in China, and In’Bô in France. If you have a favorite brand of bamboo bike that we overlooked, please tell us about it in the comments section below.
FEATURED IMAGE: Bamboo Bicycle from Calfee Design
It’s not that I don’t take my oral health seriously, but generally speaking, I have a pretty hard time getting fired up about dental hygiene. And yet, when it comes to sustainable and renewable alternatives to ordinary instruments, my zero-emission engine really gets revving. That’s why the recent wave of bamboo toothbrushes has got me (and thousands like me) bristling with excitement!
In a world of cut-throat salesmanship and a never ending supply of irrational needs to justify the invention of unnecessary products, the idea of a zero-waste and fully compostable bamboo toothbrush is a refreshing sight indeed. Put me on a desert island with an ample supply of tropical fruit and no access to wi-fi, and there are a million and one things I can easily do without. But a good toothbrush is not one of them. So it’s about time some brilliant engineers put their wisdom teeth together and started designing some even better toothbrushes.
Now let’s open wide and take a closer look and see what we can come up with when we apply a little sustainable ingenuity to this age-old implement of personal care.
NOTE: To make shopping even easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.What makes a great toothbrush?
It’s quite simple really. There are just two things you need in a toothbrush: a handle on one end and some bristles on the other. The problem is, for the few decades of my life, I never had the opportunity to use a single toothbrush that wasn’t made from plastic. And considering that most toothbrushes last for just a few months, that means I’m personally responsible for something between 100-200 discarded plastic toothbrushes, lingering away in landfills across southern California and the world. Multiply that times however many billion people, and you start to see the problem.
In recent decades, toothbrush makers have gotten increasingly creative, innovating all kinds of incredibly shaped contraptions for for reaching those back molars. I never found any of them very convincing, although me kids are crazy for their toothbrushes that come shaped like giraffes and X-Wing fighters. But still, they’re always made from 100% plastic.
So when bamboo toothbrushes arrived on the scene, you better believe that this bamboo enthusiast sat up, took notice, and smiled a big shiny bright grin. So here’s a quick survey of a few bamboo toothbrushes that we’ve come across. And to make finding and purchasing them easier, we’ve included a few Amazon affiliate links in the article, as well as a couple links to our own bamboo shop.Top Five Toothbrushes
The great thing about these toothbrushes is that they are entirely plant based. Everything from the handle to the bristles to the packaging is made from bamboo and other plants, making it 100% compostable and biodegradable. Because we like these so much, we also sell them at Bambu Batu.
The handle is made from Moso bamboo, cultivated from wild bamboo forests in the mountains of China, where no pesticides or fertilizers ever come near. Vegetable oil is the key ingredient in the bio-based bristles. The result is a well-functioning and ergonomic toothbrush that can be buried in your backyard or in your compost pile when you’re through using it.
The founders of Smile Squared were traveling on a humanitarian mission in Central America when it suddenly occurred to them just how important a good toothbrush is for a child in the developing world. It didn’t take them long to come up with a terrific way to make the world a better place.
For every toothbrush they sell, Smile Squared donates a child’s sized bamboo toothbrush to a child in need. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. What better way to pay it forward and promote good health in developing countries.
Smile Squared makes toothbrushes for children and adults, and they are sold individually or in sets of 4 or 6 on Amazon.
Honest Ninja now produces a line of bamboo toothbrushes with charcoal bristles. But before you clench your teeth in dismay, you might want to take a look at this article on the benefits of bamboo charcoal. Bamboo charcoal is very effective for purifying air and water, and also does a great job of whitening the teeth. The charcoal bristles are actually quite soft and gentle, and of course the handle is made from bamboo as well.
Amazon sells these bamboo charcoal toothbrushes in sets of four, and the company offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so you can’t go wrong.
Oralogy offers a uniquely designed series of toothbrushes made from carved beauty, for a extra touch of style. The brushes come in a pack of four, each with a distinctly carved pattern. They also use soft nylon bristles infused with bamboo charcoal for additional whitening and disinfecting properties.
We also appreciate the fact that Oralogy donates a portion of its proceeds to 4Ocean, an organization devoted to removing plastic and garbage from the oceans and beaches.
One more reputable company delivering a high-quality bamboo toothbrush with charcoal infused bristles, ECOFELLA takes a couple extra steps to make themselves stand out. With every set of brushes they sell, they plant five trees in Madagascar, where 90% of the forests have been cut down. Customers also receive a free e-book entitled “63 Ways to reduce your waste”.
