David Benfield

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since Jan 31, 2013
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Recent posts by David Benfield

P. dulcis (Sweetshoot) is good. P. edulis (Moso) is prized mostly b/c of the winter shoots, which require some work to get. I still think P. vivax is the best and certainly the biggest. We sell them to high-end restaurants and that's the most requested one.
7 years ago
Hi All, sorry for the delay. We've been busy with the nursery grand opening. Wow, quite a bit of action on this post recently! OK here are answers:

@Cortland - Probably many of the Phyllostachys will be good for what you're wanting to do. I'm going to be putting up some descriptions on my website soon, but right now I don't have much. A few considerations:
-Almost all Phyllostachys species will prefer full sun, and will spread to areas (all things being equal) with more sun. Most can do okay in the understory, but it really depends on how dense the shade is. If it's very shady, growth will be slow and for some varieties (particularly many of the yellow-colored ones) may be to dark for them to grow. Black bamboo probably does best in the shady areas, but it's not one of the fastest growing ones.
-Keep in mind that almost all the Phyllostachys varieties will provide good screening in the first 10 years, but as the larger timber varieties start achieving mature size (up to 70') then often their leaves go up with them so the screen in the bottom 20' may disappear over time. Sometimes this is fine, depending on the angle of sight.
-Bamboo is such a versatile plant, you'll want to try to take advantage of the poles, shoots, or both. I've just added a brief guide here: http://www.brightsidebamboo.com/nursery.html Scroll down to "use guide." Yellow groove (P. aureosculcata) is probabably the fastest growing and spreading one, but it's poles are very inferior so if you think you'll make use of them I'd go with something else. If you want a midsize variety both P. decora and P. meyeri are a nice, mid-size (30'-35'), green variety that do well in this part of the country. If you want to go bigger, I really like P. dulcis for excellent edible shoots and wood quality. P. vivax is my favorite overall for shoots and is the largest bamboo in this part of the country, but does have thin walls so the poles are good for crafts but not construction. P. nigra 'Henon' is also a good all-around timber species. P. aurea, Pseudosasa japonica, P. bissetii, and P. rubromarginata are often the best for screening, depending on your height and angle needs.
-It's okay to mix several varieties. I particularly like planting both short and tall varieties for contrast and practical screening.
-In terms of keeping bamboo in check, if you have some acreage and can afford to keep a buffer zone, I always tell people eating your bamboo is the best way to control it. Just eat all the shoots that come up past a certain line. It can only spread underground from it's photosynthesis base about as tall as it is.
-Of course, I do offer in-person or phone/internet consulting as well for details and specifics.

-I know the people over at Bamboo Garden in OR - a great group with good information. I'm probably their top customer for the rhizome barrier. Some of their info on specific species is particular to the Pacific NW and varies a bit here in the Southeast. The same bamboo tends to get a little bigger here.
-There are a few types of clumping bamboo, so it depends on what you're talking about. In OH they're probably talking about Fargesias which do like summer shade. In zone 8+ (and maybe 7b) you can do Bambusas which like full sun with winter protection if you're in lower range zone-wise.

@Clifford - thanks!

@Xisca - Your'e welcome! Dendrocalamus is a tropical genus - many of which produce seeds much more frequently than the temperate varieties, which don't flower but every 80 years or so, on average. It varies widely from 20 years to 200 years.

@John - I can attest the Savannah site is a great place and the old hq of the old USDA bamboo program that ran from the 1890s to 1970s.

I hope this helps!

7 years ago
Clumping bamboos have a little bit deeper roots, but Phyllostachys running bamboos are very shallow. They're almost always in the first 3-4 inches. I think the deepest I've ever seen is 8 inches or so, and I've dug a lot of bamboo. But to be safe we use a 30" barrier. About 24"-26" in the ground, the rest sticking up. It's more likely to hop over the barrier than go under it.

Oh, and don't buy any barrier less than 60mil. Definitely go 80 mil if you're installing a timber variety or just want to be safest. If you're doing all that work and spending all that money, might as well spend a few dollars more.

The week point is where the barrier is joined together, or if not completely surrounding the bamboo, where the barrier ends. We use heavy duty galvanized steel clamps with nuts & bolts every 2" or so and use 2 sets of clamps for each seam with about an 8" overlap on the barrier. Sometimes I"ll add an industrial double-sided tape in the middle for good measure. It's probably overkill.

