Bamboo Farming USA

Research in Bonaire & Fort Valley, Georgia USA

When I first became interested in bamboo as a farm crop, I was reading about the wonderful yields of bamboo shoots in Japan. I read figures like 2000 pounds per acre and under intense management as high as 12 tons. I found these figures hard to believe. I wanted to know what kind of yields would occur on a farm in the U.S. I moved to Perry, Georgia, on October 15, 2010 to find out.

My purpose is to research bamboo as a farm crop. I plan to document how many pounds of bamboo shoots per acre different varieties of bamboo yield. Georgia Bamboo, a wholesale bamboo nursery, owned by Robby Russell and Mike Hotchkiss welcomed me to use their groves. The groves are located in Bonaire and Fort Valley. I selected to work with Phyllostachys Viridis 'Robert Young', P. dulcis, P. edulis, P. bambusoides, P. viridis 'Houzeau', P. nigra henon, P. aurea flavescens inversa, P. rubromarginata, and P. nigra bory in Bonaire and P. praecox,P. viridis 'Robert Young', P. vivax aureocaulis and P. nigra henon in Fort Valley. I staked 32' by 32' squares to create 1000 square feet research plots . Within those plots, I removed dead, leaning and crowded canes. Some of the plots were healthy. Some sickly and full of dead canes.

I assumed that yields in 2011 would be low. I intended that my management would increase yield each year. I was unable to harvest from Bonaire P. nigra Bory, P. rubromarginata, P. aurea flavescens inversa. The Bory had undersized poles but it looked good. However, the grove did not shoot. The rubro had been dug so heavily for nursery stock that all rhizomes were severed and only wispy shoots came up. The flavescens inverse produced shoots too slender for harvesting. Outside the grove where it was traveling into grass, the shoots would have been worth harvesting. In each case, I hoped for better shooting in 2012. In fact I did not harvest from these three groves in 2012. And just barely in 2013.

 If a shoot is coming up where I need a new cane, I do not harvest that shoot. Generally the early shoots live and grow up. Later ones often abort and die on the way up. I let the first good shoot in the proper location grow up because I don't count on a later shoot filling the space. Perhaps it is the lack of rain; perhaps it is the heat, perhaps it is the nature of bamboo that causes so many later shoots to die.

I believe that when choosing bamboos for shoot production, always choose the green variety. The yellow skinned variety of the same species is less vigorous. Look at the graph below. Robert Young and Houzeau are both varieties of P. viridisRobert Young has yellow skin. Houzeau has green skin and a yellow sulcus. Houzeau is in Bonaire. It is unirrigated. In 2011, it had 2.7 times the yield of Bonaire Robert Young. In 2012 Houzeau had seven times the yield. In 2013 Houzeau's productivity plummeted to 412 pounds. Two years of drought took a toll. It outproduced Robert Young by two and a quarter. However the irrigated Robert Young in Fort Valley out-produced Houzeau by one and a third.


Comments on the Table "Pounds of Bamboo Shoots per Acre"

The twenty year average rainfall for the city of Macon is 46 inches. It is well distributed throughout the year. Macon is 30 miles from Fort Valley and 25 miles from Bonaire. In 2011 Macon received 33.1 inches. This is a reduction of 29 percent from normal. In 2012 Macon received 32.4 inches. This was a 30 percent reduction. Two years of drought reduced the yield of many of my bamboos

Robert Young   Phyllostachys viridis Robert Young

Robert Young is a poor bamboo for shoot production. In both Bonaire and Fort Valley, Robert Young had significant top dieback. I assume the damage is from the heavy drought in 2011 and 2012. When I cut out the dead and dying canes, the grove became too open. Sun pouring onto the ground dried and heated the soil. Production was lower in 2012 than in 2011. Did my thinning decrease production? Maybe. Would thinning have decreased production if there had been ample rain or irrigation? I think not. Notice that in 2013, the Fort Valley Robert Young produced twice as much as previous years. It produced almost three times what the plot in Bonaire did. The reason is that I was able to irrigate that plot in the spring and summer of 2012. I was not able to irrigate a single plot in Bonaire.  

Robert Young is a poor bamboo for pole production. Its poles are S shaped, not straight. This S characteristic is true of all varieties of P. viridis. More than other bamboos, the new shoots bend to grow toward light. ie., they grow toward a hole in the canopy. When growing a P.viridis variety, manage the canopy so new shoots grow straight upwards to light. Manage canopies for all bamboos for even light.

The Fort Valley Robert Young in 2011 and 2012 produced fewer shoots than the Bonaire Robert Young. The Ft. Valley Robert Young is in the hottest driest location of all my bamboos. Usually its soil measures a degree or two warmer than the other plots in both Fort Valley and Bonaire. Because of its sun baked location, it suffered more from two years of water deficit. Notice, though, that with irrigation, the hot location increased production. 

Henon  Phyllostachys nigra Henon

The henon in Fort Valley is located on a steep slope going down to and across a part-time stream bed. Irrigation water from the nursery inundates the slope so the soil is too saturated for healthy growth. In winter of 2013, I diverted this water to bypass the henon. I expect healthier rhizomes this summer and more shoot production in 2014.

The soil of the Fort Valley Henon is 3 degrees colder than surrounding soils. This cold soil delays shooting. When henon's shooting is delayed, its productivity declines. In 2013, spring was unusually cold. The Fort Valley henon did not produce until the middle of May and then just barely. The soil had finally reached 61°F.

The henon in Bonaire had an unusually large number of dead canes when I cleaned the research plot in early 2011. The living canes had a lot of top dieback. Production in 2011 was very poor. In 2012, production was  better. The thinning made a positive difference. However the productivity in 2013 was reduced due to cold temperatures in late March.

