Data from 2011 to 2014

Pounds per acre of bamboo shoots

Pounds per acre of bamboo shoots

I have harvested shoots from these nine groves for four years from 2011 to 2014. Each year I have removed excess canes, fertilized with a lawn fertilizer and added straw as mulch. Four groves are in Fort Valley, Georgia USA, and five are in Bonaire. The locations are half an hour drive apart.

The graph is arranged in order of shooting.

Praecox Phyllostachys praecox Early Bamboo

Praecox is my earliest shooting bamboo. Due to its proximity down slope from Georgia Bamboo’s nursery in Fort Valley, one third of the research plot was saturated with water and did not produce at all. Rhizomes rotted. February 2, 2013, I diverted the run-off water with a ditch. This would have no effect on the harvest of 2013 but should help with rhizome spread in summer of 2013 and therefore increase harvest for 2014.

The advantage to an early shooting bamboo is that you can sell shoots sooner than with later varieties. 2013 was a bad year for all bamboos because of an unusual cold snap in February. In January 2013 temperatures shot up into the 70’s. Praecox put up numerous shoots on its sunny edge. Then in February and March night time temps dropped into the 20’s. The early shoots froze. Shoot yield for praecox of 2013 was half that of 2011 and 2012. In 2014 yield was greater than 2011 and 2012.

In 2013 praecox’s largest pole was 3 inches. In 2014, the largest pole was 3.25. I believe that with care, a praecox grove would have straight poles averaging three inches.

Moso Phyllostachys edulis Moso

Moso shoots soon after praecox. For most people this is the most exciting bamboo of the temperate giant bamboos. In 2011, moso produced fewer shoots than any other bamboo. I decided to thin its poles in summer of 2011. I took out 9 poles. The next year production in creased 786 percent! In 2013 the cold snap knocked it back along with all the other bamboos except Robert Young in Fort Valley. I will explain that interesting situation when I get to Robert Young. I did some more careful thinning in 2013. We had ample rain in 3013. Moso is known to like ample summer moisture. In 2014 moso doubled its shoot production of 2012. It was astonishing. It was more than twice the production of the two next best bamboos.

Moso’s largest new cane was 4.75 inches and largest old cane was 4.25. I think that a well maintained moso grove will be able to have an average pole size of 4 inches with some attaining 6 inches.

Was moso’s amazing increase in productivity because of rain the previous year? Or judicious thinning of canes? Or spreading of llama poop and lawn fertilizer in 2013? Or straw each year? Or is moso an alternate year producer? Does a weed free environment increase productivity?

In 2010, no thinning had been done. The grove was static. In 2011, we thinned. Productivity shot up. I theorize that we stimulated the moso with the thinning. The cold snap in 2013 was enough to kill back healthy groves of black bamboo. Moso is an early shooter and was affected by the cold as were all bamboos (except R. Young Fort Valley). Reports from bamboo growers in the South say that 2014 was a good year for moso everywhere. Why

