Jo Scheer has been deeply involved in working with bamboo for about two decades, having lived in Rincon, Puerto Rico, where he built a home for his family with mainly bamboo components. He has been designing, building, and marketing a wide range of beautiful bamboo creations. Jo has recently authored a book, How to Build with Bamboo, that outlines some 30 bamboo projects that elegantly demonstrate the beauty and functionality of bamboo. One of the more inventive of his designs is what he calls a "hooch", which is a small elevated abode made almost entirely of bamboo. The grounded footprint of this inverted pyramidal structure is roughly one square foot, since the entire weight is born on a small pedestal, while the room above is stabilized with guy wires. This hooch has been featured on TV and at conferences. With a background in science, Jo has been a teacher, technician, inventor, builder, contractor, sailor, agriculturist and artist, and thus is eminently qualified to field your questions about building or living with bamboo.
Q: I would like you to help me with some advice on bamboo fence and how to preserve it. I live on the Adriatic coast in Croatia. I live 10 meters away from the beach and I have made a bamboo fence around my land. Now, I have a problem with maintaining it because it is exposed to sun and salt when wind blows..it cracks but also I can not protect it with dope. Can you advise me on what kind of dope should I use or other ways of protection to apply in order not to lose such a beautiful fence. In addition, can you recommend with what should I cover bamboos during winter when I go away from the coast in order to additionally preserve it.
A: Tough environment. I would resign yourself to its ultimate succumbing to the elements. It will happen. You could delay it, with regular treatments of oil, or wax, or any number of preservatives. They all will eventually leach out, and require another treatment. Just a delay tactic, really. If live bamboos are what you refer to, for preserving while away, I would cover them with loose bales of hay- to maintain warmth, and prevent desiccation from winter winds.
Q: What kind of oil or wax do you suggest?
A: I've tried several different coatings, with no definitive winner. My friend, a boat guy, prefers a 50-50 mix of tung oil and bees wax. The bees wax is melted and added to the heated tung oil, mixed, then allowed to cool. Pretty exotic, but a possibility.
Q: I am contemplating building a fence in the western part of Washington state. As you know we get a lot of rain. How well will a bamboo fence hold up in rainy winters along with cold. Will it be susceptible to rotting due to low levels of direct sun.
A: Yes, the bamboo will rot-mold, be reduced to mush in a few short years-- maybe less. You can extend the life with maximum sun to dry it out, and protection from rainfall (hard to do with a fence). And never let it come into direct contact with the ground.
Q: Would rolled bamboo fencing stand up to the harsh North Dakota weather? Minus 30 degrees and heavy snow in winter. 100 degrees in summer.
A: It would not. I suspect the dampness of melting snow would rot the bamboo, and rust the wire. Use something local. It may not last, but is easily replaceable.
Q: Does fresh cut green bamboo leach out poisons? Planning on using fresh, uncured bamboo to make a foot high weaven fence in a raised garden bed to keep the dog out. Not concerned about longevity... just want to make sure that cyanide will not leach into the soil. We live in PA in the USA a non tropical climate. It will be exposed to full sun and of course water. Just need it to last a season safely.
A: It does not. According to what I have gleaned from information out there. the newly emerging shoot has cyanide, presumably to prevent animals from eating the tender morsels. This degrades as the shoot grows. It does not need a chemical deterrent as the shoot gets above a certain height and becomes woody with lignin.