Bamboo Farming USA
 

Planning the Crop
Bamboo Shoots

Bamboo is versatile as a farm crop. Primarily income will be from fresh bamboo shoots. Rock Ridge Cidery & Orchards in Western Washington has been selling bamboo since 1990. The sale of bamboo shoots covers labor costs every year. Rock Ridge sells to high end restaurants and caterers and at Farmers Markets and their farm stand. In 2010 Rock Ridge sold bamboo shoots for $3 a pound retail. Bamboo Shoots that measured 3 inches and more in diameter sold for $5 a pound. A Japanese restaurant buys 400 pounds each week and pays $5 a pound - happily. They are glad to get fresh, large, uniform  bamboo shoots.

Poles

To produce bamboo shoots, you thin the groves to keep them open. The poles that are thinned are an additional farm crop. Bamboo groves maintained to maximize the size of shoots also maximize the size of the poles. Large poles sell for more  than small ones: Moso 12' x 3" retails for $20; 1 2'x 4" for $29; 12' x 6" for $50!  Poles while still growing in the grove are called culms. Culms are round below the branches and round with a groove above the branches, sort of the shape of a capital "D". Depending on variety and maturity, branches will start at 12 to 30 feet  above the ground. It is the branchless part of the culm that has value as a pole. 

Fodder

Once you have cut the branchless valuable part of the pole, you are left with the top with its branches and leaves. Cattle, horses, sheep, goats and fowl love bamboo. They enjoy pulling the leaves off the twigs. They thrive on bamboo leaves. It makes sense. Bamboo is an evergreen, perennial grass. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfTxEDzJB0M  "Cows Love Bamboo"

Mulch

The fibers of bamboo mulch bind together. They make an excellent cover for fields. Use the mulch to fill holes in dirt roads, to free a vehicle stuck in mud or snow and for livestock bedding. Bag it to sell in garden centers. (We need research on bamboo shredded as an ingredient in potting soil!)
After livestock have eaten the leaves, shred the branches. 
It takes a powerful machine to shred bamboo. Small shredding machines are clogged by bamboo. Its long fibers wrap around the teeth and stop the machine from turning.

Chickens

Chickens thrive scratching under the bamboo. They eat weeds, "bamboo grass", and bugs. They aerate the mulch and fertilize with their droppings. Move them frequently to keep the grove weed free. They will save you a lot of work cutting "bamboo grass" by hand and will provide an additional income source. At least three months before shooting season, remove the chickens. You do not want their droppings to contaminate your bamboo shoots. Return the chickens when shoot harvest is over and the new crop of poles is tall enough not to be damaged by hungry beaks.

Charcoal

I do not have first hand experience with bamboo charcoal. Claims for its use for medicine and water purification abound on the internet. I expect it burns in grills just fine and reduces odors in cat boxes.
Use it like active charcoal for filtering water and air.
And then there is biochar, a product that enhances soil life.  www.biochar-international.org
When working with bamboo there always are scraps. To use them to make charcoal (another farm product) makes sense.

Live Plants

Most people in the American Bamboo Society are plant collectors and nurserymen. Most find that selling a bamboo plant is a good way for them to make money from bamboo. The photo shows a truck and trailer hauling full size bamboo. In this case the nurseryman was paid to remove the bamboo. You can sell large specimen plants out of your grove and still harvest shoots. My favorite bamboo farmer, Wade Bennett of Rock Ridge Orchards, said that his mission in life was to grow food. He stopped selling plants and concentrated on shoots years ago. Never the less, when the grove spreads beyond where you want it, dig up the wandering culms and sell the live plants - like giant plugs of turf.

Peace and Beauty

A well maintained bamboo grove is beautiful. In the heat of summer, take your family there for a picnic. It will be the coolest place on your farm. Ten degrees cooler than outside the grove. Invite your friends for summer cookouts. I knew a man in Oregon who had a secret table and chair in his grove. A retreat. I knew a man in Seattle who had a secret place to throw his sleeping bag and sleep.
Plant your bamboo inside pastures. Fence it off from grazing livestock. They can walk around it for shelter from wind, rain, sun. Whatever comes up in the pasture, they will eat down to the ground. Use the animals to control the spread.



Buffer and Privacy Screen

Bamboo groves are useful to separate one activity from another or to shield your operations from a highway. If you plant bamboo along a highway, it also will advertise that you sell shoots and poles. Nursery men say that what they sell is "privacy".