I chop down local bamboo each year and use it to build what I call a Rube Goldberg Crop Machine, where vining and rambling crops in my home garden can cascade and tumble all summer-into-fall. When the day comes when I decide the beans, tomatoes, and bottle gourds have slowed down enough to remove them so I can use the space for other things — garlic, clover, greens like kale transplanted from other beds so I have bounty all winter, and mulched leaves to add organic matter to the soil in the beds I want to let rest for awhile — I usually just store the bamboo poles for the next year.
But this year, as I was busy researching available materials in Uganda (where I may serve in the Peace Corps) such as bamboo, I got the idea to build a raised bed with them, which I finally did yesterday. It was quick and easy and fun, and I wondered why I hadn’t done this years ago. Why, after visiting all those refugee gardens where the Bhutanese farmers build elaborate structures each year in Clarkston, the most diverse square mile in the USA, I hadn’t thought of this readily-available, sustainable resource instead of raising money for expensive cedar beds (although those last ten years and the bamboo doesn’t) when my friends and I built gardens for refugee children-of-war and the Latin American Association and food pantry recipients. Why I hadn’t suggested this to the members of our community garden who perhaps couldn’t afford the fancy materials from the twee urban homestead garden store when we first started (although, in all fairness, I built my bed then from cinder blocks for about $20).
And as I sawed the poles to length and hammered the short, leftover ends into the soft, sweet soil to hold it all together, I fought back the overwhelming desire to text my friend, Bob (my co-conspirator in making gardens) to show him what I had figured out. It would have taken all of six seconds for the light bulb to have gone off, for him to see as well that bamboo is everywhere and need is great and we could do this for many people who might not have ways to grow food otherwise (two pounds of food per square foot per year at an average value of $5 per pound, folks, so it adds up quickly). He would immediately suggest ways to make this idea better. It would take another minute or two (maybe less) before we’d agree where to meet. And before our spouses would even realize we were gone, we’d be chopping.
We’d stuff all the poles in my hatchback and laugh so hard it would hurt. Perhaps by dinner time, five of these beds would be built somewhere in partnership with someone who had expressed desire for a garden but didn’t know how to make it happen on no budget. We’d fill the beds with leaves and kitchen scraps and wood chips and the mineral-rich red clay of Georgia and let it all decompose and work its alchemy all winter, or at least that would be the plan. Yet sometime around mid-January, we’d get antsy and start planning what to plant and when and how. We’d tap into folks we know to see what could be donated or subdivided or shared. We’d be good to go. And then Bob would inevitably jump the gun and plant before the calendar says it’s time, and it would all work out.
But this next mid-January will be the one-year anniversary of his death. And so all I can do right now is miss him.
And I do.