Bamboo is often claimed to be the most versatile and useful plant in the world. Once established, bamboo can be harvested annually for decades, making it an excellent long-term investment. In this article, we will discover how to harvest bamboo and methods to preserve it.
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How do You Harvest Bamboo?
How you harvest your bamboo will depend on the type and what you will be using it for.
It can take many years for bamboo to grow, and it should not be harvested before the stand is of good size.
Culms in the grove will be of different sizes. The oldest will be thinner and shorter than the younger ones.
Once the grove is mature, you can start to harvest it annually by taking only the culms of the right age. Too young and they won’t be durable, too old and they will be brittle.
Although strip harvesting has been used for ease, it isn’t the best way to manage your plantation. The best method is to select the culms of the correct age each year and harvest only them.
Strip harvesting can be detrimental to the health of your bamboo grove, and recovery can take a long time.
It is best to only remove up to one-fourth of the canes at once. Marking the canes each year to indicate their age is good management.
The poles are best harvested by hand using a saw rather than an ax that can leave sharp edges. These edges can be dangerous to people working in the grove and to wildlife.
A healthy, well-managed grove will have abundant dark green foliage.
Harvesting is somewhat different if you grow your bamboo in pots for use in gardens.
You can increase the quantity of plants you have each year by splitting them in their second year.
This should be done during the spring, and one plant can be divided into two or three, which will really help you to multiply your stock.
When you begin to notice new clumps emerging from the plants in spring, divide them up and re-plant. It’s essential to keep the rhizomes damp before and after planting.
What is the Best Way to Harvest Bamboo?
Let’s take a closer look at the best ways of harvesting bamboo.
Bamboo Shoots for Food
Specific species of bamboo can be grown for food. Young bamboo shoots appear in the spring around the edges of your bamboo plants. They can be harvested and processed annually.
Bamboo contains a lot of cyanide. You must boil it before consumption! Here is how to harvest your bamboo shoots and process them correctly.
- In spring, when the young bamboo shoots start to appear above the ground, select those with a broad base but less than 8 inches tall.
- Check the shoot carefully to ensure it isn’t soft when touched or has any cracks, fungi, or mold.
- You can then use loppers to cut shoots up to 1 ½ inch in thickness. You will need to dig up anything larger than that.
- Open the loppers out fully and place the blades around the stalk at the base. In a continual slow motion, close the loppers to cut the bamboo cleanly off.
- Loppers need to be sharp to produce a clean cut and should not be closed too quickly, or you may risk damaging the shoot.
- If your shoots are too thick to cut, you can dig them up. Use a good shovel and place it at a slight angle to the side of your shoot.
- Use your foot to push down on the shovel and give the blade a good hard, sharp stroke under the shoot. Push down on the handle to lift the shoot slightly, then loosen the dirt and remove the shoot from the ground.
- If the shoot won’t come away easily, loosen the dirt around it some more or use the shovel again on the opposite side of the shoot.
- Once you’ve dug up your bamboo shoots, you’ll need to use a paring knife to remove the hard outer skin. Make sure your knife is sharp, taking care not to cut yourself while doing this.
- Immediately after peeling, you’ll need to blanch the shoots. To do this, take a large pot and fill not more than ¾ full. Add ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of water.
- Bring the water to a boil and then turn it down to simmer. Carefully drop in your bamboo shoots and allow to cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
- This will destroy the cyanide and bitter flavor while maintaining their crunch. Chop them into rounds.
- Place your chopped shoots into sterilized glass jars containing cooled boiled water. Add ½ a teaspoon of salt per cup of water.
These will stay good in the refrigerator for up to one week. To preserve them for a longer time, place them in the freezer.
Harvesting Mature Bamboo
If the bamboo you want to harvest is the giant kind grown in a plantation, you can cut down the culms of between 3 and 5 years of age. Younger culms are not strong enough, and older culms are too brittle.
It’s best to mark the new culms every year with a color code, a squirt of spray paint will do the job. Just select a different color to represent each year.
By doing this, you’ll always know the age of your culms and when they are ready to be harvested.
If you don’t know the age of your culms, there are ways of telling how old they are. The younger the culm, the closer to the edge of the bamboo patch it will be.