If you’re looking to pay it forward with your dental hygiene, this might be the best solution of all. EcoFella bamboo toothbrushes are available on Amazon in sets of four, each numbered, so you won’t lose track of whose is whose.
In the comments section below, let us know which bamboo toothbrush is your favorite to use. And until next time, keep on smiling!
Few plants can display a growth habit to rival that of bamboo. Some tropical species are known to shoot up at a rate of a foot or two a day in the growing season. But what about bamboo’s prospects in the afterlife? Yes, it can be processed into thousands of products, from building materials to towels to just about anything you can imagine.
Even bamboo that’s been eaten by panda bears and comes out the other end can be made into fabulous panda poo paper products. But how about bamboo that’s been destroyed by fire? Surely its potential must be severely limited. Well, think again.Bamboo Charcoal
By cooking mature stalks of bamboo at temperatures around 1000º C, the hardy plant undergoes thermal decomposition and turns into bamboo charcoal. This dark grey and seemingly inert end product actually has a surprising range of uses. Historically, the myriad applications of bamboo charcoal date back many centuries, millennia even. We can trace the oldest written record to the Ming Dynasty, 15th century.
Most uses of bamboo charcoal involve either cooking or some type of purification. But some of the most intriguing uses did not “come to light” until the 20th century. Relying on its strength and durability, Thomas Edison employed a carbon filament fashioned from bamboo for one of his very first light bulb experiments. These days, however, the demand for bamboo filament lightbulbs has greatly diminished, so don’t expect to see any on the shelves at Bambu Batu. Although you might find bamboo charcoal in some of our bamboo toothbrushes, which make use of its teeth-whitening properties.
NOTE: To make shopping even easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.Purification and Filtration
Like most varieties of charcoal, bamboo is very effective as a medium for cleaning both air and water. Most water filters employ some sort of carbon filtration system, but there’s a bamboo water filter method that’s as easy as dunking a slab of charcoal into a jug of water. Within 3-4 hours, the bamboo leaches the impurities from your tap water.
IPPINKA Bamboo Charcoal Water Filter is a product of Japan, and it reliably removes chlorine from your water, for a cleaner and better tasting refreshment. They come three sticks in a box, and each stick lasts about a month or two. Just boil the stick once a week for ten minutes to keep it fresh.
If you’re just looking for something to clear the air, bamboo charcoal is perfect for that too. A little bag of charcoal in the sock drawer, in the car, or in the bathroom, can provide an effective and inconspicuous solution to the unpleasant odor problems.
Brilliant Evolution makes 50 gram bags of bamboo charcoal that are sold in sets of four. The reusable pouches last for up to 2 years. The charcoal itself is non-toxic, has no added chemicals or odors, and is easy to compost at the end of their use.Bamboo Briquettes
We usually associate it German sausages and American burgers, but really, who doesn’t love a good BBQ? The oldest use of bamboo charcoal is probably for cooking, much like how we use different kinds of charcoal when we fire up the grill. Stalks and culms of bamboo are cooked down to what’s classified as raw charcoal, and the remaining residue and bi-product becomes charcoal briquettes.
But bamboo briquettes don’t lend the same sort of flavor as a nice mesquite, so it’s actually not so common to cook with it on the grill. More likely, the charcoal goes into a furnace to be used for heating. It’s also an ideal source of heat for drying out tea leaves, a very common practice in Asia.Honorable Mention
One final use of bamboo charcoal may or may not be worth considering, depending whether you’ve got the stomach for it! In 2014, Burger King in Japan introduced the all-black cheeseburger. They used bamboo charcoal to color the buns, the burger and the cheese. Black squid ink was also added to the ketchup to make a black sauce. Bamboo charcoal is highly revered in Japan, and these frightening looking burgers were actually a big hit.
I can’t attest to the taste of a black cheeseburger, but why not treat yourself to some cleaner water and a little more fresh air? Bamboo charcoal can do it all!
Photo Credit: Charred bamboo, ready to enter the next stage of life (Wikipedia)
When we started selling bamboo towels more than a decade ago, there weren’t many brands to choose from. Back then, in 2006, BAMBU BATU was still the only all-bamboo boutique in California, and we were determined to stock our shelves with some incredible towels, at a time when no one had even heard of bamboo towels.
