The Tierra Seca Chapter
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Promoting the Beauty and Utility of Bamboo

Report on the Obregon Project

By Kyle Young

It’s a cool breezy morning in southern Sonora and as I begin to collect my thoughts for this article a huge flock of snowy egrets fly overhead through spanking clear air then land on a new feeding ground. My mind drifts to the TSC chapter plants that have come from all over the world to be planted in this humid, tropical desert.

Here on the outskirts of Obregon near barrio Providencia it’s quiet except for the occasional sound of shovels clanking as earthen plasters are prepared for the final coat of The Save The Children Foundation office building. Largely built without the use of modern power tools using adobe dirt from the site and straw from the surrounding fields this building whose footprint covers close to 10,000 square feet stands as a testament to appropriate technology and natural construction.

With modern technologies costing too much for most people here, the Foundation chose to incorporate low tech natural systems that are currently enjoying a renaissance around the world. Even the nearly forgotten regional art of thatching with native palm trees has been incorporated into the portal covering part of the courtyard.

This resource pressure has presented itself in the bamboo project as well. A lack of funding for our project obligated us to set up a bare bones irrigation system that was left exposed. The small budget that the foundation works with means that workers building the office don’t always have everything they need as well. The result was that drip irrigation lines were often “borrowed” and used as hoses to mix mud or cement and not returned to the correct position for the plants to receive water. In addition several other plants were eaten by marauding cows and goats in spite of cages that were placed around all plants.

Of the original 30 bamboo that were planted in June, 21 remain, a fairly high success rate all things considered. The following is a progress report on those plants that survived these first 6 1/2 months.

Four 3-gallon Bambusa nutans : new foliage on new branches with some new small-to-medium sized culms, species shows good potential.

One 5-gallon Bambusa textilis: 3 new culms, all larger than existing culms, shows good potential.

One 3-gallon Bambusa vulgaris “wamin” : planted with one culm showing no wamin traits, two new culms have grown showing very wamin-ous traits. Shows great potential.

Four 5-gallon Bambusa tuldoides: performance varied according to water received; shows some potential.

Six 5-gallon Dendrocalamus membranaceous: performance varied according to water received and soil conditions, shows some potential.

Three 5-gallon Bambusa ventricosa: performance varied according to water received. No noticeable swelling of internodes. If the internodes show more swelling in the future, the plant will become more desirable.

One 5-gallon Bambusa bambos: Initially this plant had three larger culms and three smaller culms. It now has eleven new culms. Obviously this plant is as happy as a clam in mud. Shows great potential.

One 15-gallon Dendrocalamus strictus: Originally this plant had four 1/2” culms, and one larger culm. It now has nine new culms. Fabulous potential.

Due to a miscommunication, plants that were to be brought down here on this trip are going to be brought down in February. Due to Oscar Hidalgo’s trip here in June of ‘97 and the influence of a sister of one of the Foundation officers who is in Columbia working as a botanist (and who has become enamored with Guadua) there is a keen interest in the Guadua chacoensis and the G. angustifolia that we’ll be bringing down here in February.

El Niño has brought a couple of significant rainstorms to this area as well as cooler-than-normal weather. On one exceptionally cold night the temperature dropped to 39° Fahrenheit. It is now 3:00 p.m. on January 6th and the temperature is in the mid 70’s.

City water was brought onto the site last week so pumping water from the lake through an elaborate filtration system is no longer necessary. A major portion of this trip was spent hooking the drip irrigation system to city water and repairing and improving existing lines. A well is still planned for the near future and eventually the irrigation system will be tied into it.

The other major project undertaking on this trip was the construction of a compost bin made of old straw bales. Making a run to Home Depot for peat moss to add to compost is not an option here. Even if there were a Home Depot here most people can’t afford to buy peat moss to acidify the somewhat alkaline soil here. However, there is a great local resource here for free acidic organic matter from the local coco (coconut) vendors. A traditional afternoon treat here is to drink coconut milk with a straw from chilled coconuts that still have their thick husks. Vendors highly skilled in the use of machetes chop off the bottom of the husk to make a flat spot so that the coconut will sit on a table. They then carefully chop off the top, exposing a small portion of the meat inside the hull which is cut open gaining access to the milk. After drinking the liquid the coco is returned to the vendor whereupon he skillfully chops it in half, exposing the meat. With a special spoon he carves the meat from the husk into the bowl half of the split coco. He then carves a spoon out of a portion of the husk and once again serves the coco back to you with salsa and lemon. All of the halving, meat carving, spoon making, and serving of lemon and salsa is done in about a minute.

The success of a vendor can be determined by the size of the pile of coconut husks and lemon rinds behind his stand. We hauled away about 2 tons, most of which came from one vendor. About 1.5 tons was added in layers to our compost bin along with about the same amount of horse, cow and goat manure from a neighboring corral, as well as kitchen scraps and straw. Hopefully this compost will be ready for use when we return with more plants in February.

The other half ton was placed as a cap over a newly built Watson wick which was recently installed to service one of the straw bale houses on the property. Watson wicks are a great low tech solution to gray and black water disposal. The effluent is piped into a perforated bottomless dome that sits below grade, and is allowed to seep out into a central pit filled with volcanic cinders. Lateral trenches are then dug leading down grade and away from the pit. The porous cinder not only wicks the moisture away from the dome, but provides a very happy habitat for the growth of beneficial bacteria that digest the waste. The whole system is then capped with one foot of soil and planted with food-bearing perennials. These plants then draw up excess moisture, transpiring it into the atmosphere, and utilize the nutrients. In our case, we’ll be planting Guadua angustifolia over the system. To counteract potential alkalinity problems and to aid in the upward wicking action, before covering with dirt, we topped the cinders with coco husks. This system is not only a fraction of the cost of a septic tank, it’s better at keeping nitrates out of the ground water.

Those wanting to join in on the February trip, which will concentrate on planting and upgrading the irrigation system, can contact me at home for further information: 505-539-2444.


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