Finding viable organic alternatives to commercial fertilizers is crucially important in a world where tens of thousands of chemicals have been added to our environment in the last fifty years. These chemicals are either directly applied to our food or make their way into our food system via water and air. Luckily finding easy and alternative methods to feed our food and rebuild our soils can be as easy as brewing tea and bamboo is a great place to start. Feeding plants minerals is crucial to growing nutritious food. You are what you eat.
First let’s do an overview of how bamboo feeds itself. The bamboo plant strategically begins on day one to build the perfect place for itself to live. It does this in several ways. It starts to build a massive root system that is comprised of both large structural roots and smaller feeder roots. These roots spread and eventually fill every square inch of dirt approximately one foot deep. This is true for both clumping bamboos and running bamboos.
Clumpers or tropical bamboos (mostly, there are some non-tropical clumping bamboos) start from a central point and radiate out in a circle. Runners or temperate bamboos shoot a straight line out in multiple directions then systematically fill in the space back to the original planting. This allows the plant to eventually control all of the nutrients in the top layer of soil where typically most of the nutrients are concentrated. At the same time it eliminates most of the competing plant material. Some tap root plants like trees can survive because they grow down and so only minimally compete with the bamboo. Otherwise a bamboo plant will slowly kill off all other growth in the surrounding area.
Bamboos have shallow root system and this makes them vulnerable to drying out. Tropical bamboos shed up to 80% of their leaves every year. Temperate or running bamboos shed significantly less but still manage to create a dense ground cover of leaves over time. The bamboo leaves create a perfect mat that traps moisture allowing the bamboo root system to grow to the surface of the soil as well as a mulch that prevents seeds from easily growing. It also forms the perfect environment for mycelium to grow. One of the important benefits that bamboo gets from mycelium is that they help to feed the plant more efficiently by optimizing the nutrients and available moisture in a way that the bamboo can best use it.
(On a side note. Bamboo and mycelium create such a power house environment for soil rehabilitation that they would be well used for cleaning contaminated soils.)
Simply lift a layer of bamboo leaves and you will witness the webby mycelium growth. The leaves very slowly break down with the help of the microorganisms, which in turn feeds the bamboo with the nutrients that it needs. Recycling itself back into itself. The root system follows the path of many grasses in which it grows and composts and overtime creates a new more organically rich soil content. In these ways bamboo alters dramatically it’s living environment to best suit it’s own needs.
Bamboo leaves can be used to feed other plants as well. Old fallen leaves can be raked up and used as mulch. Bamboo leaves are thin yet tough. Their high silica content makes them slow to break down. this results in a weed barrier that is quite effective. Chipped wood and other mulches create air pockets that allow the soil to dry out more rapidly, thus making the growth of mycelium more challenging, and they also encourage insect activity especially ants.
Bamboo tea can be made from the leaf litter, the green leaves, and/or the smaller branches. You can even use the shoots. The more woody the material the more it will need to be broken down. This can be done by grinding it into smaller pieces and by heating it for a longer period of time. Making compost tea for plants is the equivalent of juicing for humans. The nutrients are immediately available to them. The tea can be applied topically in a spay application or poured onto the soil.
Bamboo compost tea can be used by itself of in conjunction with other ingredients. Bamboo leaves have a high sugar content when green adn will ferment quickly, usually 24 hours or less. The brown leaves from the ground will have less nutrients but the sugars have broken down and do not ferment as rapidly. Bamboo can be added to other ingredients to create specific blends. Just be sure if you are using branches or culms that you cook them for longer since they require more heat to break down the nutrients.
Green leaf bamboo compost tea can be made by putting leaves into a bucket and filling it with hot water. Let it sit in the sun for the day and then apply when the water has cooled. No need to strain the leaves! The plant is getting lots of silica which helps it to build a strong cellular structure. The difference in growth will be impressive! Adding the leaves to the soil adds minerals especially magnesium and manganese. By grinding the leaves or branches you can create a mulch that is feeding your plants with minerals over a longer period of time.
Topical applications can help to strengthen the plants natural immunity and make it less susceptible to insect or fungal attacks. Bamboo itself has an amazing resilience to disease and insects. This strong immunity can be passed on to other plants through the use of compost tea.
Most people are not far from a bamboo plant or perhaps drive past cut bamboo put out as waste. Utilizing this resource is a great way to increase the mineral content of your food or to simply grow healthier plants.
Add bamboo into your life, your pet’s life, and your plants life. You will be stronger for it!