We took our chances and ordered a case of 60/40 bamboo-cotton blended towels, made in India, from a now defunct company with a major distribution center on the east coast. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but one thing is certain, those towels exceeded even our greatest expectations: as soft as cashmere, amazingly absorbent, odor resistant, and built to last. When the company discontinued the towels a year later we were absolutely devastated. Not only did we love the towels more than anything, but they were far and away the best selling line in the store. Apparently BAMBU BATU’s small scale success was not enough to keep the multi-national factories running.
After that heart break, it took us years to find a comparable replacement that lived up to that same level of quality, softness, absorbency and durability. Those towels had opened our eyes to a whole new world of post-bath luxury, and the genie would NOT go back in the bottle. So we dabbled in a dozen or more different brands of bamboo towels, ordering samples from all corners of the globe.
We washed, we dried, we daubed, we shimmied. But we were not about to settle for anything less than the very best. Eventually, we came up with a winner, and those are the towels we proudly sell in our San Luis Obispo brick-n-mortar shop and online.
Our exhaustive research led us to many brands of bamboo towels, and a tremendous range in quality. Some towels were exceptionally soft but just didn’t seem very absorbent. Others were just too easy to snag on jewelry, on finger nails, or in the dryer. And some just didn’t seem to have the softness or the fluffiness that we’d come to count on from a great bamboo towel.
All in all, the realm of bamboo towels is a wonderful and luxurious world to explore. So it’s a been a marvelous experience and great learning process. And now I’d like to pass along some of that bamboo knowledge, with this quick tour through some of the leading brands of bamboo towels. By the way, if you find this article helpful, you might also want to read our study on the best bamboo sheets.
NOTE: To make shopping even easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.TOP CHOICE: 1. Daisy House Bamboo Towels
Amid the forest of bamboo companies, it’s not easy to narrow it down to just one superior choice. So what makes Daisy House stand out from the crowd? We love these towels for a lot of reasons. Most of all, they accentuate all the characteristics that make bamboo towels great: super soft, super fluffy, and super absorbent. Made in Turkey from a blend of cotton and bamboo, they also hold up very well over time.
In addition to these essential traits, Daisy House towels come in an astonishing variety of colors. Last time I checked there were 22 to choose from. Maybe your bathroom is hot pink with flamingo wall paper, or perhaps you’re trying to match the aquamarine tiles you picked up on your last trip to Mexico. Or do you prefer to go au natural? No matter what, they’ve got you covered. And we’re not the only ones ranking them number one; the Wall Street Journal also rated them the best overall towel.
Furthermore, Daisy House is a small, family-owned company, with excellent, friendly customer service. In an age of automated everything and corporate conglomerates, it means a lot to me when I can purchase my sustainable bamboo products from real humans with souls and voices.2. Caribbean
In my experience, and as much as I love the bamboo, I have to say that I generally prefer the towels that are made from a blend of bamboo and cotton. It’s like they somehow give you the best of both worlds. But if you absolutely must have 100% bamboo, then Caribbean is the way to go.
These guys are real purists. They use nothing but 100% organic bamboo. And they donate a portion of their profits to UNICEF for children. So there’s a lot to love about these towels. Maybe they’re not as thick and fluffy as some of the bamboo-cotton blended towels, but the light weight and silky softness makes them ideal for babies and children.
The only down side here is that you won’t find a tremendous selection of colors. Being such purists, they only use un-dyed bamboo, so all their towels are white. But if you’re looking for 100% unadulterated organic bamboo towels from a company that really cares about helping children around the world, then Caribbean is your best choice. You can purchase their bath towels individually, but the price drops significantly if you buy them in sets of 6 or 12.3. Murphy Bamboo
Murphy offers a line of luxurious bath towels made from 70% bamboo and 30% cotton. The ribbed terry fabric gives these deluxe towels and extra air of plush softness. There’s no doubt, these are some wonderfully soft, fluffy and absorbent towels. Personally, I’m a big fan of of ribbed towels, so that’s a plus for me, but some people might prefer a more uniform texture. The only other downside is the lack of color selection. Murphy Bamboo towels are currently only available in white. Check Amazon for current pricing and availability.4. Cariloha
This company sprouted up out of nowhere about five years ago and dominated the internet virtually overnight. Their online presence makes them impossible to ignore, but they also deliver a very high quality product.
