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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

by Steve Diver, NCAT Agriculture Specialist

The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits. These long-lived, woody-stemmed perennial grasses are usually evergreen in climates to which they are adapted; those of temperate regions grow a complete set of new leaves each spring, the old ones falling away as the new ones develop. Worldwide, approximately 87 genera and over 1,500 species of bamboo exist, with roughly 100 species comprising those of economical importance. Two species of bamboo are native to the United States. Arundinaria gigantea — commonly known as giant bamboo, canebrake, or rivercane — occurs along rivers and streams in southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and other states to the south. A. tecta — switch cane — is a smaller form confined to the Atlantic and Gulf coastal regions from Maryland southward. Bamboos are also native to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Most of the commercial and ornamental bamboos grown in the U.S. have been introduced from China and Japan.

Bamboo consists of two general types: clumping and running. The clumping types are typically of tropical or subtropical origin and therefore have limited geographical suitability in the United States since they cannot withstand freezing temperatures. An important exception among the clumping types is the Panda bamboo from the Himalayas, Fargesia spp., which is cold hardy to -25° F. Running bamboo, which includes the most important genus of temperate climate species, Phyllostachys, can withstand occasional low winter temperatures between -10° and +15° F. The running types are typically top-hardy in sections of the Lower South, Southwest, and Pacific Coast, and root-hardy in northern climates (i.e., plants re-grow from roots even if the exposed canes are winter-killed). Cold hardiness is an important characteristic of temperate bamboo species, along with height of cane, diameter of cane, and intended use.

Bamboo Genera Distinguished by Growing Type: Clumper or Runner

Clumper Runner
Arundinaria Chimonobambusa
Bambusa Indocalamus
Chusquea Phyllostachys
Dendrocalamus Pleioblastus
Drepanostachyum Pseudosasa
Fargesia Sasa
Himalayacalamus Semiarundinaria
Otatea Shibatea
Thamocalamus Sinobambusa
Source: Modified from “The World of Bamboo” by Gib Cooper, Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery (www.bamboodirect.com)

Bamboo has three principal uses: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Bamboo canes intended for strength and durability — furniture, flutes, crafts, fencing — should be harvested at three to five years of age. Prior to the end of the third year, cane tissue is still filled with sap and comparatively soft. Thus, marking and selecting canes is a regular part of grove management. Of course, bamboo canes serve many utilitarian purposes around the farm — bean poles, pecan nut tree limb shakers, vegetable trellises and stakes — and these latter uses can be made of any canes that are available. Products made from U.S. grown bamboo include fishing poles, flutes, furniture, and crafts. Much of this bamboo is harvested from stands in southern Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and the West Coast. Most Americans are probably more familiar with bamboo as an ornamental plant or living screen, and opportunities exist for bamboo as a niche nursery plant.

Though bamboo acreage has historically been limited in the United States, there is renewed interest in bamboo as a commercial crop with many uses. The Temperate Bamboo Quarterly, published since 1993, features useful bamboo species and developments, and bamboo has been explored as an agroforestry crop through several conferences and workshops in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington have evolved into a center of commercial bamboo activity in the U.S. On-farm research trials with bamboo in Washington resulted in a report that summarized growth parameters (number of culms, average culm diameter, diameter of plant spread, and maximum plant height) for 26 bamboo species1. Reports from on-farm trials like this are helpful because they provide useful data on bamboo species adapted to different agro-climatic zones in the temperate U.S.

Mark Meckes, a bamboo advocate with the non-profit organization Stepping Stones that promotes underutilized plant resources, outlined five steps in developing a successful bamboo venture:

  • identification and selection of varieties most suitable for desired end uses
  • grove management procedures (planting, maintenance, and harvesting)
  • materials processing (grading, cleaning, and drying)
  • product manufacturing (equipment, materials, tools, dyes, paints, varnishes)
  • marketing (customer identification, distribution, advertising)

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Potential Bamboo Markets

Potential markets and bamboo products in the United States are summarized below. In most circumstances, bamboo should be viewed as a complementary crop that fills a niche market or serves a purpose on the farm, rather than a primary cash crop.

  • Plant Material: Landscape nursery plant material; zoos; botanical gardens
  • Food: Fresh bamboo shoots
  • Construction Material: Concrete reinforcement; bamboo fencing; housing
  • Musical Instruments: Flutes; wind chimes; pan pipes; xylophones
  • Tools: Bamboo leaf rakes
  • Furniture & Crafts: Toys; wood working inlay; trim work; paneling; basketry weaving; frames; jewelry; fishing poles; floral stakes; garden stakes; trellis poles
  • Conservation: Living screens; agroforestry; riparian filter strips; constructed wetlands; wildlife habitat

Bamboo Agroforestry

Agroforestry is the integration of woody plants with other ag enterprises such as crop or livestock production. The idea behind agroforestry is to derive both economic and ecological benefits, two key goals of sustainable agriculture. Bamboo as a woody grass plant is uniquely suited to agroforestry. Some of the many uses of bamboo in agroforestry are summarized in the table below.

