Saturday, 23 March 2013

Mercedes made a tardis

This week was flat out making carp bait for 4 days and as the last pallet went on the lorry it gave me the opportunity to head back to the South East for more bonsai stock. In a repeat of last Friday I set off early to make the most of the empty roads and soon pulled up at the gates. Last week, browsing through everything while buying the chinese elms the remaining few large Japanese trees caught my eye. There were a few pines and a raw juniper that were obviously the last ones from the many container loads of trees that used to pass through here and I know that getting big japanese trees is going to get increasingly difficult - especially raw material junipers as there is a diminishing number of these types of tree available - they have simply been collected and made into bonsai much faster than they actually grow to maturity so finding a 1m tall tree with roots reduced properly so it sat in a reasonable bonsai pot was to tempting to ignore.

 Pines are not quite in the same category - there are fields and fields of pines in Japan that have been grafted, grown and semi shaped to be bonsai so finding the material is not the problem, it is just getting it here and legally cleared of quarantine that takes the time - but the fact the initial material is quick growing & plentiful is reflected in the price I guess - the pines cost less than the junipers.

4 trees were on my wish list and after an excelent day of business and banter all four were secured - now for the art of packing the car as there was akadama, trays, a case of pots, 75 rolls of wire and a case of tools to go in as well !  time to say I love my car (especially as it goes back every 3 years and I get another one ;-) ). Just what you can do with a mercedes estate is incredible - once the boot liner is removed, the boot floor taken out and the spare wheel tucked behind the passenger seat there is a reasonable van like space that goes fast but quietly & comfortable

Bonsai are funny things - they look really small in pictures but suddenly get bigger when you try to fit them in a car or make a delivery box. The juniper is 102cm from soil level + pot and the tree i thought of as the medium pine was the entire width of the car. The really big white pine is still there waiting for my next visit as it is another 1 meter plus tree, and nearly the same width.

The juniper is very ready for a repot which is perfect as Peter Warren arrives in a few days time to work on some trees so we can do this one. I have been turning and angling the tree this way and that as it is a challenging tree to extract the bonsai within from - but there is a great tree in there. I would like to put 2 substantial bends in the trunk using turnbuckles and jacks as this drops the tree down from 41" to about 28 without chopping the top off.......this will maintain the foliage volume and taper and give the compact image I'm aiming for.

This tree will get it's own blog post as we start work. Once you get up close this tree has certainly come from exactly the same area as my other nice juniper - the foliage is an exact match, the pre bonsai work on the jin and trunk has been done with the same tools and by the same hand. The live veins are fantastically swollen and defined too so the pre work was done a while ago. My other one passed through the hands of Danny Use, John Hanby then me so bits of work were done over the years pointing the tree in a direction. This one was a direct import from a Japanese nursery and has sat for 6 years untouched but I'm certain I have a pair now

Sunny Cornwall YESTERDAY - Sat 23rd - lovely day at the unit - acers in full leaf !

Sunday, 17 March 2013

there and back again...................

This week was another mini shop adventure. The signs have arrived, people are starting to find the place and i needed to expand the accessories and affordable tree selection so thanks to being pointed in the right direction the car was sneaking out of the road at 3.45am on Friday morning heading towards the big smoky city. 4 hours of fuel saving steady (boring) driving the smoky bit with roads of many lanes was left behind and the countryside took control again......similar to home but bigger houses, newer cars and not so many tractors.

Behind the big gates was everything bonsai related I needed in vast amounts and in every direction I looked in. A really enjoyable 8 hours just disappeared, I barely got to look through a quarter of the stock and soon the car was brilliantly packed by an absolute expert - i'm convinced this is a skill perfected to maximise sales - if there is room in the car / van / lorry it may as well have more stock in it - but the great big white pine was just not going to make it this trip, and the smaller big pine would not go on the passenger seat either - so regretfully we both had to accept that and make do with the trailer load of stock I'd picked while browsing about. It gives great reason to return with a bigger vehicle if i can borrow one soon ;-) though as the white pine (s) and fun looking but challenging Juniper would love it far more in Cornwall. We squeezed in a full case of turntables, 3 bulging black sacks of fertiliser baskets, boxes of wire, tools, brushes, a top up of kanuma, cut pastes, pots, rolls of  drainage mesh and close to 50 trees from the little starter chinese elms to a great quince that had to lay on its side to fit in.......oh and to complete the journey to the dark side I was made to have a box of 'bonsai man' mud-men figures -(at least I have a Christmas pressy for my favorite bonsai professional sorted out now...he has a big van and likes moving macho hernia sized trees too.......mmmmmmmmmm?