As with any great bamboo towel worth mentioning, these are extra super cushy. Cariloha uses a 50-50 blend of bamboo and Turkish cotton to produce a great towel that’s exceptionally soft, fluffy and absorbent. They also offer a beautiful selection of colors, which can be helpful if you’re trying to match a specific bathroom decor. Your best option is probably Cariloha’s bamboo 3-piece towel set, which includes a generously sized bath towel, a hand towel and a washcloth.5. Chakir Turkish Linens
Another excellent line of luxuriously soft towels made from a blend of 65% Turkish cotton and 35% bamboo. Chakir towels are comparable to Daisy House and Cariloha in price and quality, remarkably soft, thick, fluffy and absorbent. They are also available in several colors.
UPDATE: Last we checked, these towels were sold out on Amazon, and it was not known when they would be available again. Seems that these towels are just too hot to keep in stock. Visit Amazon to check on current pricing and availability.6. Brooklyn Bamboo
This company offers a luxurious 3-piece set of 100% bamboo bath towels, with all the fabulous qualities of softness and absorbency that make bamboo towels such a wonderful choice. The woven jacquard pattern adds an extra touch of elegance. Brooklyn Bamboo also carries a variety of bamboo towel sets for babies.
Keep in mind, with the 100% bamboo, these towels are not going to be as thick and fluffy as some of the bamboo-cotton blends like Daisy House. Also, Brooklyn bamboo towels are only available in a couple of colors, grey and off-white.7. Bamboosa
Looking for a good family feeling and an American-made towel, look no further than Bamboosa of South Carolina, recently relocated to Los Angeles, California. This family-owned and operated company is a true pioneer in the bamboo field. Since around 2004, they have been committed to providing the most environmentally responsible and ethically produced bamboo products imaginable, while creating jobs and opportunities right here in America.
Bamboosa’s towels are made from a blend of 80% organic bamboo and 20% recycled polyester. They are incredibly soft and absorbent, and so far as we know, the only bamboo towels being manufactured in the USA.
As a small mom-n-pop enterprise, however, their availability is sometimes rather limited. Currently they have a bamboo gym towel and a some bamboo baby towel sets in stock. Visit their website to order and to check availability.8. Bamboo Classic
Their name says it all. No frills, just great bamboo. Made from a blend of 55% bamboo and 45% cotton, these towels are certainly soft and absorbent. To increase the softness and absorbency, they recommend washing the towels before use.
The Bamboo Classic towel sets only come in white, but check out Amazon’s price for a set of four bath towels, and you’ll see that they are among the least expensive bamboo towels on the market. However, the low price might come at the cost of durability. These don’t seem to be the same quality material that we’ve handled elsewhere.CONCLUSIONS
The benefits of bamboo as a textile go on and on. It is one of the fastest growing and renewable plants on earth, and its versatility is unparalleled. Fabric made from the bamboo plants has also proven to be hypo-allergic, anti-microbial and odor resistant, making it an excellent material for products like t-shirts, socks, underwear, and more.
With such softness and absorbency, bamboo is also an ideal material for towels. But not all bamboo towels are created equally. And in my experience, some varieties of bamboo fabric seem to harness that softness and absorbency better than others. For instance, the bamboo-cotton blends appear to make the best towels — fluffier and more absorbent than the 100% bamboo towels that I’ve used. Even so, there is something appealing about a towel made from nothing but bamboo.
In assessing these towels, we also take into consideration the philosophy and spirit of our bamboo producing colleagues. As a family-owned business founded on a commitment to environmental awareness and social responsibility, we care about a lot more than just the bottom line. Therefore, we like to promote and do business with other like-minded companies. And so, for all of these reasons, we’ve chosen Daisy House as number one, and named Caribbean a close second.
Whatever bamboo towel you choose, we wish you all the best in your bathing, drying and bamboo swaddling!
There’s an old saying among seasoned bamboo growers. “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.” Those wanting a quick spreading hedge or grove in their backyard might be disappointed with their new stand of bamboo after the first 6 to 12 months. But it won’t be long before they’re running for their chainsaws and pick axes, desperate to curtail an out-of-control root system.
So before you plant that super sustainable renewable grass specimen in your garden, you’ll need to have a clear strategy for bamboo containment. And if it’s already too late, and the clump you planted just two or three years ago is already running amok, then you’ll want to consider some effective methods of bamboo abatement and eradication.