Agroforestry Function Primary Use Agroforestry Products Value-Added
Intercropping Timber
Riparian vegetation filter Craftwood
Constructed wetlands Fiber crop
Living screens Livestock forage
Permaculture Bamboo shoots

Bamboo Shoots as a Commercial Food Crop

Each spring, ATTRA gets phone calls on cultivation of bamboo shoots as a specialty food crop. Bamboo shoots are a popular item in Asian stir fry and as a pickled condiment. The most important genus for bamboo shoot production in the temperate U.S. is Phyllostachys, which consists of about 60 species, all of which are edible. Important food species include P. dulcis, P. edulis, P. bambusoides, P. pubescens, P. nuda, and P. viridis. An early USDA bamboo researcher recommended boiling fresh bamboo shoots prior to use for about 18-20 minutes. Bamboo shoots from species imparting a bitter taste should get a change of water after the first 8-10 minutes of cooking. Daphne Lewis, author of Bamboo on the Farm, notes that the United States imports 30,000 tons of canned bamboo shoots each year from Taiwan, Thailand, and China. Lewis wrote “it would take 30,000 acres of badly managed bamboo to produce 30,000 tons or 3,000… superbly managed acres.”2

Small-scale growers are remarkably successful in creating demand for fresh, locally grown produce through niche marketing. Local markets for bamboo shoots include Asian restaurants, farmers’ markets, and health food stores, especially in towns with ethnic populations that relish bamboo shoots. Harvesting shoots is also a convenient method of controlling the spread of running-type bamboos.

In 1998, Tim Ogden of the Oregon Bamboo Co. in Myrtle Creek, OR, was featured in an article on Bamboo farming.3 He said, “Bamboo comes into production in 3 to 4 years and reaches maximum productivity in 7 to 8 years, producing 2 to 10 tons of bamboo shoots per acre. We sell everything we can produce off our mature 3-acre grove and we’ll be able to sell all the production from our second 3-acre grove, too, when it comes into production.” Ogden said distributors pay up to $2 per pound for his bamboo shoots, which retail for about $6 per pound. Ogden plants varieties that originated in Southwestern China. The plants are spaced every 10 ft. in rows spaced 20 ft. apart. Oregon Bamboo Co. sells an informational packet titled American Bamboo Agriculture, which includes a 35-minute video and a hardbound book.

Sue Turtle, co-editor of Temperate Bamboo Quarterly, explained that bamboo shoots should be harvested as soon as you can feel the tip of the bamboo shoot in the ground with the bottom of your feet. “Once the shoots emerge from the ground, they quickly become tough and bitter.” In the following excerpt from the Spring-Summer 1995 issue of Temperate Bamboo Quarterly, she notes:

Studies in China on the changes in nutrient content of bamboo shoots of different ages show there is a definite advantage to harvesting the shoots while they are still underground with sheaths just appearing above ground. Tests were done, using Phyllostachys pubescens, by harvesting at three different stages: underground, 5 days above ground, and 10 days above ground. It was found that protein and amino acid content are highest when shoots are still underground. In fact the author stated that protein content of a bamboo shoot (P. pubescens) underground is higher than any other vegetable.4

Bamboo shoot production in perspective:

  • It does not seem likely that large-scale bamboo shoot production will become a common agricultural enterprise in the United States. Countries that export this product have decided advantages over American farmers with respect to climate, labor, and processing costs.
  • This should not deter market farmers from exploring bamboo cultivars, growing methods, and harvesting techniques to sell fresh bamboo shoots to niche markets, but it does give pause to great expectations that bamboo shoots are an easy cash crop or even the primary reason to raise bamboo.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo Plant Material

A list of bamboo species and their characteristics (e.g., growth habit, cold hardiness, size) and uses (e.g., bamboo crafts or conservation purposes) is certainly one of the first things potential bamboo growers need information on. In this respect, prior issues of Temperate Bamboo Quarterly and The Journal of the American Bamboo Society are invaluable (see Periodicals below).

Since bamboos are vegetatively propagated, nurseries ship live plants. Consequently, some plant material may be available only during certain months of the year. A complete listing of bamboo species and suppliers in the U.S. is available in print through the American Bamboo Society (see Periodicals below). Other sources include: “Bamboo Under Cultivation” at “Our Nursery” (see address in Periodicals below). Adam and Sue Turtle, editors of Temperate Bamboo Quarterly, also run “Our Nursery” which offers an extensive collection of hardy bamboo species. Their “Bamboo Under Cultivation” list provides an especially helpful summary of bamboos adapted to temperate growing conditions, with species, height, diameter, and hardiness temperature categories.

