Essential Tools:
Bamboo Spade a.k.a “The Slammer”

by Eric Shalit | May 14th, 2010

My friend Ken "extracting" some of my 'Allgold' bamboo with the Bamboo Spade.

My friend Ken has gone bamboo crazy. I used to be bamboo crazy, but now that I have about a dozen different kinds, I am less likely to experience the obsession to possess more. I still look wistfully at exceptional stands I see now and then, but I’ve learned to stop chasing after new ones. I’m 100% certain the bamboo has an as yet unknown method of reaching into our minds and telling us to plant it on our property, thus helping it propagate. It’s a commonly held view that the oak tree makes nutritious acorns so that squirrels will carry off and bury them. Many plants have a symbiotic strategy with animals, so why should we be excluded from the equation?

Once you’ve gone bamboo crazy you’ll discover the cheap digging tools you bought at a yard sale are not up to the task. Back in the day I was a professional furniture mover. I’m not afraid of heavy lifting or excavation, but I’m not as young and care-free as I used to be. Dividing and excavating bamboo can be back-breaking work even with decent tools. Having the right tools for the job, even if they seem expensive, is much cheaper than the cost of a chiropractor, back-surgery, or the pain and suffering from an injured back or shoulder.

I recently had the opportunity to use a heavy-duty tool designed specifically for the rigors of dividing bamboo. The tool is called a Bamboo Spade, and was designed by a professional bamboo grower (MidAtlantic Bamboo). I think of it as a bamboo “slammer”. It operates on the same principle as a pile driver. The Bamboo Spade combines an 8 lb. sharp steel spade with a 12 lb. steel ramming rod to facilitate cutting rhizomes and digging bamboo divisions. The impact action of the ram produces very cleanly cut divisions which can then be lifted out of the ground with a little prying. The process is more like surgical extraction than labored digging. The straight edge is sharp and can be periodically re-sharpened to a knife edge on a bench grinder or with a file. This is no dinky tool. It’s simple, well thought out, made of the highest quality materials here in the U.S., and best of all — it works! They even thought to put a safety cotter pin through the apparatus to keep it from sliding apart during transport and chopping your toes off.

The 12 lb. ram slides into the handle of the 8 lb. spade.

To those of you who are uncertain about the difference between a shovel and a spade, a shovel is more like a scoop, while a spade is more like a knife. The $175 cost is actually a good value for this professional quality tool that will last forever. It’s an essential tool for the amateur bamboo fancier, and would make an unforgettable birthday or holiday gift for the bamboo maniac in your life.

The Bamboo Spade can be strategically positioned to sever rhizomes all around the division. It's the only tool that you can use on the inside of the clump, where a foot-powered spade cannot go.

The story of how the Bamboo Spade was developed is an interesting one. When Bert Silverman of MidAtlantic Bamboo, (a Virginia bamboo nursery) had a stroke, he lost some use of one side as well as a great amount of balance. This presented a problem when digging bamboo, so Bert and his wife, Mary Ann, began thinking of ways Bert could continue to dig bamboo. After two years of Mary Ann having to dig all the bamboo, they decided something needed to be done.

The result is a cleanly extracted division with soil intact around the root ball. This means the division is less likely to suffer transplant shock, often caused by accidental bare-rooting.

After several years of design, trial and error, and numerous prototypes, they developed the Bamboo Spade. Along the way, the Silvermans realized the value of their new spade for not only those with physical limitations but also for anyone who digs bamboo or trees and shrubs, and they decided to produce additional spades for sale.

Although the Bamboo Spade was designed specifically for bamboo, it has found favor among landscapers for general root balling as well.

The Bamboo Spade is being manufactured exclusively for MidAtlantic Bamboo by W. W. Manufacturing, Co., Inc., makers of “The King of Spades.”

Click here to visit MidAtlantic Bamboo’s website.

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