In my previous post about Hardy Bamboo, I looked at some of the plants that might be used in conjunction with chickens. Most will provide shelter, and an ideal environment for a Chicken Scavenging System. However that’s not all of the functions that bamboo can fulfill, and in this post I want to explore some of these other functions. After all one of the principles of Permaculture is that every element should provide more than one function. A permaculture principle that is very close to my heart, and which underpins the way that I design.
The functions that bamboo provide naturally are shelter from weather and predators I mentioned these in the previous post. You can read the earlier Chicken and Bamboo if you haven’t already done so.
People are often surprised that all of the hardy bamboo grown here in the UK are edible. As soon as I mention ‘Bamboo Shoots‘ people seem to get it. Some are better tasting than others, but changing the cooking water removes the bitterness of the less tasty varieties. The problem for most people is that to make the shoots of hardy bamboo worth the effort of eating, they need to be fairly fat. That also means that the bamboo will be fairly tall, and not ideal for a smaller garden. Luckily I’m not working on that scale, and can select whatever I want. With my Chicken Scavenging System I am creating a Forest Garden (Food Forest) for Chickens. A Forest Garden needs at least three layers, and so I can use the taller edible species for the canopy layer, some clumping species, for shelter, and ground covering bamboo too.
Suitable Hardy Bamboo Species
There are numerous really good species of Hardy Bamboo that can be used. For a really stout, impressive stand of bamboo you could use Phyllostachys vivax, or P. praecox. Both are good to eat, but are really only suitable for large spaces. A little smaller are three other Phyllostachys species. P. nuda is an excellent tasting bamboo, as is P. viridiglaucescens, but pride of place has to go to P. aureosulcata ‘spectabilis’. This hardy bamboo is tall, tastes good, and is probably the cheapest bamboo to buy. More importantly perhaps is that it is stunningly beautiful.
This picture shows how beautiful it is, although the colour is very similar to a variety of P. vivax. The other two varieties that I mentioned are both green, but P. nuda has a gorgeous black red coloration to the canes when they first appear. I mentioned earlier that ‘spectabilis’ is relatively cheap. I bought some last year from Parker’s Dutch Bulbs‘ wholesale catalogue, and paid about £10 each for ten juvenile specimens. I had already obtained some sections of cane and rhizome from a friend, and these are growing on nicely now. I put the juvenile plants into nursery beds in the vegetable garden, as the severe cold last Winter damaged some my bamboo.They were supposed to be hardy, but being frozen in pots, close to their minimum temperature was always going to be difficult.
The picture above shows those hardy bamboo plants in their nursery bed. The taller plants behind are P. aureosulcata Spectabilis. They are still only about 18 inches tall, and have been given a ‘haircut’ by rabbits. All ten plants are doing well. though, and I hope to plant them out into one of the Chicken Scavenging Areas in the Spring. These plants will reach a height averaging 20 feet tall, and with a maximum cane diameter of 1.75 inches.
Bamboo for shelter and Cane Production
The plants in the foreground of the picture above are Fargesia murielae. This is a clumping bamboo, which grows to around 13 feet, and has a cane diameter of about 1/2 an inch when mature. I bought these from the same source. It will make great shelter for the chickens, and the mature canes can be used in the garden. To get the best from the canes they should be cut when three years old or more, and then dried thoroughly. Of course if you have an unlimited supply you can probably do without the drying, and just use a new batch of canes each year. Many of the Fargesia genus could be used in a similar way, and I have specimens of F. nitida, F. rufa, F. robusta, and F. utilis growing. All of the hardy bamboo species mentioned in the previous paragraph can also be used for cane production.
Bamboo for Ground Cover
I am using two species of hardy bamboo for ground cover, both from the genus Pleioblastus. I mentioned both (P. variegata and P. pygmaeus) in my earlier post. Once established, many of the ground cover bamboo species are mown each Spring. The plants put up new growth unaffected by the cutting of the previous season’s growth. That opens up some interesting possibilities. I could mow with a scythe and leave the cuttings in place. These would compost down and increase the leaf litter layer, benefiting the insects on which my chickens would feed. I could also use the cuttings as chicken bedding before returning them to the Forest Garden floor. This would give me an additional function from the trimmings. Alternatively, if there was enough organic matter produced, I could use a proportion of it to build soil fertility in one of the vegetable growing areas.
Hardy Bamboo is fairly easy to propagate, but I’ll leave that for another post.