Or worse yet, maybe your neighbor went gung-ho a few years back after an inspiring trip to the home and garden show (or a quick glance at this rousing article on best bamboo varieties). And now his short-sighted dream of a Japanese garden is turning into a nightmare of bamboo rhizomes wreaking havoc on your fence line, your flowers beds, your veggie patch and your sprinkler system. In this case, you’ll want to study up on both topics mentioned above, in addition to possibly signing up for a course on non-violent communication.
When it comes to time make peace with your neighbor, you’re on your own. But this article will help you with the first two issues, and also prevent you from becoming the kind of gardener whose neighbors want to come after them with a bulldozer in the night.
NOTE: This article does contain affiliate links for bamboo gardening products.The Importance of Bamboo Containment
If you’re planting a fast-growing (read: aggressively spreading) bamboo privacy hedge, or one of the popular and massive timber bamboos, and you live in a neighborhood (as opposed to rural farmland), then a good rhizome barrier is absolutely essential.
Here are a couple things you will need to keep in mind. First of all, never underestimate the tenacity of a healthy bamboo plant. Bamboo is a force of nature unlike any other. People like to talk about runners vs. clumpers, but as they mature, all bamboos display the undeniable will to spread out. You can put bamboo into a pot or a barrel, but don’t kid yourself. If there’s a crack in the barrel or a hole in the pot — and surely there is — the bamboo roots will eventually find their way out. And if there’s soil below, the roots will take hold faster than you can say phyllostachys!
Also know that those little rhizomes have an amazing ability to sniff out a good water supply, especially in a dry climate like California. That means, if you have some bamboo in the ground, and one of your neighbors has a drip irrigation in their herb garden, or they regularly run their sprinkles to keep the lawn green, it’s very likely that your bamboo will send out runners headed straight for that water source.
It’s like the bamboo has a kind of plant ESP. But just wait till those well-watered roots start sprouting up new shoots in the neighbor’s perfect lawn like UFOs (Underground F#@&ing Objects). Don’t expect them to be welcomed with open arms.
And don’t think you can just yank those unwanted sprouts from the soil like a handful of pesky dandelions. It’s not unheard of for people to rent a backhoe or a bulldozer to really clear out an established stand of bamboo. Otherwise, count on spending a few hours with a spade, maybe a pick ax, maybe even a Sawzall (reciprocating saw), to keep those running rhizomes at bay. And you’ll need to do that sort of maintenance at least once or twice a year if you really want to keep your bamboo from getting the upper hand.How to Contain your Bamboo
After many centuries of man and bamboo butting heads, and bamboo almost always coming out the winner, some brilliant gardener(s) finally devised a virtually impenetrable system of bamboo containment to help keep your grass where it belongs.
Today you can (and should!) buy sheets of extremely durable black polyethylene, about 1.5 mm in thickness, and usually 24″ to 30″ in width. It’s normally available on a roll, anywhere from 25 to 100 feet in length. You might think 24″ is plenty. After all, who wants dig a 3 foot trench all the way around their hedge? But trust me, use at least 30″, you’ll be better off in the long run. Like I said before, never underestimate the perseverance of a bamboo.
The most popular, most effective, tried and true bamboo containing material is available online from Amazon. It’s the DeepRoot Bamboo Barrier, 30″ deep by 100 ft roll. This stuff is nearly invincible, going a serious 2.5 feet underground, and the 100-ft roll gives you enough length to contain a pretty major privacy hedge. Consider it a few hundred bucks well spent on your peace of mind and good neighbor relations.
Another less expensive alternative to consider is Bamboo Shield’s 24″ by 100 foot roll.
Bamboo Shield also offers shorter rolls with deeper coverage to contain the most aggressive bamboo specimens, all available at Amazon. Check out the Bamboo Shield 30″ by 50 foot roll, or the extra heavy duty Bamboo Shield 36″ by 25 foot roll .How to Remove Bamboo
OK, so it’s already too late. You or your neighbor let some bamboo run free, and now it’s just out of control. Is there an easy way to get rid of it? Well yes, there are ways to get rid of it. But none of them are easy.
First you’ll need to cut it down to the ground, as low as possible. And then start digging. Pull out roots and rhizomes as you go. And keep on digging. If it’s a particularly tenacious variety you may want to reach for a pick ax or a hand saw. If nothing else works, or your back just isn’t up for this type of labor, your best best will be the Sawzall. As the name suggests, these things saw through anything.
The top of the line piece is Makita’s Cordless Recipro Saw Kit, sold complete with saw blades and an extra battery.
