CHIP OFF THE OLD GROVE
By Ken Ringle
A few members of the Louisiana Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Bamboo Society (augmented by honorary and long-distance chapter members Hunter Vickers of Florida and Dain Sansome of Florida) convened Nov. 9 on Avery Island for an experimental fall work session at E.A. McIlhenny’s century-old moso grove on Prospect Hill. To say it was a spectacular success is to understate things.
The session was born in the mind of Sansome, who made history some years ago transplanting 100 full grown moso plants from the Avery Island grove to his place near Portland. He returns almost every February filled anew with ideas and inspiration. Last February he pointed out that the chapter’s annual grove-clearing efforts in recent years had been effectively starving the towering grove of giant bamboo by removing the leaves and branches along with the extra culms. He suggested that we experiment with a large Vermeer chipper with at least a 12-inch mouth, and grind up all the dead and stacked bamboo at the bottom of the grove and spray it back into the grove as mulch. He and Vickers said they would come back to work with it if we did.
I was able to arrange for a quite reasonable $1,500 a week’s rental of a Vermeer BC 1000 XL chipper which was even delivered to Avery Island by Vermeer. This machine proved to have an astonishing—not to say alarming—appetite for bamboo, gobbling up 60-foot culms, leaves and all, plus trees, logs and anything not nailed down, and spraying the chips as far as 30 yards into the grove, putting down a carpet of prime mulch that as positively rug-like. While feeding it, all of us tried not to think of “Fargo.”
I had cut a 15-foot roadway earlier paralleling the east-west boundary ditch separating the 2 ½ acres of moso from the long tangled nest of bambusoides bamboo, which stretches more than 10 acres to the south. Nearly two decades of heroic efforts by LGCC members had made only fitful forays into the bambusoides, since the sessions concentrated on the much rarer moso. But while I was proud of my little entry road, I had no real idea how we were going to move the chipper around once it arrived, much less get it out of there.
Salvation arrived with Vickers, who drove across Bayou Petite Anse with an impressive truck and goose-neck trailer, hauling a Kubota M6400 tractor with a terrifying assortment of grapplers, whirling blades, saws and other weapons. It looked like something out of a Stephen King novel. Not only could Hunter grapple up and deliver to the chipper massive bunches of downed bamboo of all species, he was able to use the tractor to maneuver and position the chipper with the precision of a surgeon.
With Dain planning strategy and Hunter effecting tactics, we were able in a few days labor to effectively double the visual size of the bamboo grove, greatly expanding views down the hill toward the fish pond and into the bambusoides to the south. All that clutter of dead bamboo, long tangled in piles, is now wall-to-wall mulch in the moso. And the cluttered, anemic and long-overshadowed henon bamboo around Fiddler’s Green is now almost totally cleared, mulched and ready for a new life.
The mulching was long overdue, but especially timely now. Strange weather patterns had vastly reduced shooting in the moso and henon in the past two years, though it didn’t seem to slow down the bambusoides. We goosed up our efforts by scattering 300 pounds of fertilizer in the moso.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the week’s labor was opening up a window into one of E.A.’s test groves behind the Tabasco factory. Once past the curtain of baby culms at the entrance we found ourselves in a gorgeous virtual cathedral of 3-inch diameter, 50-foot tall well-spaced dark green culms of a species none of us could readily identify. New challenges for February and beyond!
Grunt labor sawing, thinning, smashing, dragging and feeding the chipper was provided by an alternating cast that varied each day from three to seven. They included LGCC board member Robert Whitehurst from New Orleans, LGCC president Judge Edwards of Abbeville, former LGCC president Andy Ringle (now on leave from Catholic missionary duty in Peru), Dorothy Sherling of New Orleans, Hunter’s assistant Robert from Davenport, FL, Avery cousin Brandon Duncan from Avery Island, and Ferrel “Loki” Osborn, one of E.A. McIlhenny’s great grandsons, visiting from Capetown, South Africa. The international reach of the LGCC and the Avery Island moso grove, continues to expand.