Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Our area of the world, in the Northeastern corner of America, does not have much in the way of grain production which we need for carbohydrates. I learned about this from Amos Meeks' blog "Food Security in Affluent Communities" (which I learned about from Wintermute's blog "Satisfied but not secure", which I learned about... oh never mind). I wrote in a comment that I wondered whether bamboo might help with grain production.

What else can bamboo be good for? It turns out the entire plant is useful for a variety of reasons, much like hemp is. And even just growing it is useful. Check this out: The Top Ten Reasons Why Bamboo can Save the Planet Here is the list of those reasons, but you'll have to read the article for the details.

  1. Renewable resource.
  2. Absorbs greenhouse gases.
  3. Amazing growth rate.
  4. Very little waste.
  5. Versatility.
  6. No fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides needed.
  7. Soil protection.
  8. Economic development.
  9. Bamboo grows in a variety of conditions.
  10. Optimism and cultural cooperation.
Bamboo grows all over the world, and there are many Bamboo Species, estimated at somewhere between 1000 and 1600. A quote from that article:

In America, there are only three species of bamboo that grow naturally. These three species once covered nearly five million acres of land in America, until settlers began to tear down this “Cane Break” for farming lands. Any other species of bamboo that grow in North America are generally those that have been transplanted from other places.
...
For gardeners, the temperature zones that bamboo grows best in are zones 4 through 10. The heartier species of bamboo should be grown in zones 4 through seven, while sub-tropic species can be grown in zones 9 and 10.

Zone 4 includes our area, so yeah, we can do it!

But my initial motivation for considering bamboo came from another direction: I'd been thinking about the advantages of intercropping, combining multiple crops in the same plot of land so that all benefit from the interactions. I also like pole beans because they produce lots of beans out of reach of small mammals, and the roots of this legume also fertilize the soil. (I wrote a bit about this in my blog 2020 Vision - More Sustainable, Less Wasteful) But pole beans need something to climb up, and bamboo poles are a natural for that.

Well, I thought, what if the bamboo pole was not just a dead and dried pole but live and growing with the other crops? Have people considered intercropping with bamboo? Should we be surprised? Here are a few refs:


But back to bamboo as food. We've heard of bamboo shoots, but how nutritious are they? Bamboo Shoots - So Packed With Nutrition They Literally Glow in the... OK, that sounds good. Here is a good site for nutritional comparisons: Bamboo shoots, cooked, boiled, drained, with salt

I can imagine cutting bamboo shoots in the spring, much like asparagus, and then letting a few grow tall to serve as poles for pole beans. In fact, where bamboo gets established, it appears to be difficult to get rid of, so hardy they are.

What about bamboo seeds? Looks promising: "Bamboo parts and seeds for additional source of nutrition" The bamboo plant is related to the gra****, including rice, wheat, and corn (another tall grass), so can we grow bamboo for its seed? Yes, but there is a problem.

Many varieties of bamboo appear to not flower and grow seed for many years, from 15 years up to 120 years! But when they do, they are often very abundant. To be useful as crops, we would probably have to do something about breeding varieties that produce seeds more frequently. But that is a challenge also. I'll quote one section of a paper on Seed Production and Sources that appears to only be available via Google's cache:

Bamboo Breeding
Have you ever thought how frustrating it would be to be a graduate student in plant breeding studying bamboo? You could only make the crosses between varieties when they flowered. In bamboo, flowering occurs most commonly after 30 years, but can be on other multiples of 15, even 120 years for different species. Then there is the problem that the two varieties you wanted to cross might not flower at the same time. That is why this terribly important plant has never been improved by plant breeding.

Dr. Larry Butler at Purdue University alerted us to a breakthrough (Nature, vol. 344, p 291, 1990). Researchers have found that "tissue cultured shoots from bamboo seedlings on medium supplemented with cytokinin [a plant hormone] and coconut milk flowered ... after only three subcultures." The varieties they work with would normally flower after 30 years. Similar advances have been found with other species. For example, date palm shoots can be made to flower in five months after tissue culture rather than the usual 9 years.

There should now be "an explosion of new types [of bamboo]...". There is plenty of variation to chose from in making crosses. "Leaves, for example, vary between species from great sheets 4.l5 meters long and 30 centimeters wide (on a plant only 3 meters high) to hair-like threads." "Bamboo hay has four times the protein content of hay from gra**** and paper from bamboo is much better than newsprint."

OK folks, let's get started.

Views: 36

Comment by Michele Baron on March 21, 2010 at 10:16pm
Good knowledge share. Worked on hills in southern Japan with some farming friends to harvest, prepare bamboo shoots--there are several types that are eaten, and others which are not (good for other purposes: producing wrappings, cloth, shades, scaffoldings, buildings, mats..). Bamboo shoots form a large part of locavore offerings in spring markets--preparation methods differ, as do shelf-lives of the prepared shoots. But they can be delicious, and nourishing, and, prepared/preserved for sale, a source of income as well. Thank you for your blog posting.
Comment by Amos Meeks on March 22, 2010 at 1:21am
This is a great post. Great information, very relevant.
It's good to remember that in addition to bamboo's nutritional benefits are it's structural benefits. It's can be used to make anything (laptop case, phone case, clocks, vests, and even buildings) so when you have excess, you can use it to improve your house and almsot any other aspect of your life. It really is a wonder plant.
Comment by Riko Kamachi on March 29, 2010 at 3:38pm
No wonder bamboo is so well-loved in Asia!
Comment by Daniel LaLiberte on March 29, 2010 at 4:03pm
Thanks for the encouraging responses, folks.

Yes, bamboo is also a beautiful wood with many varieties of grain structure. I'm thinking we should use it for resurfacing our kitchen floor, but I want to make sure was produced in environmentally friendly ways, which is not always the case apparently.

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