Or you could save a few bucks with a similar Dewalt 12 Amp Corded Reciprocating Saw.
In any case, don’t let these tools and cautionary tales frighten you out of planting an amazing grove of bamboo. With proper preparation, these incredible products make it possible for even the suburban gardener to plant an astonishing stand that the whole neighborhood can enjoy!
Photo Credit: Bamboo rhizomes resisting containment (Wikipedia)
After some 10 or 20 thousand years of cultivation, bamboo’s popularity may in fact be at an all-time high. Of course, 10,000 years ago, there were a lot fewer people around to exchange gardening tips. But it’s also true that more and more people today are recognizing bamboo for its utility, versatility, aesthetic beauty, and all-around sense of good joo-joo. Though it’s been revered in the Far East for these same qualities for many thousands of years, it’s taken a few extra centuries for this thing of wonder to reach the west and spread like wildfire — not unlike a few other things I can think of. Yoga and sushi quickly come to mind.
As if sorting through the options of bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo towels weren’t challenging enough, consider now that if you’re looking to plant a few varieties of bamboo in your garden, you’ll have between 1-2,000 species to choose from. Even the bamboo specialists can’t agree on the actual number of bamboo breeds. But no need to split hairs over speciation. Today we’d like to help you narrow it down to the 10 best bamboo varieties for your garden.Two Types of Bamboo
Some people like to say that there are types of bamboo: runners and clumpers. Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization, because, like I said, there are really something like 1-2,000 species of bamboo. Not only that, but there are also slow runners and aggressive clumpers, and a number of other factors that could affect the growth habit of your bamboo. Having said that, this still remains the simplest way to think of bamboos.
Most bamboos are runners, meaning that they send out rhizome roots racing underground in pursuit of moisture and elbow room. If you’re looking to plant a privacy hedge that will spread quickly along a fence line, or you just enjoy watching a voracious plant as it wields its dominion over the landscape, then this is the way to go. They also tend to be the easiest to find, especially at non-specialist nurseries, because they do propagate so easily.
But be careful, and think before you plant. The old adage about bamboo says that, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.” In other words, you might not think it’s a runner after the first year, but by the third or forth year, you almost certainly will, and so will your neighbors.
Running bamboos have no respect for property lines. If the neighbor to the one side is regularly sprinkling his perfectly manicured lawn, or the neighbor on the other side is constantly irrigating her prize-winning rose bushes, it won’t take long (especially in a dry place like California) for those eager rhizomes to sniff out those delicious water sources and wreak havoc on the roses, the lawn, the vegetable patch, the herb garden, and pretty much everything in sight. There goes the neighborhood!
So how do you avoid this un-neighborly catastrophe? Here are a few options:Allow your running bamboo plenty of room to spread. If you’re gardening in a tightly-squeezed suburban subdivision, then you probably will not have plenty of room. If you’re trying to fill out and green up some vacant acreage, then that’s more like it. Keep you bamboo well-contained. There are a number of ways to do this, ranging from a simple solution like planting into a old wine barrel (or half barrel) to burying any manner of rhizome barrier into the ground. Just remember, with time and pressure, there’s almost nothing that stop those roots from spreading. So whatever you put into the ground, plant it thick and deep. (Check out our tips on bamboo containment.) Get your hands dirty and prune your bamboo regularly. That means not only trimming back the shoots, but going underground and cutting back those vigorous roots. Look for smaller and slower running bamboos, like some of the ground cover varieties. But keep an eye on them. Sometimes they look sleepy on the surface, even while the roots are constructing an invisible empire underground. Find some clumping bamboo and plant those instead.
The fact is, many of the most interesting and attractive bamboo species are runners. They also tend to be less expensive and easier to find in nurseries. So now that you’ve been warned, here are a few great bamboo varieties to look for.Phyllostachys vivax
You’ll definitely want to allow some extra space for this tremendous timber bamboo that easily reaches 20 to 50 feet in height, with culms up to 4 or 5 inches in diameter. As you can imagine, it will also have a pretty massive footprint. But for anyone who’s got the space for it, this majestic grass could be a prized specimen and the envy of bamboo enthusiasts all around.