Talking of favorite bonsai professionals this bit was funny and a little un-nerving.....the conversation went like this
Me:" the quinces caught my eye, how much are they?"
Z. "there are four price brackets on that bench, one tree is by far the best one (and the most expensive), which one are you interested in"
Me. "the one in the middle, I'll show this one............"
Z. "that one!!.....the one behind it is the best like the same one Peter did"

I bought the quince on the spot as it is great & has unique qualities but there was a silent pause between us both  as I though 'omg, am i starting to like all the odd weird trees' and Z was thinking 'Marcus picked the same tree out as Peter......why? and could I have got a few quid more' haha.   Finally the car was officially full so i was allowed to leave :-) and luckily the Friday night rush was all gone so the M25 was all moving and just short of 5 hours later I was home with a beer in hand.

Part of my feelings about starting the shop are to give the best chance of success in bonsai to my customers so they go further in the hobby so I decided to repot every new tree into a good soil mix, prune out the big coiled roots and to wire the trees into the pots properly. The chinese trees can only be imported with a very sterile potting medium so no nematodes or other pathogens survive - this also means no goodness survives either and will be the main reason so many starter trees decline and die so quickly. Many chinese elms end up as indoor trees and they dry out too much in pure akadama so it is the one species that really likes a loam content to the mix. Even my big one has been in a soil / loam based mix for the last 23 years, so it does work.

Akadama, ezo grit or pumice and John Innes No.2 is the Chinese Elm mix for success.

Sunday morning was production line repotting and i'm so glad I did - some pots had virtually 90% roots so now there is a nice mix of soil and roots - no wonder so many elms dry out so fast. These trees only arrived in the UK 4 days ago but they are starting to leaf out all over now they are warming up and seeing some sun, so the perfect time to repot was straight away

                                           3 dozen Elms and Podocarpus repotted before lunch time

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

practicing hard and fast...........

Counting down to the EBA European talent final.......less than 4 weeks to go before I set of on a bonsai adventure to the far side of northern France to represent Fobbs and the UK as our candidate for 2013.

Looking back I really do enjoy these types of competitions - There was a Devon based new talent competion set up a few years ago to add some audience interest to the Exmouth Bonsai Show. I was lucky to win the first two years running so the cup lived in Cornwall, then last year I was demo'ing at the show and Oliver entered - first time he had worked on a juniper and he won ! so the cup came back with us for the third year running.

My winter bonsai plans have been fairly juniper orientated as it is highly likely they will be the species used for the final so I took the grafted Itoigawa to the Ryan Neil workshop and got some wiring practice in - biggest thing I learnt on that tree was planning ahead when thinning and branch selecting so the wiring becomes neat and quick. Peter Warren helped me late last year by showing me how to layer foliage pads better rather than making them too flat, and gave me the best 'pre-Uk final' advice possible............."keep plenty of green bits"...........words I have never forgotten when trying to make a tree look nice for this type of bonsai competition work.

 I was at a loose end this morning waiting for a lorry load of bait ingredients to turn up before I could fire up the machine to get this weeks orders made and shipped by Friday. I looked at the larger raw Itoigawa Juniper material that I picked up a few weeks ago and decided to try a 3 hour timed practice ( the final is 3hrs) on one of them.

Here was the lucky!! candidate. I have 4 of these all quite similar and after 3 hours had all the branches wired and placed (but had no camera in the factory). Still no lorry so i spent another 45 minutes carving the jins a bit more and painting them with lime sulphar. Finished result is really pleasing I think

Once you take a picture it gets easier to see a couple of small adjustments that will make the spaces/pads a little clearer, but for a first styling I think it turned out OK.

Most evenings I do a small juniper or pine (just in case - oh I'd love a pine or yew as the final tree haha)

The black pine was a nice change and worked out really well (and it is a lovely tree for a shohin display - it certainly has a direction !)  while the little corkscrew type Itoigawas are great fun - an hour in front of the telly with some fine copper wire has been creating some lovely little trees. (and a ground sheet on the carpet !) I am so chuffed to have filled the car up with these great little japanese import trees - the wiring fingers are certainly freed up now.

I'm really glad to have entered the New Talent comp as the practice leading up to each heat has really helped all my bonsai styling and practical skills....I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys making a bonsai image from unseen material against the clock....just check the FOBBS web site for details of the 2014 heats.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

repotting and bath time ??????

Wednesday was our Cornwall Bonsai Society monthly meeting and Feb is always a bit of an in between month so it was billed as 'potting soils, pots, hints, tips and observations'.

The club is like most county clubs I guess - a few very keen members, a lot who enjoy bonsai as part of their varied horticultural interests, some new members who are eager for knowledge and some who've been doing there thing for a great many years unchanged. In conversation the topic of who uses what soils came up.........and varied from soil dug from the garden, john innes no2 or home made compost mixed with cornish grit (silver / white granite chips), cat litter (just 1 member now) and various blends based on Akadama, Kiryu, Kanuma, Pumice etc.