Young culms have virtually no branches coming from them, and they will be a dark green color. The older culms are more lime green and, if you look closely, will have red speckled pigmentation.
You can also try tapping the culm with a pen or your fingernail. Young culms have a dampened sound due to the moisture in the stem, while mature culms sound more hollow.
- Culms close to the edge of the bamboo patch.
- Branches coming from the culm – too young = very few, old enough = many.
- Color of the culm – too young dark green, old enough paler lime green with red pigmentation.
- Sound – too young dampened sound, old enough hollow sound.
Once you’ve located a suitable piece to cut, you can use a sharp hacksaw or a chainsaw.
Look at the culm and cut it just above the second or third node from the ground. Nodes are the bands that go around the bamboo, giving it a segmented appearance.
Cutting on a slight angle just above a node will prevent the remaining culm from filling with water and rotting, which may damage the plant.
Using a hacksaw, make a clean cut through the stalk using the blade’s full length in a back and forth motion.
With a chainsaw, first, ensure the blade is sharp. Hold the saw next to the stalk where you will make the cut. Get it running smoothly before placing it against the culm and push the saw quickly through it, making sure to maintain even pressure until the cut is complete.
Be aware that the saw blade can slip or bounce off of the stalk due to the slippery nature of bamboo, so be very careful. Don’t use a chainsaw to cut thin bamboo stalks.
When operating a chainsaw, correct safety equipment – helmet, visor, ear protectors, gloves, and trousers should be used.
Before felling, ensure you calculate the direction in which the pole will fall. Bamboo will blunt the chain of your saw very quickly.
With a sharp knife or saw, remove branches as close as possible from the main stem.
In this video, you will see the correct way to harvest giant bamboo:
Once you have harvested your bamboo, it needs to treating and curing to preserve it and protect against mold and insects. By treating it, your bamboo will last for many years.
Treatment can be done several ways, by injecting with borax solution, placing in a saltwater bath, or heating with a blow torch.
Once treated, bamboo must be left to cure by drying out. Never leave cut bamboo in contact with the ground to dry. Place the poles on rocks or racks.
Just like milled lumber, if left untreated, it won’t last very long!
How to heat-treat your bamboo
Once you’ve harvested your culms, you’ll need to heat-treat them for preservation. You can use a blowtorch to do this.
By working the blowtorch up and down the bamboo in progressive strokes, the oils within it are brought to the surface. The flame of the torch needs to be around 248°F.
Work meticulously and move over the bamboo one section at a time. The color of the bamboo will change as you heat it. When it reaches a yellow color, it is done.
As you work your way over the culm, wipe off the oils released with a towel as you go.
Once you have gone over the entire culm, store it off the ground to fully dry and cure.
You could use a charcoal or gas grill to heat your bamboo, too, if you don’t have a blowtorch.
Be very careful when heat treating your bamboo. It will get very hot! Always use suitable heat-protective gloves, clothing, and eyewear.
How Many Times Can You Harvest Bamboo?
Once established, bamboo plantations can have the 3 to 4-year culms harvested each year for the life plant, usually for 30 years or more.
Pots of bamboo can be split several times after they are a couple of years old to create new plants. They can also be used for cuttings to make new plants.
Young bamboo shoots are produced annually for the life of the plant.
Bamboo Harvesting Tools
There are a selection of tools you may require to harvest your bamboo. These include:
Edible Bamboo Shoots
- Loppers – to cut young shoots.
- Paring knife – to remove the tough outer husk.
- Shovel – to dig up young shoots.
- Glass jars – to preserve your shoots.
- Large pot – to blanch your bamboo shoots.
- Chainsaw plus safety gear – to harvest suitable poles
- Hacksaw – to cut down culms by hand.
- Blowtorch – to preserve your poles.
- Gloves – to protect your hands.
- Grill – to use in place of a blowtorch.
- Towel – to wipe away the oils released by the bamboo while heating.
When harvesting bamboo, it’s essential to do so at the right time and only harvest culms of the correct age.
Once harvested, you will need to preserve your bamboo appropriately to help it last for as long as possible.
We hope you’ve found this article on how to harvest bamboo informative. Should you want to learn more about Bamboo, more articles are available in the series on our website.