Other publications of interest that address bamboo species adapted to U.S. growing conditions, include:

Hardy Bamboos for Shoots & Poles by Daphne Lewis (see Books & Proceedings below).

The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Temperate Bamboos by Michael Bell (see Books & Proceedings below).

Bamboo in the Future. 1995. By Sue and Adam Turtle (eds.). Temperate Bamboo Quarterly. Spring-Summer. pp. 29, 54-58.

Bamboos. 1979. By John R. Dunmire, et al. (ed.). Sunset New Western Garden Book, 4th Edition. pp. 194-197. Lane Magazine and Book Company, Menlo Park, CA.

Plant Evaluation Notes. 1996. By Richard G. Hawke. Perennial Plants. Vol. 4, No. 2. (Spring). pp. 29, 31, 33-37.

Sources of Information


The American Bamboo Society publishes a magazine and journal, Bamboo Science and Culture. Of particular interest is the Society’s Bamboo Species Source List.
The American Bamboo Society
Michael Bartholomew, Membership
750 Krumkill Road
Albany, NY 12203-5976

Temperate Bamboo Quarterly, published by Sue and Adam Turtle, is an indispensable popular journal on bamboo. The Turtles operate the bamboo nursery, “Our Nursery” and have established a bamboo park reported to be the largest collection of bamboo — 200 species from 22 genera — east of the Mississippi River. TBQ publishes original and obscure information on bamboo and contains numerous book reviews.
Temperate Bamboo Quarterly
Sue and Adam Turtle
30 Myers Road
Summertown, TN 38483

Books & Proceedings:

BAMBOO in the United States: Description, Culture, and Utilization is USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 193, published in 1961. This 74-page handbook provides a good introduction to bamboos with economic or ornamental potential in the United States. Sections on cultivation, harvesting, pests, and utilization are included. Reprints are available through the American Bamboo Society bookstore (see Periodicals above).

The Bamboos by Floyd A. McClure, 368 pages, is the classic treatise on bamboo in U.S. literature, with sections on the vegetative phase, the reproductive phase, elite bamboo species, and propagation methods. The historical notes, photos, and illustrations may be worthy of purchase alone.
Bamboo Gardener
P.O. Box 17949
Seattle, WA 98127
(The Bamboo Gardener carries an extensive listing of books, catalogs, newsletters and reprints on bamboo and Japanese gardening. An excellent source for hard-to-find materials and back issues of newsletters and journals.)

The Book of Bamboo: A Comprehensive Guide to This Remarkable Plant, Its Uses and Its History by David Farrelly, 340 pages. Probably the most interesting and comprehensive book on bamboo, with information on the history and culture of bamboo, varieties, cultivation, harvesting, curing, and utilization. Richly illustrated with an extensive bibliography.
Sierra Club Books
85 Second. St., 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105

Bamboo on the Farm by Daphne Lewis, is a 48-page primer on the potential uses and cultivation of bamboo in the U.S. Design illustrations show how a farm is transformed by the introduction of bamboo. Available from the Bamboo Gardener (see address above).

Hardy Bamboos for Shoots & Poles: Thirty Varieties of Bamboo for Farms in USDA Zones 7,8,9 is a 28-page follow-up pamphlet by Daphne Lewis. Thirty varieties of bamboo are presented largely in chart form to help farmers compare and decide which ones to plant. Available from the Bamboo Gardener (see address above).

The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Temperate Bamboos by Michael Bell, has become a highly recommended garden guide to selecting and growing bamboos in the temperate climatic zones of North America and Europe. With rich color photography, this 160- page book addresses history, uses, propagation, and cultivation of bamboos, with tips on finding and growing the more unusual species.
Timber Press
133 SW 2nd Ave., Suite 450
Portland, OR 97204-3527

Proceedings of the 1997 PNW Bamboo Agroforestry Conference is a 139-page book featuring bamboo in sustainable agriculture; building products made from Moso bamboo; temperate bamboo species as forages for livestock; building a bamboo farm; bamboo polyculture; architecture; shoot yields; and more.
Ron Kay
2014 SE 57th Ave.
Portland, OR 97215-3411

Bamboo and the Pacific Northwest: Proceedings of 1994 Pacific Northwest Bamboo Agroforestry Workshop is a 97-page spiral-bound book featuring history of bamboo in the U.S.; bamboo potential in the Pacific Northwest; bamboo on the farm; bamboo agroforestry; pulp; paper; timber; and more.
Gib Cooper
PNW Bamboo Agroforestry Workshop
c/o Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery
28446 Hunter Creek Loop
Gold Beach, OR 97444
(Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery also sells bamboo books, journals, and technical reports. See their online book catalog at www.bamboodirect.com).