It is interesting that my personal observation seemed to show the owners of the more show-able trees, and certainly the trees that are improving rapidly rather than just free wheeling  all use the akadama based soil mixes - and this is an observation that extends to the trees in just about every bonsai show I've been to. Funny thing is I find  users of imported soil ingredients always seems to be open minded enough to consider  tweaking their recipes - adding or dropping an ingredient etc to get even better results - I was using fine bark as 10% of my mixes - but later research shows it depleats the nitrogen in the soil as it breaks down - I want my tree to receive the nitrogen content of the fertiliser and not the potting medium so from now on the bark is gone for good.  In complete contrast to this it seems the compost/soil advocates seem to resist change for a long time claiming not needing the change as the trees have always lived ok, or the cost of the soil components are too high. (My feelings on these points are from observation) a tree may be living ok, but if it is not really improving for one or two decades at the rate it should this is not really an resounding bonsai success.

Cost is a factor to soils, but looked at it objectively it is not expensive in the bonsai scheme of things....Last year I had 20 large treees to do. Soil costs were about £135 delivered. simple breakdown is £6.50 per tree and it will last an average of 5 top quality soil for a large tree is under £1.50 per year, proving soil costs are tiny compared to tree or pot values. Trying to make it even easier and help others to improve their trees a bit I opened up sacks of akadama and also fully blended soil mix (of akadama, kiryu and pumice  -no cheap filler ingredients) and offered 1 liter buckets on the night & 5 liter buckets (for £5.00) and single 14l bags for £12.50. Nobody had really can lead a horse to water etc etc - The flip side of this are the keener members who have really dented the soil delivery already this year so it seems to back up further my early observations.
2 line akadama in 2 grades, kiryu, kanuma, ezo and pumice - everything needed for every bonsai

As the chat moved on watering and its relation to soil ingredients came up - it was interesting that some people were potting all their trees in exactly the same mix - compost/grit combo and trying to water differently depending on species. I felt this is going about bonsai growing in Cornwall completely the wrong way - if you decide to control how much and how often you water to keep a tree happy the theory goes out of the window when it rains for a week, or a month! We have a very mild but wet climate so you have very little control over watering unless you build a roof over the trees. I tried very briefly to explain how i mix soils to have more or less water retention depending on species and then watering can be the same - but i dont think i got the point over clearly so it was mis-understood.

Thinking it over it the next day i realised that if someone did  not know about the properties of various soil components my soil mixes would make no sense and this comparison came to me ( i needed a bath !)..

we have a bath sponge, a pumice stone and a rubber duck. if my bath is full of rubber ducks and i pull the plug basically all the water runs out......if i have a bath full of pumice stones most water runs straight out but 20% or so soaked inside the stones so it drips out slowly over the next few hours.............but my final bath is full of sponges so when the plug is pulled half the water runs out quite fast and the other half slowly drains from the sponges, but they stay wet for hours and hours. this is how soil components work - holding some, lots or little water. for me akadama is the sponge, the pumice stones are kanuma, ezo grit or actual pumice and the rubber ducks are kiryu so by varying the levels of each it is easy to control how much water holds in the pot and the rate it is released or held is easily controlled  Making the soil right is another time saver and adds to the 'making bonsai easier' category or one less thing to worry about. This is even more important in the wet conditions down here  as we cant properly control  how much water or how often a tree gets watered  in the periods of prolonged rain. There are bound to be better analagies.....but i needed a bath at the NO i dont have a bath full of rubber ducks! haha

These days i mix the soil up for a specific tree or species just varying the percentage of akadama from 20% to 50% ( lower amounts for 'dryer' trees) and then equal parts kiryu and pumice or ezo. If i had a real water lover i would up the akadama a bit more, and if i have a tree with weak roots for some reason i add chopped sphagnum as it certainly promotes new root growth but does hold a lot of water so care in needed.
My best 'tree rescue' soil mix is one third chopped live sphagnum and two thirds kiryu - the moss gives the air pockets and humidity while the heavy kiryu gives stability to the planting.

The Peter Warren March workshops at No.16 are coming up soon now and everyone is looking forward to a few days increasing their bonsai awareness and skills. This is the second series of workshops we've organised down here and it will be so rewarding to see the improvement  in the standard of local trees over coming seasons. You find there are hot spots across the country where effort is made to want to improve - usually centered around  a good nursery, a very high quality club or a group of like minded individuals. In Cornwall we have a very enviable growing season , great water quality and very mild winters by UK averages so the bonsai.@.16 project is aiming to increase the knowledge and to offer the type of quality material that bonsai enthusiasts really want. Many plans are in the pipeline including a free practical bonsai workshops one saturday a month - most likely the 4th saturday as our club meeting is 4th wednesday. We are right behind Tesco so combine a bit of bonsai therapy with the weekly shop . More updates as they happen.