Maximizing the Utilization of Bamboo in the Hawaiian Islands

2010 Annual Report for FW09-025

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $14,460.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: Whispering Winds Bamboo
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Rich von Wellsheim
Whispering Winds Bamboo

Maximizing the Utilization of Bamboo in the Hawaiian Islands


Whispering Winds Bamboo is dedicated to “Creating a Culture of Bamboo” here on the Hawaiian Islands, which includes the cultivation and post-harvest use of clumping tropical timber bamboos. We have demonstrated that clumping bamboos can be successfully grown on the islands (not only on our farm on Maui but also on the farm of our project cooperator on the big island of Hawaii). We are now turning our attention and energy to the post-harvest aspect of bamboo, which includes treatment, curing and building with bamboo. This Western SARE Farmer/Rancher grant-funded project focuses on the inherent and treated resistance to attack by termites on six species of bamboo. The results of the testing on our untreated samples corroborates our on-farm experience that untreated bamboo is very susceptible to attack by wood-eating insects like termites and powder post beetle. We have concluded that without appropriate treatment, use of bamboo on or off the farm results in a short useable life, thus mitigating any benefit to the farmer or user.

The lab results from the testing of six species of treated bamboo samples for two termite species are not available as we write this progress report, but we feel confident that treatment will provide bamboo with a useful life span as a building material for our islands.

We have added as an appendix to this report the power point presentation that Dr. Grace’s graduate student presented at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of American in San Diego last December. We am also including the short report of the findings by Dr. Grace to this progress report.

Information without outreach is of little use to the public, which is why so much of our grant focuses on getting the results of our testing out to the public. Towards this end, we hosted a table at the Body and Soil Conference here on Maui from January 14-16,2011. Over the three-day event, we spoke to many about our findings and advised users of their home stands to take the extra step of treatment before commencing on a project using bamboo. We have more public venues planned within our grant period.

Here on the farm we have installed a medium-sized pressure vessel to treat our bamboo with water soluble boric acid (this is the standard in the timber industry in the United States today.)

Objectives/Performance Targets

Our project proposes to test up to eight species of clumping bamboo for resistance to termite attack with and without treatment. We have been fortunate in having Dr. Ken Grace, as our technical advisor, spearheading the lab work so that our results are in keeping with standard testing protocol and therefore acceptable to all concerned. At Whispering Winds Bamboo we are committed to bringing island-grown bamboo into the market place as a renewable and locally-grown building product for the home and farm. Proper post-harvest handling and treatment is key to a dependable long-lasting material, and this work on insect resistance of bamboo is important in crafting a protocol that will give our bamboo protects longevity and dependability.

We have also included in this project a number of outreach opportunities to help disseminate the information. Dr. Graces’s lab will provide professional quality reports of the lab work for distribution.


We have only the results of the untreated samples which were exposed to termite attack, and the visual devastation of those samples was extreme. While there was some difference in the final weights of the samples between species, all samples were sufficiently deteriorated to conclude that without treatment the bamboo would not hold up in environments of termite presence. The species that showed the most resistance was the Gigantochloa psuedoarundinacea, which surprised us, and the inherent resistance was not enough to recommend a no-treatment post-harvest strategy.

This is completely in keeping with our experience of bamboo poles here on the farm. Whether under cover or left lying on the ground, our bamboo shows insect attack almost immediately after harvest. Other bamboo growers from around the islands, as well as our cooperator John Mood of Ninole Farms on the big island of Hawaii, have supported this.

While the testing of our treated samples is complete, we are still waiting for the final report of the data from Dr. Grace’s group. We hope to identify a number of treatment strategies that can be adopted by the small-scale farmer up to the larger-scale grower. On the big island of Hawaii there is a borate pressure treatment plant in Hilo that will treat bamboo or lumber of any species, which is a tremendous resource to the community and a boon to the bamboo initiative.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The biggest impact of our project is the need for some kind of post-harvest treatment of the bamboo to insure a useful service life. While there are a number of treatment alternatives, it seems important that steps be taken to protect the bamboo from early deterioration by insect infestation. As we promote specific treatment protocols supported by the literature, it would be helpful to have them tested and verified by lab work.

The existence of a treatment facility on the big island of Hawaii, and now here at Whispering Winds Bamboo on Maui, paves the way for post-harvest treatment that will insure a long service life for bamboo on the islands and elsewhere.

Producer Adoption

We have talked with several bamboo growers and users on the big island of Hawaii who now use the treatment plant in Hilo to treat their bamboo before putting it to use. Here on Maui, nearly all of this year’s harvest will be treated before being made available for sale. A small portion of our harvest is going to a customer who is creating art and treating it himself for his product. As our treatment plant becomes better known, we will be treating off-farm product as well. Small treatment facilities around the state have the advantage of treating not only bamboo resources but also other locally-grown timber, as well giving this unused resource more potential in the market place.

Reaction from Producers

John Mood, cooperator-farmer on this grant, has told us that all of his farm-grown bamboo is now being treated at the Hilo plant. Leimana Pelton, a grower of bamboo on the island of Hawaii, described treating some 35-foot long bamboo poles for use in a building project. At the Body and Soil conference we spoke with several small growers who validated our lab work with observations of their own, and we spoke of simple soaking methods to treat the small number of poles that they were producing. These Mauians were excited to hear that we would treat a batch of their poles here on the farm as well.

Recommendations or New Hypothesis

We are so pleased to have begun a database of information on Bamboo’s resistance to insect attack and hope this work is the beginning of much more data collection. We would like to ultimately test more species. The literature from indigenous cultures with millennia of bamboo use suggest that harvest times, moon cycles and tides affect performance after harvest, and of course we only tested three-year old culms in clumps that were planted in 2003. Testing different age culms and treatment protocols for the species we tested would add significantly to our work. There is also the additional 15 or more timber species that we grow on the islands that deserve similar treatment.


We have just begun our outreach efforts with our attendance at the 10th annual Body and Soil Conference here on Maui. We spoke with many folks and handed out test results and emailed copies of the work to others. We will continue to share the information gathered, particularly after we receive the final report from Dr. Grace’s group.


John Mood
Ninole Orchards
P.O. Box 80
Ninole, HI 96773
Office Phone: 8089635228
J. Kenneth Grace
Professor and Chair/Technical Advisor
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Dept. of Plant & Environmental Protection Sciences
3190 Maile Way
Honolulu, HI 96822-2271
Office Phone: 8089566737