The henon in Fort Valley suffers from dieback. Canes continue to die back even though they seem healthy. The soil temperatures in this grove are similar to the other Bonaire groves. It is interesting that in spite of the groves die back, its warmer soil allowed it to produce more shoots in 2011, 2012, 2013 than the henon in Fort Valley. Most bamboo people I speak to in Georgia think that henon is a good bamboo. It just is not good for me in these two specific locations.

Japanese Timber  Phyllostachys bambusoides

Japanese timber produced less in 2011 than all the others except moso. I was surprised by this poor productivity because both Japanese Timber and moso are considered the premier bamboos of the temperate varieties. In 2012, Japanese timber doubled its production from 332 pounds per acre to 748 pounds. It may have doubled its productivity but 748 pounds is not a good yield.  

In 2013 Japanese Timber barely produced at all. Japanese Timber is a warm temperature bamboo. Perhaps it is especially sensitive to cold spring temperatures. When siting bamboos, give Japanese Timber the warmest slope.

Golden Vivax Phyllostachys vivax aureocaulis

Vivax is the most vigorous temperate timber bamboo. Its shoots are big and plentiful. P. v. aureocaulis is a yellow skinned variety. I assume that like Robert Young, it is less productive than the green species. The graph shows that aureocaulis is out-produced by both praecox and Houzeau. I doubt that would be the case if I had the green variety in my research.

 I am disappointed that my yield in 2012 was less than in  2011. Perhaps I thinned more than I should have. More likely the drought decreased the yield in 2012. Many new canes in 2011 died just as they were opening their branches. Others opened a few branches but could not keep extending. The effect of two successive years of drought can be seen in 2013 where production plummeted.

In 2013 for the first time, some shoots were killed by squirrels. I did not count them. A big oak tree is adjacent to the grove is habitat for squirrels. How will I control squirrels next year? 

Aureocaulis has brilliant yellow new canes. The lower pat of the older canes are dulled with something that browns them. The upper part of the culms remains yellow. These canes are lovely viewed against a blue sky. The brown film easily washes off the cut poles. I like this bamboo for crafting dishes because the walls are thin. The light colored skin on the dried items is attractive.

Early Bamboo Phyllostachys praecox

the photo shows the llama manute that

Praecox is my best yielding bamboo for shoots. It is also the earliest and most  reliable. The fact that it is early, helped it avoid the worst effects of the droughts of 2011 and 2012.

Praecox yielded about 1500 pounds per acre in both 2011 and 2012. Like the Bonaire henon, it is damaged by excess runoff water from the nursery. Only half the grove is dry enough for healthy rhizomes. In early 2013 I ditched the water away from the grove.

Like 2011 and 2012, only half the grove produced shoots. I should have ditched the water away from the grove in 2010!  In 2013, Several shoots came up in late February. In March when the unusual cold hit, these shoots were killed by frost. Shoots continued to come up in March and even early April. Thirty percent of the shoots were killed either by frost or by squirrels. I counted the dead shoots and multiplied by the average weight of the shoots harvested. Without frost and rodent loss, the yield for 2013 would have been 1524 pounds, the same as previous years. If the saturated 1/3 or 1/2 of the grove recovers next year, praecox may produce 2000 pounds per acre.

The shoots harvested outside the research plot in the pathway weighed less than the ones harvested in the plot. My care is increasing the size of the shoots in the plot compared to those out in the grass.

Praecox poles are straight. The largest is 2.75 inches in diameter. I have made beer mugs and serving dishes from them. They have not split. They have an interesting speckle brown skin when dry. In the groves they are dark dull green.

Houzeau  Phyllostachys viridis Houzeau

Houzeau produced 1200 pounds per acre in 2011 and jumped to almost 1800 pounds in 2012.

Houzeau is a beautiful form of P. viridis. It has bright green culms with a yellow sulcus. It spreads fast and far. It is more vigorous than Robert Young which lacks the green color in its culms. Houzeau's poles are S shaped like all the viridis varieties.

Like most of my bamboos, Houzeau's yield in 2013 declined to a quarter of its yield in 2112. It still outproduced moso, bambusoides, henon (Fort Valley and Bonaire), aureocaulis and Bonaire Robert Young. The irrigated Robert Young outperformed Houzeau as did praecox.


Moso  Phyllostachys edulis

For reasons to do with agreements between Georgia Bamboo and Big Bamboo, I did not thin the moso in winter of 2010/2011.The moso produced only three shoots in 2011. I thinned the plot  in fall of 2011. In 2012 it produced 1800 pounds. It went from the least productive bamboo to the most productive. Moso is considered the most productive of all temperate bamboos.

In 2013 moso's productivity dropped to a fifth of its previous yield. I have heard that moso is an alternate year yielding bamboo. It could be drought like all the other bamboos except praecox or it could be a natural cycle.

CONCLUSIONS  This graph indicates that the three best bamboos to plant for bamboo shoot production in middle Georgia are Phyllostachys praecox (early bamboo), P. viridis Houzeau (Houzeau), and P. edulis (moso). Praecox is the earliest bamboo.  Moso shoots a few weeks later than praecox. Houzeau shoots after moso has finished. Its shoots are good sized and taste fine. These three top producers spread the season from very early to mid season.

 Some of the ones that are doing poorly for me like henon and Japanese timber are regarded as excellent bamboos. Circumstances are setting them back. I hope that my care will bring them to better health.

In further years I will add more varieties to my research. I have purchased 12 acres in Hawkinsville Georgia. I will be planting black (for poles), moso, Japanese timber, dulcis, meyeri, vivax and praecox.