There has been quite lot of interest in edible bamboo in Australia over the last few years, with a few commercial plantations being established. Home gardeners and those on acreage can also easily grow this delicious food. For fruit growers, bamboo also can be very useful planted between rows of fruit trees as windbreaks.
In the past there has often been a negative perception about bamboo, with people believing that it is invasive. But the clumping (sympodial ) varieties are easily controlled, and fine to grow anywhere. This is because the clumping bamboos produce a single culm (vertical shoot) from each new rhizome, close to the mother plant, rather than running along under ground.
We planted a row of edible bamboo in our previous suburban home, where it formed a beautiful living fence, screening out the windows of the house behind from looking over our yard, as well as producing edible shoots.
It has been estimated that Australians eat about 8, 000 tonnes of tinned bamboo shoots every year (Midmore 1997), but the fresh shoots, which are superior for eating, are not often seen in markets. Therefore there is considerable commercial potential within Australia, and for export to places such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand (Midmore 1997).
Bamboo could be a good commercial proposition even on quite small properties. Cusack (1999) has reported that bamboo fertilised and irrigated, yield approximately 10, 000 of kg shoots per hectare. Prices paid at wholesale markets in late 1999 - early 2000 were $5 - $6.50 per kilo giving a gross return of approximately $50, 000 - $60, 000 per hectare. Primary production status can be achieved on as little as 1 hectare of land. Establishment costs can be as low as $10, 000 - $12, 000 per hectare if you do fair bit of the work yourself, and after establishment the bamboo needs little maintenance (Cusack 1999).
Edible bamboo is easy and fast to grow, and can be planted any time of year. It likes rich soil and is drought hardy, but does not like soggy or continuously wet conditions. When planting, keep the root ball as intact as possible and handle gently, without teasing out the roots. Although many clumping bamboos originate from tropical or warmer climate areas of the world, there are some that tolerate cold climate, including frost and temperatures down to minus 9 or even -12 degrees Celsius.
Bamboo requires good feeding, so use compost or an complete fertiliser regularly. Although normal rainfall is probably sufficient, watering in dry spells helps the shoots grow and keeps bamboo green. It can be grown in the open and also between deep-rooted trees that create a micro-climate. The clumping bamboos are the fastest growing woody plants in the world (Midmore 1997). They produce a first crop when three years old (possibly even two). The new shoots generally emerge from the ground from December to February but can continue even later. They can grow as much as a metre in a day.
Clumps need to be maintained well. When the new shoots emerge, select larger ones to grow up into mature culms. Cut off shoots you don't want to grow just below ground level, selecting them to allow space between culms for aesthetic and access reasons. It also a good idea to remove culms older than 4 or 5 years, to remove the old wood to maintain the clump's vigour (Cusack 1999). Most bamboos can be kept to the shape and size you desire, and can even be maintained as a trimmed hedge.
One of the most reliable edible varieties for Queensland is Bambusa oldhamii. It is easy to obtain – for example from the nurseries listed below. Other edible varieties are:
The Botanic Gardens at Mt Cooth-tha contains a large bamboo collection, so you can view different varieties.
The young shoot of the culm is edible when harvested just before it emerges from the soil. The shoots are harvested when the plants are about 3 –4 years s old. They should be cut with a sharp pointed knife, when the shoot height is about 3 or 4 times the diameter, cutting where the shoot joins the tougher rhizome. You need to keep a closer watch on them because they grow very quickly, cut them off just below the surface. Depending on the species, the shoots appear in spring or autumn. With few exceptions you can cook, store and eat the shoots you remove at your leisure (they taste even better if you cover them with a planter bag full of straw when the tip first appears, to exclude light as they grow until they are cut off to eat).
Remove the hard, fibrous, outer sheaths. Boil in lightly salted water, for 10 – 30 minutes, and if they taste bitter they must be rinsed and boiled again in clean water. They can be added to different dishes as a vegetable, or eaten cold in a salad. They can be kept refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 2 months.
Midmore, D. 1997. Bamboo for Shoots and Timber. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.
Cusack, V. 1999. 'Bamboo World', Published by Simon & Schuster (ISBN 0-86417-934-0).
Osborne, R. 2001. Organic Gardener, FPC Magazines, NSW.
Useful bamboo websites and nurseries around South East Queensland.
Bamboo Grove - on the Gold Coast. Greg & Winnie Tommasi. 21 Glade Drive Gaven Qld 4211. Ph:07 55618355 Fax:07 55618365 Mobile : 0409 998806 e-mail: email@example.com
Bamboo Land - Klas Nilsson, 7 Old Coach Rd, Howard.,4659 QLD. Australia. Ph. 07 4129 4470, Fax: (07) 41 29 0130, e-mail: Nilsson@satcom.net.au Website:
Bamboo Valley Nursery - Horst Decker, King Creek Road, Eerwah Vale via Eumundi, Qld 4562. Ph 07-5442 8999 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bamboozled - Jim and Belinda Nilon - Lot 3 Higginsons Road, MS 76, Rockhampton D.C. Qld 4701. Ph/fax: 07 49344732 E-Mail: email@example.com