Bamboo Farming USA

Research 2015


Bamboo shoots and poles are the main sources of income on a bamboo farm. How do you locate your bamboos for optimum production? Which varieties produce the best?

Below is a graph with five years of data on yield of bamboo shoots. A glance will show that weather is a strong factor. Across most varieties Year 2013 was poor. Spring was cold that year. Year 2015 was also poor. Spring was extra wet.

My research plots are small - one thousand square feet. In some cases the grove itself is not much bigger than the plot within the grove. I assume that a plot of 1000 feet in a grove of many thousand square feet would produce more than one that was barely larger than 1000 square feet.

When I started this research, I assumed that it was normal and easy to get one or two tons of bamboo shoots per acre. None of my plots yielded two thousand pounds per acre - except moso. Moso yielded almost two tons an acre in 2014. In other years moso yielded far less than a ton and often less than most of the other bamboos.

How many pounds of shoots can you expect your bamboo to yield?

Phyllostachys praecox 
Praecox is the most consistent yielder. My research plot is located on a wet and cool slope. A third of the grove is saturated by runoff from the nursery such that its rhizomes rot and there are few poles. If praecox had a good location with spring warmth, it would be an outstanding producer. In addition to consistent yield, praecox is the earliest shooter. Early shoots can bring better prices.

Moso (Phyllostachys edulis)
In 2011 moso produced fewer shoots than any other bamboo. That summer I thinned out 9 poles. In 2012 moso produced more pounds of shoots than any other bamboo except Houzeau. With the frigid spring of 2013, its productivity dropped way down. In 2014 moso was amazing: almost two tons of big shoots with an average weight of one and a third pounds. Not one shoot in 2015!
One could say moso is weather sensitive. One could say that it yields in alternate years.

Henon Fort Valley
Henon in Fort Valley is planted on a shaded wet slope. The soil is 2 to 4 degrees colder than the soil in the other groves. In 2015 I harvested zero shoots. Four new canes came up but they were in the far side of the research plot where the land is level and the shade is less. None came up on the cold slope.

Henon Bonaire
Henon is a good bamboo. However my two groves are poor. The Fort Valley grove is located where soil is too cold and usually too wet. The Bonaire henon continues to die back. The tops of new canes die during their first summer. Is it because of storm water that washes through the grove? Is it disease? I don’t know. In 2014 in exasperation, I cut all the poles to the ground. Start over! This henon is at the bottom of the hill. I have seen mulch washed away. Does rushing storm water damage bamboo?

Phyllostachys vivax aureocaulis
Aureocaulis is a yellow skinned bamboo. Most yellow skinned bamboos are less vigorous than their green skinned specie. Aureocaulis’ yield is not impressive. Its yearly pattern resembles the rest. 2013 and 2015 were low yielding years.

Phyllostachys viridis Houzeau
Houzeau has been one of my most reliable bamboos. I was very happy that its yield in 2012 was greater than in 2011. It made me think that my care (thinning, fertilizing, mulching) made a difference. Then came 2013 and its productivity dropped. Instead of shooting at 73 degree soil temperature on April 3, it shot at 63 degree soil temperature April 26. A cold spring makes bamboos shoot late. When they shoot late, their yield is reduced. When bamboo shoots later than its genetic best time, its yield is reduced.

Robert Young Fort Valley (Phyllostachys viridis Robert Young)
Robert Young is a yellow skinned variety of P. viridis. One would expect it to yield less than Houzeau which has a green skin and a yellow groove. The graph of Robert Young Fort Valley is the opposite of every other bamboo! Instead of a general decline in yield over the years, Robert Young has climbed. Its best year was 2015 when every other bamboo tanked. In 2013 it outperformed all other bamboos except Praecox.

Robert Young is planted in a hot dry location. It receives full sun all day on all sides of the grove, east, south, west (not the north side where it is bordered by another yellow skinned variety). It suffered from drought in 2010, 2011, 2012. In summer of 2011 and 2012 I was able to irrigate it a little. The cold of 2013 did not bother it. It was in a hot location. It doubled productivity in 2013. In the wet year 2015, it was the most productive of all the bamboos.

Bamboos do best in warm sunny locations if you can irrigate.

Robert Young Bonaire  (Phyllostachys viridis Robert Young)
The pattern over the five years is the opposite of Robert Young Fort Valley. This Robert Young produced nothing in 2014. I cut it to the ground. In 2015 I actually harvested 3 shoots. It regrew in parts of the plot and not in other parts. Why such poor performance? Why the constantly dying tops of new canes? This Robert Young is at the bottom of the hill. It is close to a stream. It is also below the adjacent roadway. Is it a cold wet location? (My soil temperature readings put it in the same range as other plots in Bonaire.) The best I can figure is that storm water from the adjacent roadway washes through the grove. Too much water.

Japanese Timber (Phyllostachys bambusoides)
This is another good bamboo performing badly. I believe that Japanese Timber would like a sunnier drier location. My plot is back from the farm road. Near the farm road are piles of dirt. These piles were put there in the past to be used to fill holes after bamboo was dug for the nursery. The Japanese timber on those piles is bigger and more abundant than where my plot is. The piles of dirt have lots of sunshine, excellent drainage, good soil. The piles of dirt have lots of sunshine, excellent drainage, good soil.

How Far Apart Should One Cane be from Another?

Leaves need sunlight to photosynthesize. When canes are crowded, leaves on lower branches are shaded. These leaves die. The branch that they are on dies. Thin your groves such every cane receives sun. When new canes have started to open their branches, remove existing canes that shade the new cane too much.

The larger the diameter of the cane, the smaller the number of canes per acre.

Moso has the largest cane at 4.75 inches. It also has the smallest number of canes per acre. The numbers for cane diameter are for the largest cane in my research plot. I would prefer to use an average size. It interests me that the dulcis, praecox and Houzeau have same size canes and similar numbers of canes per acre.

How Many Poles Can You Harvest?

The more standing canes you have per acre the more poles you can harvest, generally speaking. Smaller diameter bamboos have more standing poles per acre than larger diameter ones.

The graph below shows the correspondence between standing culm density and harvested poles. Houzeau looks very productive. When we harvested a pole we cut it into usable 6 or even 8 foot lengths. We only cut up to the first of second branches. In the case of Houzeau, one cane yielded one pole, thirteen canes yielded two poles and six yielded six.

Bory had a nice standing culm density BUT the canopy of leaves was light. Threw little shade. We only cut three poles which gave us seven six foot poles. This grove is not healthy. I don’t know why. It is mid-way down the hill facing south south east. Shouldn’t be too wet or too dry.