moso

Henon (Fort Valley) Phyllostachys nigra ‘henon’
Henon is a vigorous timber bamboo. It is not vigorous in its location in Fort Valley. It produced few shoots in 2011 and 2012 and almost none in the cold of 2012 and in 2014. This bamboo is located on a shaded slope. Soil is extra wet from runoff from the nursery. It is 2 to 4 degrees colder than surrounding soils during shooting season. Henon and probably all timber bamboos shoot at a certain time of year. If the soil is too cold at shooting time, the number of shoots is significantly reduced. The bamboo does not catch up later when the soil finally warms up.
This is a bamboo that produces 3 and 4 inch high quality poles when it is healthy. In this cold soil location, the largest cane old and new is 2.5 inches.
Henon (Bonaire) Phyllostachys nigra ‘henon’
This henon has warmer soil that the research plot in Fort Valley. It out-produces Fort Valley each year. Its pattern is similar to five out of nine of the research plot. In 2012 after thinning in 2011, shoot harvest increased. Harvest tumbled in cold spring 2013. In 2014 yield was less than in the first two years.
Again this henon is atypical of henon. It dies back each year! Dead tops on new and older canes. Canes tipping over. I now think that the problem is that rain water rushes down the Bonaire hill and washes over the research grove. I think that in order to increase yield and make this a healthy grove that I need to divert the waters that flood through this grove.
Largest canes for new and old canes is 3 inches.
Vivax aureocaulis   Vivax aureocaulis 
I am very disappointed with this grove. The best year was the first year. With my care I would have hoped that the best year would have been 2014 or at least 2012.  At least the largest new cane at 3.75 inches is larger than last year’s largest cane at 3.5 inches.
The species vivax is green kinked. Vivax aureocaulis is yellow skinned. Yellow skinned bamboos usually are less vigorous than green ones. This bamboo tends to throw up green canes at the outside of its spread. I cut them down to preserve the integrity of aureocaulis. However, they do seem to be bigger and healthier.
Houzeau Phyllostachys viridis ‘Houzeau’
I thinned Houzeau in 2011 and it increased production by 50% in 2012. With this response, it became one of my favorite bamboos. 2013 was a quarter of 2012 due to the cold. What disappointed me was the lack of bounce-back in 2014. Five of the 9 bamboos did not bounce back in 2014. Even praecox’s increase in 2014 was not much over 2011 and 2012.
Houzeau’s largest new cane was 3.25 inches and its largest old cane was 3 inches. I think that with this and the other groves with new canes larger than old canes that 2015 will be a year of increase in yield.
Robert Young (Fort Valley) Phyllostachys viridis ‘Robert Young’
This may be one of the most interesting research plots. When I began my research in Georgia, I strode confidently into this grove and took out every cane with a dead top. There were lots. I took out leaners and thin canes. I ended my thinning by taking out canes that were too close to one another. There was too much sunlight hitting the ground in the grove. Soon I saw that I had taken out too many canes. Unlike the Fort Valley henon which has cold and shady soil, the Fort Valley Robert Young is in a full sun all day long location that is on level ground. It bakes. In 2012 when I was in Fort Valley thinning groves or fertilizing or spreading hay, i ran a sprinkler in the Robert Young.
In 2013 when ALL other bamboos reduced their shoot production from the cold snap, Fort Valley Robert Young more than doubled its production! And in 2014 after a rainy summer in 2013, production rose even more.
Because this is a yellow skinned bamboo, it is not (in my experience) a productive bamboo. However the lessons that it gives are important.
1. Plant bamboo where the soil warms early.
2. Irrigate during hot summers. A straw mulch helps maintain even moisture through summer.
3. Maintain dappled shade on the grove floor.
Robert Young (Bonaire) Phyllostachys viridis ‘Robert Young’
They love to say “Watch out for bamboo. It will take over your yard.” My Robert Young in Bonaire continues to die back. This August I looked at the tops of the canes and many were dead. Others have leaves that are curling and look like they will die.
438 pounds per acre in 2011; 250 pounds in 2012; 183 pounds in 2013. I did not even bother to harvest in 2014. Largest new cane 2.25 inches; largest old cane 2.75 inches. Seven new canes even though I did not harvest a single shoot this year.
Why! Why is this bamboo dying or at least getting weaker. It does get water streaking over it from the near by road during rainstorms. Once I found a dead cat washed into the grove. Too much water? At one point I thought that I had over thinned since I took out all canes with dead tops. Lots of canes with dead tops. This year I left the dead canes.
Japanese timber Phyllostachys bambusoides
The thinning, fertilizing and mulching that i did in 2011 seemed to be successful in 2012. Japanese timber hates the cold and its production plummeted from 746 pounds per acre to 33 in 2013.
Conclusions
1.  Some timber bamboos are worth planting for shoots and some are not.
2.  Plant bamboo where the soil warms early.
3.  Irrigate during hot summers.
4. A straw mulch applied after shooting helps maintain even moisture through summer and keeps down weeds. By spring, it is mostly gone, so soil can warm up naturally.
5.  Thin the grove to make harvest easy and to increase production. Thin after new shoots begin to open leaves. Thinning also increases beauty and reduces ticks and other biting insects.
6. Maintain dappled shade on the grove floor. Do not over-thin.
Questions
What is a realistic pounds per acre yield?
I think that a bamboo grove should produce at least two tons per acre. None of my bamboos has done that. (Moso produced 3,864 pounds in 2014.)
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Managing Moso Shoots

Shooting2

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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Introduction

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 www.bamboofarmingusa.com.

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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 www.bamboofarmingusa.com has data from research at WSU in Puyallup and data from my work in Georgia in 2010 and 2011.

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