Managing Moso Shoots


This is the moso grove belonging to Georgia Bamboo in Bonaire, Georgia USA. The photo was taken on April 4, 2014. Notice the many shoots poking out of the ground. Notice how far apart the culms are. The grove was substantially logged for poles in winter 2014.

The soil temperature was 58°F when I took this photo. The moso first poked a few shoots above the ground at 54°F, a week earlier. There are more shoots this spring than in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Why?

First, moso is said to shoot in alternate years. It had minimal production in 2011 and 2013. In 2012 it produced the equivalent of 1800 pounds per acre, an increase over 2011 of close to 800 percent.

Second, there was ample rain in 2013. This moso receives no irrigation.

Third, the grove was heavily thinned for poles in winter 2014.  Thinning of poles induces greater shoot production. Thinning the grove lets more light onto the ground so the ground warms earlier. Shooting time depends on the genetics of the particular bamboo and on soil temperature. In other words, early shooting bamboo shoots at colder soil temperatures than late shooting bamboos.

My research plot is within the forest in the photo but is outside the frame of the photo. I thinned it moderately in summer of 2013. At the moment, it has fewer shoots than the surrounding forest which was heavily thinned in winter 2014. Perhaps my research plot will catch up to the surrounding forest in a week or two as its shaded soil warms up. On the other hand, it probably will not. I will thin it considerably in June, once this year’s shoots are leafed out. The contrast in productivity between the heavily thinned and lightly thinned areas is telling. This is especially true given that I thinned my research plot in the summer of 2011 and yield increased by close to 800 percent in April of 2012.

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Bamboo as Forage

We have found that herbivores like bamboo. We think that because bamboo is evergreen, it is a useful adjunct to pasture grass and hay. Bamboo is good in winter when the grass is dormant and in droughts when the grass does not grow.

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Bamboo is great Forage

Llamas eat bamboo

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Compost Tea

I bought Erath Earth Compost Tea over the Internet. It lists the ingredients as liquid compost, liquid humate, orange oil and molasses. I mixed up two gallons at a time and sprayed one gallon on each of my research plots. I drenched a small circle around each pole, especially the ones that came up this year thinking that that is where the roots are and where it would do the most good. In Bonaire I sprayed  the Robert Young, Japanese timber, moso, henon and Houzeau.  Earlier I had sprayed in Fort Valley the Robert Young, Vivax aureocaulis, Henon and praecox. I was able to spray there because there is irrigation. With the soil moist from irrigation, it is more likely that the microbes in the tea would survive. I had waited a month for there to have been some rain. There is no way that I can measure in leaf color or shoot production whether this exercise did some good.

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Selling poles at SE Chapter Meeting

The SE Chapter had its annual Bamboo Festival on July 9 and 10, 2011, at the Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina. I brought 69 poles to sell cut into 6′, 8′ and 10′ lengths. I also brought a pile of scrap poles to give away.  The 6 footers ere priced at a dollar each and the 8 and 10 footers for $5 each. Every pole sold, skinny ones and fat ones, golden ones and green ones. I had washed them carefully and cut them with the upper septum intact. I put the free scraps on the ground. The first three women who walked by took them all eagerly. After they got their car and loaded the scraps, they bought a few poles in addition. “What are you going to do with the poles?” “I don’t know… Make something.”

I displayed my poles in my wagon:  the dog-powered bamboo pole selling machine.  I did not bring the dogs so the wagon was stationary. The poles seemed to make people happy. 

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Irrigation is essential

In March 2011 Tobaris Holmes planted 300 moso bamboo on his family farm in Unadilla GA. He then went overseas on military duty. Georgia usually gets an inch of rain a week. We counted on that rain to grow the 300 three gallon moso plants.

Drought hit. No rain for two months!  Should we dig a well, pump the nearby pond? The well was too expensive; the pond dried up. Plants were dying. Tobaris was in Kuwait.

Tobaris’ father, uncle and brother filled a tank with water and watered the bamboo. But it took three men! One drove the tractor, two managed the hose.

The solution had to involve one man, not three men. They enlarged the saucers around each plant to hold more water; they applied mulch to hold in moisture and cut down on weeds. They retrofitted the tank to deliver water from a hose held by the driver of the tractor. Tobaris’ uncle now watered the bamboo by himself. He watered many days a week. The remaining plants look GOOD.

The moral is that if you want to farm bamboo, first spend money on irrigation. Then buy and plant the plants. It is better to plant a few plants and water and care for them well, than to plant many and leave them on their own.

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Thin the Praecox for poles

I now am beginning to thin the groves for poles. In Fort Valley I set the sprinklers in Robert Young, Vivax aureocaulis, and henon. I then began thinning the 1000 square foot research plot of Phyllostachys praecox while the sprinklers were running in the other groves. I used my trusty DeWalt reciprocating saw with a new blade: Ace Hardware 6″ 6TPI. Cut fast and clean.

Between March 8 and 23, 2010, I harvested 35 pounds of praecox shoots (delicious!) from thie 1000 square feet. This yield is equivalent to 1500 pounds per acre. Today I cut poles. Cutting poles is part of my upgrading of the grove. I forgot my measuring tape so I did not cut them to length. I will cut them to sellable lengths tomorrow. My caliper measure gave me:
Under 3″        =  3 poles
Under 2 1/2″ =  1 pole
Under 2″        =  8 poles
Under 1 1/2″  =  6 poles
Total  =  20 poles per 1000 square feet
=  871 poles per acre
I watered half an inch on the Robert Young and Vivax. I did not have a measuring device in the henon. I think I will buy timers as I want to lay down an inch of water per week.

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My mission is to add bamboo to American Agriculture. I moved from Seattle, Washington USA in October 2010 to Perry, Georgia USA. I moved to Georgia because Robby Russell and Mike Hotchkiss of Georgia Bamboo, a wholesale bamboo nursery, invited me to work with their groves. They support my research both by allowing me to use their groves and by providing me with advice and encouragement.

I staked out 1000 square foot research plots in four of their groves in Fort Valley GA and eight of their groves in Bonaire GA. I will say more about my work in later blogs. Meanwhile I am fortunate to have moved in June 2011 into one of Robby’s rental houses in Perry. Here is the view from my bedroom window.

For information about bamboo as a farm crop go to my website

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Bamboo Farming

I post observations on bamboo as a farm crop as I work in the groves and create data to share. My web site has data from research at WSU in Puyallup and data from my work in Georgia in 2010 and 2011.

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