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Welcome to my bonsai blog!

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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Tweak to the Greenhouse

     A couple of months ago, I set up a small greenhouse to moderate conditions for my hardy trees. (Here's that post.) After the weather finally decided that spring was really here after all, the greenhouse became a suitable temporary home for my tropical trees while my hardy trees went onto (also temporary) racks elsewhere. I'm planning an outdoor bonsai enclosure on our new property, but so far other matters involved in our move have been more urgent.

The tropicals are still in the greenhouse, and temperatures have gone fairly quickly from spring to summer. The greenhouse was not designed with any sort of vent in the rear wall; it just came with the door in the front and two vents low on each side. And I discovered that on hot days the temperature inside could get over 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) by early afternoon. While many tropicals can survive such heat without permanent harm, it's not necessarily best for them.

So this weekend I made my own vent in the back end of the greenhouse. I put it as high as I practically could, since hot air rises, and made it large enough, I hope, to let heat out at an adequate rate. Dimensions are 5 inches by 22 inches (about 12½ cm by 56cm.)

The new rear-wall vent, open. Looking thru to the grass in front of the greenhouse.
A layer of plastic window screen on the inside will cut down on the amount of leaves and debris that blow in. The vent is held open or closed, as needed, with Velcro. I got pieces of industrial-strength Velcro (or so it's advertised, at least) of different widths at a local DIY store, and stuck them to one another and the plastic of the wall in such a way that nothing else was needed.

The vent closed. (Yes, the whole greenhouse sits on the ground at a few degrees of tilt.)
My father was a fairly good amateur engineer. That's one aptitude of his I did not inherit. Almost anything I build or contrive looks homemade; but it also usually does the job it's designed for, and I'll accept that!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Friday, June 1, 2018

A Little Pine Surprise

     I've never had one of my potted pines produce seed cones before. I've seen pollen cones on my yamadori ponderosas (Pinus ponderosa) a couple of times, including this spring. I'm glad to see them because, besides being visually interesting, they indicate that the tree is at least in reasonably good health.

But if that's not a seed cone developing on a branch tip of my yamadori ponderosa, I don't know what else it can be. It looks like a cone, just smaller and less developed than it will eventually be. And even tho it's not usually the dominant color, there is purple in the color of ponderosa bark.

I first noticed this new cone a little over a week ago, and got pretty excited - even dragged my wife over to see it the other day. It's something new, and I take it as even more a sign of the tree's good health than the pollen cones a few weeks ago.

First seed cone on my yamadori ponderosa. Presently about as long as my index fingernail.
As if to say, "Hey, don't leave me out," one of my Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergii) also appears to be setting a cone for the first time! It's smaller (which may mean younger), a little different in form, and more of a pale pink in color at this point. But I've little doubt of what it is, and I'm excited to see it too!

New cone on one of my JBP's. Almost exactly in the center of the picture.
Besides being at a certain minimum level of health, a tree has to reach a certain stage of maturity as well before it can produce seeds. According to what I can find, a ponderosa has to be at least seven years old to set seed and a Japanese black at least four. Since this ponderosa is close to 45 years old and this JBP at least 12, they're both easily old enough! 

I'll post updates a time or two as the season progresses. From what I read, a ponderosa's cones take two year to mature, so the updates will continue next summer. I hope you enjoy this with me!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Mr. Toad Comes to the Festival

     Fort Wayne, Indiana, has sister-city arrangements with several cities in other countries, including Takaoka, Japan. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival is one element in Fort Wayne's ongoing efforts to acquaint its people with things Japanese. And the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club has a presence at the Festival each year, displaying trees, selling bonsai-related items, and answering questions about the art of bonsai.

This year an unexpected visitor came close to stealing the show at our display. Early in the afternoon a girl of maybe six peered into the depths of Ed Hake's Japanese maple forest, turned to an adult with her and asked, "Is that toad real?"

Unbeknownst to Ed, a live toad had found its way into the middle of his forest planting. It backed about two-thirds of its body under the moss cover and then settled down, presumably to wait in ambush for passing juicy bugs.

Sitting motionless in Ed Hake's maple forest.
A number of people peered in to see the amphibian, then went away and returned with friends to have them see it too. No one disturbed it. It continued to wait there quietly, the unplanned show-crasher.

Ed took it home, in the forest, at the end of the day - his home likely being where the toad had found its way in among the maples in the first place.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Winter to Spring and Back in 24 Hours ...

     ... over, and over, and over again. So it has been for much of the last several weeks. Days with highs above freezing followed by nights with lows below freezing, one after another, are almost starting to feel like "the new normal!"

This weather pattern has been playing merry hob with my temperate-zone trees' spring responses. My American larch is typical, I think: Normally, from first green to full bud burst takes about a week, in my observation. But the first green - bud break - appeared several weeks ago, and as yet none of the buds have opened enough for individual needles to be distinguishable! I can't help but be concerned that this abnormally extended pattern of freeze-and-thaw will do some injury to new and still-tender foliage.

In an effort to buffer conditions for my cold-hardy trees, I decided to put up a small inexpensive greenhouse to hold them until temperatures are no longer doing their winter-to-spring-to-winter dance. My wife came across this product on-line; it measures 7 feet by 10 feet (a shade over 2 meters by an even smaller shade over 3), assembles in a couple of hours, and costs less than $80 US. I plan to keep it to use in future years as a temporary spring shelter for newly-repotted trees. 

Temporary plastic greenhouse to moderate temperatures for temperate-zone trees.
We recently moved, and our new location is windier than I expected. The tie-down equipment that came with this greenhouse is as inexpensive as the rest of it - OK, it's cheap. And a little story Ryan Neil told in a Mirai Live stream some weeks ago wouldn't leave my mind.

Every spring, Ryan and Masahiko Kimura's other apprentices would put up a temporary greenhouse on the premises. Part of the process was to tie it down with lots of heavy ropes. The first time Ryan Neil was involved in wrestling with the ropes, he turned to another apprentice after a while and asked, "Why are we doing this?" The answer went something like this:

"Well, ten years ago, this greenhouse took off. It was a windy day, and the whole thing lifted off the ground, sailed the length of Kimura's property - high enough to miss the bonsai there - and took out that second-story window on the far side of the street." (End of questions.)

Rather than provide a mini-sequel to Ryan Neil's story, I decided to add my own tie-downs to what came with my little greenhouse. My anchors are dog-tethering stakes - the kind with a business end like a spiral auger - and I used 3/16" nylon twine (almost 6 mm). My measures seem to be adequate: the wind picked up this afternoon while I was moving the trees into the interior, and while the plastic cover flexed and snapped and the tubular frame flexed slightly, everything stayed in place.

A closer view of the tie-downs. I decided on the Lilliputian approach: more thin ties instead of fewer thick ones.
(Think of Lemuel Gulliver immobilized on the beach by dozens of thread-fine ropes.)
The greenhouse is unheated. The trees' containers are resting on a single layer of landscape fabric on top of the soil, so get a bit of heat seeping up from the earth. The greenhouse itself will block the wind, and will reduce heat loss at nite by a few degrees, I expect. I put a min-max thermometer inside so I can monitor the temperatures.

Here are the trees inside, ready for the door to be rolled down and zipped shut for the nite.

The greenhouse holds all my hardy trees, with the exception of my largest, a Thuja occidentalis, a.k.a. American arborvita.
It's as cold-hardy as a musk ox, tho, so I could safely leave it outside on the sheltered side of the greenhouse.
:-)  :-)  :-)