At Home in Nature

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Bamboo as a hay crop

Bamboo is a grass and where the farmer has enough water to irrigate other hay crops (such as rye or alfalfa), they ought to consider this hay instead. 

D. G. Sturkie, Professor Emeritus of Agronomy and Soils, V.L. Brown, Superintendent, Lower Coastal Plain Substation, and  W. J. Watson, Assistant Superintendent, Lower Coastal Plain Substation, all of Auburn University, in their excellent “BAMBOO GROWING IN ALABAMA” suggest that bamboo was first introduced to America in Savanna, Georgia in 1933.  Yields of timber-quality bamboo often exceed 83 tons per acre, but theoretical yields can be much higher than that.  Not that 83 tons per acre is to be looked down upon: 3 tons per acre is very respectable for many hay crops!

Bamboo groves are card for like orchards, vineyards or berry patches and may produce for many dozens of years without significant maintenance.  Plant the bamboo in rows running east/west so that the north wind is blocked in the winter and the south sun is tempered in the summer.  Beds should be of equal width to the aisles, as with any plant.  Beds of 4 to 8 feet are ideal for most varieties, but undertake your own experiments!

Deep tillage in the aisles is the best Tullian or Columellan husbandry, and should be done at least 3 times in the summer, once in the winter and once in the autumn for this and other hay crops.  In fact, it should be done for any crop.  Heavy mulching of the surface reduces water needs, and keeping two feet of bamboo above the ground in winter increases water deposition by snow. 

The young shoots are delicious treats for people and may be harvested by thinning a patch.  Don’t harvest all of the shoots or you won’t have bamboo later!  Bamboo for animal feed is very palatable and may be harvested in two ways.

First, it may be thinned when green – either by trimming the tops (as we do with rye and other grasses) about two feet from the ground.  Second, it may be thinned entirely as we do with raspberries in the autumn as we remove old canes, or with bamboo shoots.

Bamboo is also sometimes harvested when brown in the autumn or winter, and allowed to cure on the plant.  It is also sometimes grazed directly, but this is poor management for any hay crop because the animals will destroy the soil and damage the plants.

Most animals love bamboo – fowl, goats, cattle, pigs and even people will eat more of this hay crop if it is seasoned with a little salt, wine, vinegar or beer.  But mixing in your usual grain feeds is always a good idea, as with any hay crop.

For people, try some fresh soy beans mixed in; for animals, this is too expensive and mixing barley in is easy enough!

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