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9 Reasons for Starting a Bamboo Farm on Your Homestead

According to the dictionary, bamboo is defined as “a giant woody grass mainly grown in the tropics.”

How then, can bamboo grow and be used successfully, and even sold for profit from your homestead?

Let’s find out!

What Is Bamboo Used For?

Gigantochloa-pseudoarundinacea-gombong-batu-feature-bamboo

My Gigantochloa pseudoarundinacea “Gombong Batu”, just over 2 years old. I planted this one for a wood supply and for its edible shoots. Plus, it’ll create some beautiful shade all around it! Birds love making their nests in it too. Eventually, this bamboo will reach 30m (100ft) tall.

Bamboo is used throughout the world by many people for various uses, from medicinal to clothes, to even building roads and bridges.

Because bamboo has long stems and is a hard, hollow wood, it can be used instead of wood for making furniture, fence posts, flooring, and even for building houses.

Over one billion people throughout the world live in bamboo houses!

Bamboo Used As Medicine

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The shoots of Gigantochloa “Gombong Batu”

This a versatile plant as almost every part of it can be used for medicine.

The bamboo shoot has been known to be helpful for kidney disease, respiratory infections, and to even ease labor pains (source)!

While the roots and leaves may potentially aid a fight against cancer (source), water produced by the side branches may potentially be used to treat bone diseases. A poultice made from the shoots may be useful for cleaning wounds and aiding infections – almost like having a doctor in your pocket.

Make sure to check in with your doctor before starting any treatment regime – we are not qualified doctors and this is not meant as medical advice!

Be careful to not eat any shoots raw; they are extremely poisonous to humans!

Why Every Homestead Needs Bamboo

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Schizostachyum sp. Kluang Supat as screening bamboo. Just over 2 years old

Reading through this article, you can easily see why every homesteader should be growing and using bamboo!

In case we have left anything out, here are a few more reasons:

  1. Rotting plywood? No problem, simply replace with strips of bamboo.
  2. Use as stakes in your garden to mark out different areas.
  3. Feed the animals – cut down a few poles every day and feed to your livestock.
  4. Bamboo can be made into a strong, durable fabric and used to make clothes.
  5. Young shoots are used in Asian food preparation.
  6. Bamboo vinegar is used for cosmetics, insecticides, food processing, and agriculture.
  7. Create your own utensils and tableware – let the artist in you loose and create unique jewelry!
  8. Add strips of bamboo to your fire to heat your home.
  9. Once the fire has burnt out, spread the ash on your garden for a great fertilizer.

Is There a Demand for Bamboo?

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Gigantochloa wrayii, planted on the hot afternoon sun side of the shed to cool it down inside. These guys are only 1 year old!

The short answer is yes, absolutely!

As it is cheaper to produce and can be harvested frequently, bamboo is in great demand as a substitute for many timber products. Read our article on Bamboo Farming for a Homestead Income to see how fast bamboo can start producing an income for your homestead.

This is great news for the homesteader, as not only does bamboo have 101 uses around the farm, the surplus can be sold to generate that much-needed income.

For other side hustle ideas, read our article 43 Lucrative Side Hustles for Homesteaders.

How to Propagate Bamboo

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Some of my propagated bamboo, all done from division with a reciprocating saw. You’ll need a tough saw to get through the woody roots, like the Milwaukee one.

Bamboo can be propagated in various ways.

Method 1 – From a Cutting (Culm-Segment Cutting Method)

  • The culm is a segment on the bamboo shoot, which begins and ends with a node. A node is the swelling at either end of the culm segment.
  • To grow a new plant from a cutting, the existing plant should be at least 1 inch (2.5cm) in diameter – this should ensure a good strong new plant!
  • Cut a piece of bamboo from an existing shoot, about 10 inches (25cm) in length – should be at a 45-degree angle. Each piece should contain at least 3 to 4 nodes.
  • The angled end of the cutting should be dipped into a rooting hormone (can be purchased from any garden store, or make your own)
  • Spread 1/8 inch (3.2mm) soft wax around the rim of the exposed end of the stalk cutting – use a soft wax such as soy or beeswax; this will prevent the stalk from rotting – don’t cover the center hole with wax!
  • Fill a pot with good quality potting soil (this one by Fox Farm is awesome!) and push the stalk into the soil until 1 node is completely buried. Firmly press the soil down around the stalk to remove any air pockets.
  • Gently spray water over the soil – do not overwater!
  • Pour water into the cutting stalk every second day – the roots will develop better.
  • Keep the plant in a warm area but out of direct sunlight, and check the soil every day. Keep moist but do not allow water to sit on top of the soil – this may cause the roots to rot.
  • Transplant the bamboo into the ground after 4 months.