7 years ago
Sorry Sheril I don't have much experience with the native bamboos besides identifying them. I haven't transplanted any but hopefully I'll bring some into my nursery this year.
7 years ago
To answer some of the original questions:
-All bamboo is edible. Some are better than others. The variety you plant will depend on the intended use. Some have really good edible shoots, some don't. Some have really good wood quality, some don't. Here in NC some get to 5" in diameter and 70', but you may need smaller poles. Most the bamboo you see in people's back yards is there from the USDA program that ran from 1898-1975. You see the same 5-6 varieties over an over. The most common, making up about 90% of the bamboo in my area are P. aurea (golden) P. aureasulcata (yellow groove) and Ps. japonica (arrow). None of these are in my top 10 for a farm setting. The shoots from aurea and aureasulcata has be pretty good though. Any timber bamboo (3"+ diameter) is useful though. The 3 varieties of timber you normally see are P. bambusoides (Japanese timber) P. vivax (vivax) and P. nigra 'henon' (henon)
-Bamboo tends to be an expensive plant b/c it's hard to dig up (they only go to seed about every 100 years) so most cuttings are clones hand-dug from groves. It's backbreaking work. Make sure you order them from a good bamboo nursery - they're almost always mislabeled at other nurseries. You can check the source list of the American Bamboo Society here: American Bamboo Society
-most Phyllostachys bamboo will prefer full sun. Most will tolerate partial sun and partial shade. It will spread toward where there is the most sun, high organic matter, and good water (but not soggy).
-any companion plant should be temporary as the bamboo will eventually out-compete it. I like cheap n-fixers like clover.
-control growth: if you have the space, control with a buffer zone where all shoots 25' around grove are harvested and eaten. If you're limited on space, use a proper rhizome barrier or rhizome trap (root pruning). Natural barrier include creeks with year-round water, sometimes steep hills/ditches, concrete driveways that are wide enough and assume the bamboo has other places to spread.
-there are varieties that grow up into Canada, but the lower your hardiness zone, the more restricted you are on varieties and the smaller those species will grow compared to warmer zones. If you're wanting to farm it, zone 7 & 8 are ideal. The ABS has on complete list of species.
-3 native species: Arundinaria gigantea 'gigantea' (rivercane) 'tecta' (swtichcane) 'appalachia' (mountain cane). Huge importance culturally and ecologically pre-colonization. Since bamboo is a rapid soil builder, the 'canebrakes' were the first to be taken out by European farmers. It led to the ceasing of bison migration to the area and the extinction of several animals including the Carolina parakeet and the passenger pigeon. I have a restaurant I sell to that is a neo-southern type place but bamboo fits the fill since it's been eaten here in the south for thousands of years. You can still see native bamboo throughout the southeast, but it's but a shadow of what it used to be.
-everyone always asks about clumping species, and I use them only occasionally (mostly when they're wanting an evergreen screen in a wooded area) but they're really not as well adapted to this client (zone 7). Some (bambusas) are only hardy to 12F-25F which is borderline here, and sometimes requires the appropriate microclimate. Others (fargesias) are plenty cold hardy (zone 5 or 4 I believe) but not very heat tolerant, so they need summer shade. Other clumpers, in my opinion, aren't very useful and are only appreciated by a collector. If your'e in zone 8+ clumpers become more viable, and almost all tropical bamboos (zone 9+) are clumping.

Hope that helps,
David Benfield
Brightside Bamboo
7 years ago
Hi all, this is my first post after lurking for more than a year. After 15 years in permaculture I finally narrowed my focus to bamboo when I realized that it is by far the most sustainable resource in the world. Here in NC I started a company 3 years ago to farm other people's bamboo by managing and containing it. I also have a bamboo nursery, bamboo pole business, and a bamboo farming consultation company. We've started three bamboo farms and have four more going in this year.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about bamboo and how to contain it, but I don't want us permies to be a source of misinformation. There are several methods for containing bamboo, but the one I use most often in residential settings is called a rhizome barrier. It's not ideal for all situations, notably a heavily wooded area, but in most cases it is the most foolproof and maintenance-light (15 minutes per year) solution. I wish I could point to my own website for a guide on how to do it but I'm still putting that together so for now I'd recommend my friends over at Bamboo Garden: http://www.bamboogarden.com/barrier.htm. Do not use pond liners, galvanized metal, concrete, or any of the other ridiculous solutions I hear about. I may be the most experienced person in the country containing bamboo: I've installed thousands of feet of this stuff for dozens of clients and let me tell you, it works.

Now, in terms of the viability of bamboo for America, most people, even in permaculture, don't realize what it's capable of. I sincerely believe bamboo is one of the greatest hopes for America in terms of food production, timber production, biomass applications, and to a lesser extent medicinal value, textiles, etc. It hold significant solutions for our environment, economy, health, and communities. Edible bamboo shoots are one of the most nutritious vegetables out there: one of the top 10 foods for weight loss, 3rd highest in potassium, high in trace minerals, protein, and amino acids; it's anti-cancer, lowers blood pressure, and lowers cholesterol. And at 2-5 tons per acre per year of harvestable shoots, it's a little more than a "nibble snack" - it's a serious agricultural crop. The past two years we've been selling to restaurants and this year we'll be in grocery stores. That's coming from a plant that doesn't require fertilizer, replanting, insect control, or irrigation all while it controls erosion, creates 60% more oxygen and 200% more biomass than trees, is a rapid soil builder, etc. We haven't even talked about timber, which is stronger than steel, more flexible than carbon fiber, and matures in 3-4 years against semi-comparable (but inferior) hardwoods that mature at 30+ years. 2-5 tons edible shoots per acre per year. Significant timber yield every year - off the same grove that produced the shoots. I won't even go into biomass application, extracts, paper&pulp, etc.

In conclusion: plant bamboo. Plant it now. Have a good plan for it. Use the right varieties (yes the running type). Manage and contain it properly. Grow chickens in it - they're a match made in heaven (pull them out 120 days before harvesting shoots).

David Benfield
Brightside Bamboo
7 years ago