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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, 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.
:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Six-Year Bonsai-from-Seed Competition

     A friend of mine once remarked that for some people bonsai is a pastime, while for others it is a passion. If a six-year bonsai contest won't show who's passionate about the art of bonsai, I don't know what will! That's what the Bonsai Nut forum recently launched: a competition to see who can grow the most bonsai-worthy Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) from seed over six full growing seasons.

The contest started January 1st, 2018. Contestants could acquire seeds and get their supplies ready before that date, but nothing more. The contest will close at 11:59 PM on December 31st, 2023.

I find pines a bit fascinating, maybe because I rarely saw them while growing up in Ecuador. So I decided to jump in. I had received some JBP seeds (along with some Japanese maple and trident maple seeds) several years ago as a freebie for ordering a certain minimum amount at one time from Dallas Bonsai, and still had them.
The packet of Japanese black pine seeds, 'Sanshu' variety, imported from Japan. 
There were 30 seeds in the packet. After 24 hours soaking in (initially) warm water, all but one had sunk to the bottom of the cut-down styrofoam cup.
JBP seeds starting to soak.
After they finished soaking, I spread them between two sections of paper towel and wrapped damp sphagnum around paper towel and seeds. Everything went into a polyethylene bag, which was labeled and placed in the refrigerator. My wife and daughter were told they were there, to make sure the bundle wasn't mistaken for sauerkraut gone bad or something equally repulsive to their sensitivities, and discarded! 
The "remove" date was also noted on Google Calendar.
Three days ago, after 60 days of cold stratification, I took the seeds out and planted them. I decided to use peat pellets, the ones that expand into fat little barrel shapes when wetted. One seed went into each expanded pellet.
30 seeds, ready for planting. I don't know if the blue-green spot on one seed
on the left is mold on the seed itself, or something that was in the sphagnum.
Planted and ready. The "envelopes" around the peat pellets are biodegradable. 
Humidity covers in place. These "micro-greenhouses" will be easy to move whenever necessary.

It remains to be seen how many of the seeds are viable; they sat on the shelf for at least three years before being planted, maybe longer. But I've never heard that the seeds of any pine have short viability periods, so I think I have reason to be hopeful.

And speaking of hopeful: after entering the contest, I told my wife, "Now I have to live to at least 71 years old, in order to win this contest!"

If you would like to check out the Bonsai Nut forum, follow this link.

:-)  :-)  :-)