Growing of bamboo trees on farmers’ fields was something unheard of a few years ago since the plant was mainly seen growing in the wild.
This is no longer the case because many farmers are adopting bamboo planting due to its income generating benefits.
Bamboo is a fast growing woody grass grown for its stems.
The plant is an evergreen perennial flowering plant in the subfamily bambusoideae of the grass family known as poaceae.
The plant stems have for long been used as lawn plants for making furniture and demarcating boundaries.
Interestingly, shoots of some species are eaten by people around Mount Elgon.
The plant has intermodal regions of the stem which are usually hollow and the vascular bundles in the cross section are scattered throughout the stem.
Bamboo is best known for its strength and durability. When it comes to strength it is much stronger than most wood.
As such Seeds of Gold caught up with Flavia Munaba Nabugere, who is engaged in extensive bamboo farming in eastern Uganda, to expound on the best practices.
“There are 1,640 bamboo species but in Uganda farmers are growing about 14 species, which include among others, Bambusa Vulgaris, Yushania alpine, Dendrocalamus asper which is the giant types grown in highlands,” says Munaba.
The plant growth is through vegetative propagation.
Vegetative means such as use of transplants and rhizome cuttings are commonly used.
Farmers are advised to set up nursery beds for planting the seedlings by choosing a healthy bamboo stalk from an established plant.
Steps to follow
Vegetative propagation of bamboo offers a better source of planting material.
This can be done through use of offsets and stem cuttings.
For exotic species which require warm climatic conditions, the use of a green house is recommended, especially in cooler areas.
However, where there is no greenhouse, a locally assembled polyethylene tunnelling structure can be improvised.
Count up three rings, or nodes, from the bottom and cut the stalk free using a small saw.
Count down from the top three nodes and cut this part off, too.
The resulting middle section of the stalk will become the new plant.
Fill a high densitypolythene bag a with the mixture of potting soil and sand and the farmers must be sure the pot has holes in the bottom to allow drainage.
Use of stem cuttings has several advantages. Multiplication of many clumping species is possible by this method.
When out-planted, vegetative materials raised from cuttings develop into clumps much faster than offsets and even seedlings.
It is important to place buds at the nodes or branches sideways or facing upwards and never downwards for proper shoot formation.
It will take three to four months in the nursery before transplanting.
Bamboo prefers loamy and sandy loamy soils, but what is more critical is good drainage since the crop cannot withstand water logging.
Species such as Dendrocalamus strictus and Oxytenanthera abyssinica are drought resistance and withstand environments having annual rainfall of less than 800 mm.
It is important to plan the field layout so that harvesting and hauling of culms is eased when the clumps have matured.
Spacing of small diameter plants is 3m x 3m but those giant species require 10m by 10m and plants per hectare should be reduced; wider spacing will allow the clumps to reach their full potential, especially when the objective of the plantation is to harvest bamboo timber. As a general rule, improve the soil with compost or animal manure.
Weeding and mulching in drier areas, with rainfall less than 800 mm has been found to boostgrowth through reduced evaporation of soil water.
Spot weeding rids the seedlings from competing with weeds.
This should be done at a radius of 60cm around the seedlings after planting.
Pests and diseases
The plant suffers challenge of pests such as aphids described as small, light-green, pear-shaped bugs that feed on the underside of the leaves.
They cause yellowing, drop-off and mites which end up destroying the stalk but this can be controlled through spraying using the required pesticide.
Harvesting of bamboo is through selection of culms for cutting rather than clear felling.
The planted area should normally be ready for first harvesting in about six to eight years.
Thereafter, cutting of mature stems can be done when need of the materials arises and there are mature culms.
The cutting cycles and methods of extraction of stems from a bamboo clump entail an important management system of the entire bamboo plantation.
A farmer may harvest bamboo for more than 80 years depending on the species and climatic conditions.
Flavia Munaba Nabugere explains that bamboo does best in well-drained, moist, fertile loamy and sandy loamy soils.
It will not, however, tolerate continuously swampy or waterlogged sites. It is advisable for framers to grow it in rocky soils and in barren land not meant for food production.