Method 2 – From a Rhizome (My Preferred Way)

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Propagated Bambusa Chinese Dwarf from division.

  • It’s easiest to keep a mother plant in a pot for this method. If you’re propagating a bamboo that is planted in the ground, it’ll be hard to dig up. You can try shoveling right around it to see if you can loosen a portion of the plant enough to remove it, but most likely you’ll need an excavator.
  • In a pot, it’s super simple. Remove as much dirt as possible from the roots, being as gentle as possible.
  • Use a reciprocating saw (you’ll need a good one!) or a handsaw (you need good muscles for this one) to cut between 2 stems that have some space between them. Cut right through the whole root ball. You’ll feel a fair bit of resistance half-way down, that’s the main woody rhizome you need to get through.
  • Don’t try to cut between stems that are too close, you’ll end up with one half without roots. Choose stems with as much space between them as possible.
  • Water in super, super well. Check every second day, and keep the soil moist.
  • Keep the pot in the shade for 4 -6 weeks, after which time bamboo shoots should appear.
  • Plant the bamboo back into the garden when the nighttime temperatures are warm.

How to Harvest Bamboo

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Gorgeous variegations on Gigantochloa “Gombong Batu”

The ideal time to harvest bamboo is at the beginning of the dry season.

Choose an adult plant that is between 2 and 7 years old. You may find that older bamboo plants aren’t great for building material or eating; you can read more about that here.

Cut the bamboo shoot just above the first or second node above ground level with a saw – this way, rainwater cannot collect in the node, which could cause the plant to rot during the rainy season.

To keep the adult plant growing well, only take a few shoots from each plant.

Conclusion

So, is growing bamboo on your homestead a profitable venture?

I, for one, would say yes, as not only can you make some extra cash from the sale of the bamboo shoots or from your own home-made furniture and knick-knacks, but it can’t be beaten for all-round use on your farm! Once you get into the growing groove of this versatile plant, the uses are endless.

Will you add some bamboo to your homestead? Let us know in the comments!

Author

  • Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.

Carol L

Monday 13th of June 2022

Wow! Elle, thank you for the detailed and informative response! I do stand corrected. This is information I have never seen before…I will be looking into all of it. I still believe that trying to sell bamboo for commercial use here in the US is not a viable option…but I will look into it as well…I may be wrong there, too!!!

Elle

Monday 13th of June 2022

See our previous article too, it's a good read :D - Bamboo farming for a homestead income

Elle

Monday 13th of June 2022

No problem at all Carol - I do apologize for the mini-rant! I've been growing bamboo for about 15 years now and absolutely adore them. Bamboo has such a bad reputation and I've kind of made it my mission to change that haha - a tall mission! They can be such a valuable addition to almost any garden, worldwide, I believe. You might be right re the commercial opportunity - it's almost as much about educating people about the merits of bamboo furniture, flooring, etc. as it is creating it. We established a business in Australia many years ago, focused on dwarf coconuts. At the time, no one had heard about dwarf coconuts and everyone was convinced coconuts are bad - they drop on your head and grow 30 meters tall. Most of our time was spent talking to people about how dwarves stay smaller, grow slower, fit any size garden, etc. Maybe bamboo is the same? Over here, everyone is convinced that you plant one bamboo and it will then completely take over. It truly doesn't! Here's my privacy screen to "hide" the road:

And a new lot we planted 6 months ago to keep the heat off the shed: I'll look into the comment reply - thanks for the heads up!!! Elle

Carol L

Sunday 12th of June 2022

Several issues: 1: bamboo shoots are consumed all over the world, they have them canned, mostly. 2: bamboo is notoriously void of nutrients, so feeding it to your livestock is not really a good idea...cows don't eat it, it isn't a natural food source for all but pandas.(And they must consume very large quantities to survive) (goats may, in small doses, as they do eat woody products) and 3: I rather doubt that most states in the U.S. would have bamboo production plants, so, unless you are in China, it would be VERY difficult to sell or have your excess bamboo made into products. Also, it should be noted that bamboo is very invasive...and will take over land, and as you have noted, it is difficult to get rid of as it grows so very rapidly. I do, however, like the idea of planting some to harvest for wood stoves and fireplaces! OOPS! I NOTED YOU SAID RAW SHOOTS...SORRY

