Thinking About Planting Bamboo? Think Again….

“It’s the clumping kind”

“If you plant it in the pot and cut out the bottom it won’t spread”

Have you heard these claims?  I have, and I fell for them.  I love the look of bamboo, the sound of bamboo rustling in a gentle wind, the quick screening it provides…what I don’t love is that the bamboo I planted was scheming to take over not only my yard but the whole neighborhood.   Over the two years it was growing it was secretly spreading underground until suddenly it started popping up all over, in some very inconvenient places – like in my neighbor’s yard.

I planted Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), which is supposed to be clumping (meaning it should not spread but grow in a controlled fashion)  As a safety precaution I also planted it within its container with only the bottom of the container removed (just in case it decideds to spread it can’t).  I’m not the only one, some very good friends of mine planted this same variety, in the same manner, a year earlier and they are now finding shoots 10 feet away, with some coming up through the their raised beds.

It was clear the bamboo had to go – and so began Operation Bamboo Extraction.  I have to say it was one of the most back-breaking projects I’ve taken on to date…meaing in my whole life.  I had to start digging in the neighbors yard and trace all the roots back the fence line.  I had lots of help from the neighbor’s 3-year-old daughter who loves dirt and loves to “help”.  I just had to keep her from falling into the holes I was propagating throughout their yard.

Once I got the problem contained back in my yard I started digging…and digging…and digging….

The whole process took me over a week.  Once I was able to get the root balls free I had to enlist help to actually get them out of the trench and into the truck.  I was left with complete mess. In the end I was sorry to lose the bamboo, it served me well during our time together but I came up with a much better use of the space.  You will see this amazing transformation in my upcoming blog post entitled “My Orchard”.

The Learning?  I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could come up with some deeper message about trying to control something you can’t, trying to force something to behave in a way that is not natural to it just to suit my needs…and the only way to truly address the problem was to dig it out by the roots…but I’m not feeling that clever at the moment…it was just a VERY difficult project so take heed my friends when the temptation to plant bamboo overcomes you too.

Solar Evaluation

One of the projects I had planned for the summer was to investigate installing solar panels on my new garage.  I had this vision that I could come home, plug-in my car in (plug-in car required), and have it powered cleanly from the sun (sun required).

The proposed location:

I thought I had the perfect spot…at least it appeared that way all winter.  What I forgot about, and what became obvious over the summer, is that my neighbor has a perfectly lovely tree in their yard that is shading my solar spot….and the tree is still growing!

The company giving me the quote ran what they call a Solar Access (the ability of one property to continue to receive sunlight across property lines without obstruction from another’s property) estimate for my location (tree shade growth not factored).  For you geeks out there here are the results:

Without the tree the numbers aren’t bad, an average of 86% over the year.  Who says Portland doesn’t get sun????  The estimated energy savings if I could achieve this level of solar access would be 2,482KW per year.  This would offset ~20% of my current usage.

The Cost:  This is where the rubber met the road….a 3kW system would cost me $17k.  The incentives are signifcant, over a 4 year period the total cost to install would end up closer to 5k.

The Final Analysis: Although this was never about the ROI, I had to crunch the numbers anyway.  Using the offset estimate, an esitmate of future electric rates, and the cost of the system after incentives…it would take 10years to pay for itself….which I found to be a bit depressing.

The Reality:  I don’t have 17k to spend right now (you will see why later) on what would essentially be a “statement” that I care about my footprint.  I have not ruled out solar (smaller system…bigger than a light and smaller than 3kW) for perhaps another spot in the yard but for now this project is “Closed”.

I’m still following the Solarize NE activities and am thrilled I live in a city with opportunities and groups like this one.

Forgive me Father, it’s been 4 weeks since…

…my last post….

I’ve had some deeply personal life events that have absorbed much of my time and energy this last month, but, I’ve committed myself to getting back on the blogging wagon this weekend.  Even though theses personal events are critical to “my journey”, I’m not ready to share them in this blog quite yet, I think I will at some point, but not yet.

Even though I haven’t been blogging this last month but I have been very active in the yard and have loads of updates.  Let’s review The Plan I published in April:

All the bits in Orange and Blue were In Plan, and  the Green were accomplished but not scheduled.  I finished everything In Plan except the gravel paths and drip system.  Over the next week my plan is to bring my blog up to date, I have a lot of really cool updates to share, and build a new schedule for the next 2-3 months.

Stay Tuned!!!!!


I have a large 16′ x 16′ deck off of my back door that has served me well, but it’s time for a change.  It’s been a great outdoor room to use for entertaining, especially since the rest of the yard has been either jungle or mud.  But, the deck has also been limiting.   The design of the deck was such that when you came out of the back door you were cut-off from the rest of the yard by the high and heavy-looking railing, the stair placements were also awkward, and there was no shelter so the deck becomes slimy and slippery most of the year.

I’ve had this vision of simply cutting off a corner of the deck and moving the stairs to open up the flow while leaving enough room to BBQ and sit at least 6 people.  Then, covering the remaining portion of the deck with some sort of shelter.  My hope is that by covering the remaining deck I can keep the slime factor down, extend the usable season of the deck, and make it easier to bring Murphy in the backdoor on rainy days (that would be everyday here in the sunny Pacific NW).

Stage 1, completed this last week, was to remove the corner of the deck and move the stairs to see how it feels.  So far, so good, there are a few tweaks I want to make but overall it has a much better feel to it….and it’s passed Murphy’s initial inspection.

Stage 2 will be to tackle the design and construction of the shelter, the railings, and the permanent stairs.  I don’t want to recreate a “closed in” feeling so keeping the railing and overall design as open as possible, while keeping it safe, will be critical.

I think I’m going to take some time to “sit with” this new open feel and see what comes to me….meanwhile I need to turn my attention to the large pile of hazardous nail littered wood that Murphy finds so irresistible.