1) Blethen, Caitlin, and Carol Miles. March 2000. Investigating bamboo as an alternative crop in the Maritime Pacific Northwest. Pacific Northwest Sustainable Agriculture. pp. 4-6. http://agsyst.wsu.edu/bambooarticle.htm
2) Lewis, Daphne. 1996. Bamboo shoots: Delicious to eat; easy to sell. Washington Tilth. Autumn. pp. 7-9.
3) Editors. 1997. Bamboo farming: New market waits to be tapped. Farm Show. Vol. 21, No. 2. p. 21.
4) Turtle, Sue. 1995. Bamboo shoots = good food. Temperate Bamboo Quarterly. Vol. II, No. 1-2 (Spring-Summer). pp. 8-11.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Ask A Teamster Driving

Ask A Teamster: Driving

I have been questioned (even criticized) about my slow, gentle, repetitious approach “taking too much time” and all the little steps being unnecessary when one can simply “hitch ‘em tied back to a well-broke horse they can’t drag around, and just let ‘em figure it out on their own.” I try to give horses the same consideration I would like if someone was teaching me how to do something new and strange.

Goat Lessons

Goat Lessons

from issue:

Goats are one of the most incredible homestead animals. They are usually affectionate and sweet, with such funny and smart personalities. Goats give so much goodness for the amount of hay and grain they eat. One cow weighs 1,000 lbs. or more and gives 4-8 gallons of milk a day. One goat weighs around 130 lbs. and gives around a gallon — can you see the difference in feed conversion?

Lineback Cattle

Lineback Cattle

from issue:

Cattle with lineback color patterns have occurred throughout the world in many breeds. In some cases this is a matter of random selection. In others, the markings are a distinct characteristic of the breed; while in some it is one of a number of patterns common to a local type. Considering that livestock of all classes have been imported to the United States, it is not surprising that we have our own Lineback breed.

On The Anatomy of Thrift Fat & Slat

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 3: Fat & Salt

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Fat & Salt is the third and final video in the series. It is the conceptual conclusion to the illustrated, narrated story that weaves throughout the entire series, and deals instructionally in the matters of preserving pork.

Horseshoeing Part 3A

Horseshoeing Part 3A

An examination should be made while the animal is at rest, and afterwards while in motion. The object of the examination is to gain accurate knowledge of the direction and movements of the limbs, of the form and character of the feet and hoofs, of the manner in which the foot reaches and leaves the ground, of the form, length, position, and wear of the shoe, and distribution of the nail-holes, in order that at the next and subsequent shoeings all ascertained peculiarities of hoof-form may be kept in mind and all discovered faults of shoeing corrected.

Interpreting Your Horse's Body Language

Interpreting Your Horse’s Body Language

from issue:

The person who works closely with horses usually develops an intuitive feel for their well-being, and is able to sense when one of them is sick, by picking up the subtle clues from the horse’s body language. A good rider can tell when his mount is having an off day, just by small differences in how the horse travels or carries himself, or responds to things happening around him. And when at rest, in stall or pasture, the horse can also give you clues as to his mental and physical state.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer: Ed Button and his Belgians

In New York State one does not explore the world of draft horses long before the name of Ed Button is invariably and most respectfully mentioned. Ed’s name can be heard in the conversations of nearly everyone concerned with heavy horses from the most experienced teamsters to the most novice horse hobbyists. His career with Belgians includes a vast catalog of activities: showing, pulling, training, farming, breeding, and driving, which Ed says, “I’ve been doing since I was old enough to hold the lines.”

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

The Mule Part 1

The Mule – Part 1

from issue:

There is no more useful or willing animal than the Mule. And perhaps there is no other animal so much abused, or so little cared for. Popular opinion of his nature has not been favorable; and he has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant. Still, he has been the great friend of man, in war and in peace serving him well and faithfully. If he could tell man what he most needed it would be kind treatment.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

from issue:

Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

from issue:

A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Cheval de Merens Revisited

from issue:

In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made.

Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative

Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative

The Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative was founded in 2016 by a group of dairymen who want to be outspoken advocates of the Ayrshire breed. Ayrshires are one of the most cost-effective breeds for dairy farmers, as the breed is known for efficiently producing large quantities of high-quality milk, primarily on a forage diet. These vigorous and hardy cows can be found grazing in the sun, rain, and cold while other breeds often seek shelter.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

Sheep A Logical Choice

Sheep: A Logical Choice

from issue:

Sheep have numerous uses on a smallholding. They are excellent grazers and are ideal at revitalizing old pastures as well as an excellent follower of the cows in a rotational grazing system. Cropping the grass at 2-3 inches that the cows have left at 8 inches encourages new growth in the spring. Their manure is usually in pellet form and is spread throughout a pasture as they graze. A sheep shares a ton a year of fertilizer with the earth.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

from issue:

The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

from issue:

Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT