Popular as a food source for centuries in much of Asia, bamboo is becoming increasingly popular as a food in the United States. Contrary to the common belief that bamboo is a tropical plant, many varieties grow well in temperate climates. Members of the Phyllostachis family of bamboo are the most popular for use as food. The new shoots of the plants can be easily grown and harvested given some planning and preparation. Bamboo can be grown in a commercial setting, or at home if enough room is available.
Select the location to plant the bamboo. Because bamboo varieties grown as edible crops tend to be of the running type that spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes, allow sufficient room for this type of growth.
Install a root barrier, since running bamboo is invasive if left uncontrolled. Dig a trench three feet deep and one foot wide completely around the area where the bamboo will grow. Insert material, such heavy-duty fiberglass or 60-mil polypropylene plastic sheeting to prevent the roots of the plants from growing beyond that point. Leave about two inches of the barrier exposed above the soil to prevent the rhizomes from growing over the barrier. Back fill the trench.
Purchase container-grown, one-year-old plants from a reputable grower in the spring. Ensure that the plants are healthy and free of disease.
Check the pH of the soil to ensure that it is acidic, somewhere between 6 and 6.5. Amend the soil with agricultural lime to reduce the acidity or rock sulfur to increase the acidity, if necessary.
Prepare holes approximately 12 inches deep and twice as wide as the plants' root balls. Remove the bamboo plants from their containers and plant them so that the rhizomes are slightly higher than the surrounding soil. Place the plants 10 to 15 feet apart, to allow for runners to form. Tamp down the soil around the plantings to remove any air pockets and water the plants in until the soil is moist.
Water the new plantings regularly to keep the soil moist but not wet. Allow two to three growing seasons to pass before harvesting shoots, letting the plants become well established.
Remove any dead canes periodically. As the plantings mature, remove any canes that are greater than 5 years old to thin the plants, making it easier to work around them.
Harvest bamboo shoots just as they are emerging from the ground to prevent them from becoming hard and bitter. Dig around a shoot until you identify where it joins the rhizome it is growing from. Cut the shoot loose at the point where it meets the rhizome. Leave the largest and straightest shoots to mature and maintain the planting.
Wash the shoots thoroughly. If raising bamboo shoots for commercial purposes, weigh them and record the weights. The shoots can be used immediately, stored in a refrigerator for several weeks, or frozen for longer storage.