Elle

Monday 13th of June 2022

Hi Carol! Thanks for the comment! I adore my bamboo and unfortunately, I disagree with you on a few things. My animals LOVE bamboo. I initially planted several large bamboo varieties as a backup for dry times. We have gone through several droughts and our plan included many different varieties to increase our food availability - not just for ourselves but for the farm animals as well. I figured bamboo would be their last choice, but it turns out that they all enjoy foraging on the bamboo, to the point where there is no foliage left at "eating height". These animals include cows, sheep, and horses. Even the chickens enjoy pecking the new shoots, as well as smaller foliage. In Australia, there are several boutique bamboo operations, including a very famous business near Brisbane, called Bambooland. Bamboo fencing is in demand, as are decorative features. They also sell plants, which could be another outlet. The varieties I grow are not invasive at all. They are clumping varieties, as opposed to running varieties. Running varieties will take over your property but clumping varieties, despite forming a large clump, do not have traveling shoots underground that can pop up anywhere and spread like wildfire. Yes, once established, they are hard to get rid of. But, they do not form new plants everywhere. They just stay in a nice big clump. My wall of bamboo is amazing - not only does it provide shade and privacy, we use it as building material, for food, and fodder. It is truly one of the most useful plants I grow! This is how the Western Australian agriculture department describes them:

There are two distinct types of bamboo which are known as clumpers or runners.

The invasive nature of runner bamboos has resulted in a bad name for bamboos generally. Some local government authorities are unaware of the two types of bamboos and may state that bamboos cannot be planted in their areas. Clumpers are the main varieties that should be planted in home gardens. However, running types are suitable in home gardens if planted more than 15m from neighbouring properties, if planted in pots, or if provision is made to keep the runners in a confined space.

More and more studies are popping up about the value of bamboo as animal fodder. One study focussed on the benefits of bamboo for dairy cattle:

According to the authors, “bamboo leaves can provide an important component of [cattle] diets and enable the maintenance of the animal performance through the year, especially during seasons of fodder shortage” (Andriarimalala et al., 2019). Ultimately, the study found that the consumption of bamboo leaves allowed the cows to continue milk production during the dry season and had no significant effect on milk production compared to a diet of maize silage. In fact, the high protein and nutrient contents of the bamboo leaves complement the energy content of the maize improving the cows’ digestion quality. However, the authors note that further studies should be made on the optimal time to harvest bamboo leaves, as their fibre content varies during different stages.

Another study by the USDA focussed on the nutritive quality of bamboo for livestock, with a test site in the Appalachian Mountains:

Small farm systems in hill-land Appalachia need management options that diversify income opportunities; can be integrated into traditional and new livestock management strategies; and help maintain environmental integrity. Plantings of temperate bamboo, including species native to West Virginia were established to determine their ability to withstand hill-land Appalachian conditions and provide forage for goats. Most species under evaluation can withstand Appalachian winter temperatures and retain some green leaves even in late-winter. Nutritive value of bamboo species appeared generally similar to each other and showed similar trends over the season. Fibrous cell wall component concentrations were lowest in young leaves collected in July, and increased as leaves aged to reach highest concentrations in over-wintered leaves. Leaf crude protein decreased from July to September, but was relatively constant through the winter. Concentrations of fiber and protein were comparable to those reported for other browse plants and were sufficient to meet maintenance needs of goats. The ability of bamboo to remain green and maintain quality throughout the winter suggests it may have potential as a winter feed in central Appalachia. Bamboo could prove to be a valuable, multiple-use crop, suitable for Appalachian farm operations and easily adaptable to goat production systems.

Daphne Lewis from Bamboo Farming USA and author of the book "Bamboo farming", provides a lot of information also about growing bamboo as a profit crop in the USA. She says:

There are over 200 species in North America, and the variety you grow depends on your climate and what you plan to do with it.

A bamboo crop doesn’t require a lot of space.

"Some of the largest bamboos that are maintained for shoots, they might put 1,000 poles-per-acre out," she says. "But some of the smaller bamboos that are raised for poles and not for shoots, you let them grow closer together and you might get 3,000 or more poles-per-acre."

Finally, another very interesting post to have a read of by Greener Grass Farm, states:

A friend brought up an interesting point in a comment on yesterday’s blog post. There is a species of bamboo native to Virginia and the Southeast US called Giant Cane. He provided a descriptive PDF from the USDA that explains the historical value and use of the plant. My favorite passage states:

According to environmental historian Mart Stewart (2007), “Modern studies have established that cane foliage was the highest yielding native pasture in the South. It has up to eighteen percent crude protein and is rich in minerals essential for livestock health.” Livestock eagerly eat the young plants, leaves, and seeds and stands decline with overgrazing and rooting by hogs (Hitchcock and Chase 1951).

My apologies for the long response! I believe there are many misconceptions about bamboo (many stemming from the running variety of bamboo), and having been a firm believer in its incredible value, I've been defending its merits for many years now :D