Building With Bamboo

Rotten plywood and downed branches cover the old bridge.

Part of a sustainable garden is the growing of building materials.  If you can’t have a wood lot, then temperature permitting you can grow clumping bamboo.  You can grow ‘running’ bamboo if you’d like, but it would be wise to keep it contained in pots or you’ll end up with a major headache such as I had last January trying to remove it.  The bamboo in my yard has happily grown into giant plants with wonderfully tall, strong shoots that are ready to harvest.  I have several projects in mind, but the most fun and appealing has been the refurbishing of an old bridge.

All the old stuff had to be stripped off the framework.

The bridge was sprawling across the barranca when we moved here 13  years ago.  Although the pipes screwed together were actually solid enough, the plywood, tar paper and carpeting that made up the walkway was well on its way to rot.

The metal frame looked bad but actually was stable.

The other side of the barranca is home to poison oak, and getting to the bridge was difficult as erosion diminished the hillside.  Now through permaculture, the erosion has been eliminated and thanks to Roger Boddaert and his crew there is a wonderful walkway down to the bridge.  However, the bridge was unusable and had broken branches hanging over it.  The barranca itself is very beautiful and a wonderful bird-watching location, so revitalizing the bridge with natural building materials would turn the eyesore into a beautiful addition to the gardens.

Jacob and Steve harvesting bamboo.

Jacob Hatch and his father-in-law Steve have had the task of harvesting, splitting and working with the bamboo.That is because, as I’ve admitted freely in past posts that my building abilities rate right up there with my ability to cut hair, with about the same disasterous results.  I can see what I want in my mind, but my hands aren’t paying attention.

First Jacob and Steve had to clear the bridge of the tar paper and rotted plywood and test the metal pieces for strength.

Bamboo cut to lengths.

Working from a library book, they harvested the heavy water-laden shoots.  After cutting the pieces to the correct width for the bridge, they used a sharpened old knife and a rubber mallet to split the stalks.

A rubber mallet and sharpened knife were all that was needed to split the bamboo.

UnfortunatelyInside the sheaths there was a black fuzz that caused both of them to itch.  Steve and a third helper Jake screwed the horizontal pieces onto the long supports.

Steve and Jake screw bamboo onto the frame while Sophie looks on.

They built sections, then carried them down and installed them on the existing bridge poles, with the long pieces of bamboo fitting outside of and hiding the metal.  Bamboo was then wired on to the uprights, and a railing was installed.

The walkway laid out.

Finally the ends were tied with sisal rope.  This added strength as well as beauty to the finished work.

Bamboo railings in place with sisal ties and wire.

The bamboo is still green; as it ages it will cure. Beads of oil will form on the top and the oil will be rubbed into the bamboo to strengthen it even more as it hardens and dries. Right now the bamboo is a little slippery to walk on, especially when damp. The bridge was built with a slight downward slope to it as well.

Strong enough for two big men: Jacob and Steve on the finished bridge!

Ta-da!  A really terrific and usable bridge!  It certainly won’t pass OSHA safety standards, but its fine for a private home with no little kids around.  The barranca looks like some exotic location, built with materials grown on site.  Next projects include a small bridge, a short pier for the pond, and a ‘moon gate’ trellis for the passionvine that is out of control.  Good thing I have a lot of bamboo.

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