I planted one of these in my suburban backyard in San Luis Obispo, and kept it in a 15 gallon pot for fear of it overtaking the neighborhood. After 5 or 6 years it never looked unhealthy, but it sure never reached the kind of stature described above. It really needs room to spread out.Semiarundinaria fastuosa
Another very impressive variety, its regal appearance has earned this one the nickname of “Temple Bamboo”, which also happens to be FAR easier to pronounce! This bamboo can get to be 20 or 30 feet in height, but its richly colored culms don’t grown much larger than an inch or so in diameter.
I also planted one of these in a 15 gallon container, but it didn’t take long to break out and proliferate around the yard. But with such handsome shoots, I just couldn’t bring myself to uproot them. This really is a beautiful species of bamboo.Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo)
The distinctively dark brown (not quite black) shoots make this one of the most popular strains of bamboo, and any nursery that sells bamboo is likely to have some of this on hand. As the plant matures, the dark color of the culms grows richer, making for a very attractive contrast against the bright green leaves.Pseudosasa japonica (arrow bamboo)
Also quite popular, arrow bamboo earned its name from its long, strong, straight poles, which Samurai warriors used to make arrows. Today it’s a great choice for planting in shady corners of the garden. Also, though technically classified as a runner, it has a far more restrained growth habit than most bamboos of that class. The broad green leaves make this a very vibrant and attractive specimen.Dwarf Green Stripe
One of the few bamboos that can be cultivated as a ground cover, this one makes an excellent accent alongside larger bamboo varieties, around Japanese pines, and in any sort of Asian themed garden setting. Its compact size also makes it much easier to contain, despite its being a runner. Just keep an eye on those roots!
While the most impressive varieties of bamboo tend to be runners, the conscientious gardener is always on the look out for a good breed of clumping bamboo. They might not always display the awesome meter-a-day growth of some fabled bamboos of the tropics, or the massive culms that make you want to reach out your arms for a bear hug, but they can lend an exotic charm to any small scale zen oasis or Japanese garden.
Now before you rush over to Home Depot, or your nearest box store discount nursery, and start asking sales clerks for their recommendations on clumping bamboos, keep in mind that very few people — nursery employees included — can reliably distinguish a runner from a clumper. And as long as clumpers remain more expensive, more sought after, and harder to come by, it’s easy to imagine how unreliable certain sales people could be.
With that in mind, I’d like to recommend a couple of my favorite bamboo nurseries in California: Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol and Bamboo Giant near Santa Cruz. These guys really know their bamboo. But if you want my opinion, here are a few of my favorite clumpers.Bambusa oldhamii
An old favorite, Oldhamii is said to be the most widely grown variety of bamboo in all of the United States. You might say it’s an old standard. Native to Taiwan, it does have a preference for the tropical climes and is not very cold-hardy. But with shoots reaching up to 60 feet or more (under ideal conditions) and growing up to about 4 inches in diameter, it’s certainly an impressive specimen, particularly for a clumper. You’d have to agree, it’s an oldie but a goodie!Otatea acuminata (Mexican Weeping Bamboo)
With its slender stalks and delicate, wispy leaves, this delightfully compact specimen looks good in nearly any garden. All it needs is a gentle breeze to make it really come alive. It also prefers warmer climates. I grew some in a cool, coastal climate, and it always looked happy; it just never grew very big.Buddha’s Belly (subspecies of Bambusa vulgaris)
With a catchy named derived from the bulbous shape of its internodes, Buddha’s Belly is one of the easiest species to recognize and one of the largest varieties of clumping bamboo. Whatever it lacks in straight and narrow poise, it more than makes up for with portly character. This subtropical variety also does better in the warmer zones.Alfonse Karr
Exquisitely elegant, this variety is easy to recognize with its green and yellow racing stripes. Even amidst a great collection of bamboos, this one is sure to stand out. In ideal conditions, it can get up to 20 feet, and the culms grow to about 1 inch in diameter.Himalayacalamus hookerianus (Himalayan Blue)
The richly colored, powdery blue culms give this bamboo an especially attractive appearance. Indigenous to the mountains of China, it also does better in warmer and subtropical regions. But it grows especially well around ponds and in containers. Culinary tip: fresh shoots of the Himalayan Blue are edible are said to be quite tasty. Anyone for stir fry?
Once you’ve finished selecting and planting your bamboo varieties, you might consider adding a bamboo fountain somewhere for an extra dose of zen.
I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. If you have a favorite bamboo that we were unable to include in this short list, go ahead and let us know in the comments section. Meanwhile, happy gardening!
Photo Credit: Wikipedia