Bamboos are very well adapted to Belize growing conditions. These elegant plants thrive in many soils and bring a tropical look to any landscape. Over the years, we have introduced many varieties of useful and beautiful tropical clumping bamboos to our farm on tranquil Spanish Creek in the Belize District. This article is a summary of our progress to date.
Our bamboo agro-forestry project began in January, 2005 when we purchased a second growth forested property of 1978 acres. Tropical Agro-Forestry, Ltd. was formed and we began to study our site. At the recommendation of the Belize Forestry Department, we started to work with the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA). BAHA officials began a pest risk analysis (PRA) to verify that the introduction of bamboo would pose no risk to other crops in Belize. After a year of research and site visit to south Florida to view bamboo plants there, the protocol for the importation of bamboo into Belize was developed. Bamboo plants from cuttings were started in our nursery in grow bags of native soil amended with rice hulls and compost. We planted our nursery starts in the field later that year on 50 acres on the forest edge. Our varieties are clumping types of Bambusa and Dendrocalamus species. We are currently introducing new and exciting varieties from south Florida. In a few years, we will also have young nursery plants available for sale or trade.
Tropical clumping bamboos are remarkably fast growing plants. Bamboo shoots grow fatter and taller each year on the outside of the clump. Because the shoots are attached to the large rhizome, they may grow up to one foot each day when it’s raining. Mature plants continue to shoot each rainy season. Many of the varieties have shoots that are edible when young.
Bamboo annually produces multiple canes making them a truly sustainable and renewable farm harvest product. Our bamboos are harvested on the waning full moon in the dry season and are then treated with boron submersion, an effective village-scale treatment to eliminate post-harvest pests. Interestingly, it is the older canes that are used in construction and crafts; the young and fresh canes are too sweet and full of starch and do not last long if used. So there is a careful selection process to insure that the proper canes are utilized. Bamboos are useful in crafts and artistic pieces, for musical instruments, woven baskets, furniture, household tools – and much more. In the landscape, this fast growing plant quickly provides shade from the tropical sun, and every day the canes are a source of useful material. Some bamboos are thin-walled for splitting and weaving, others have fat canes with a thick wall for construction, and others have black canes and the color is maintained after harvest.
Each bamboo has a different look and unique feel. Our plan is to split the bamboo canes lengthwise so that we have a good supply of bamboo flats for lamination and many craft items. Smaller, thinner splits are being used to weave bamboo baskets. Custom furniture pieces are available – if you can dream it, we can build it !
Our craftsman, Tony Aguilar, is working full-time in the Tropical Agro-Forestry workshop designing bamboo crafts and furniture. Tony is a very talented artisan and takes pride in his work; his designs are both functional and artistic, as you may see in the photos here. We are always designing new bamboo furniture items and creative crafts. Local hardwood pieces are used along with our many bamboos; we can use short boards and wood scraps well in our designs. Sustainability is first and foremost on our farm. We are developing our permaculture model.
Rainwater catchments and solar energy power our small main house and many palapas. Our organic farm includes plantings of cassava, coco, callaloo, chaya, bananas, plantains and more. Please visit our website www.BelizeAbility.com — Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve — and enjoy a nice video on our Home page to meet our crew. We are grateful for the support and love of our many Belizean friends and families.
Currently, we are in the process of developing our website specific to our bamboo products. Inquiries and orders will soon be received at the web address www.BelizeBamboo.com.
by Marc Ellenby and Brooks Parrish
Editor’s Note: Marc Ellenby has been growing tropical fruits and tropical clumping bamboos in Florida since 1980. He is the owner of Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve and Tropical Agro-Forestry, Ltd. in Belize. Tropical Agro-Forestry’s farmplan is to create a sustainable model for village scale production of bamboo and handicrafts.
Brooks Parrish manages Tropical Agro-Forestry, Ltd and Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve since 2010. She enjoys fresh air and tranquil living.