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Club Meeting July 2013

by Pieter Loots

Even though it was cold and rainy we still had many people attending our monthly club meeting.

We had some interesting talks this month; the first was by Peter Bruyns talking to us about one of his trees and its history. It was a Juniper which he initially trained into a windswept style. He says the tree was inspired by Robert Stevens at the Africa Bonsai Convention. Peter had some excellent photos showing the progression of the tree, he also used photo editing software to see other design and style options, including trying various pots, also included was making a pot from moulded chicken wire, with the idea to plaster it and to create a cracked round pot look, which he did not finish. The tree took on a cascade effect which he liked and decided to go with. He finally created a pot from a large piece of polystyrene which he moulded and then covered with a fibreglass mat finish and planted his tree in it. The end product is quite interesting and unique. When asked what he would do differently if he had to do it again, Peter said he would add some dust to his mat finish to create more texture to his pot, and he would take his time when applying the mat to avoid an uneven finish.

Next we had Amith Ramballie who spoke about plant propagation and building your own cold frame. Plant propagation consists of a few propagation techniques, these include growing from seed, making cuttings, layering and grafting are some of the most commonly used. When using seeds always make sure your seeds are viable. Also remember plants from seeds might not always look the same as the mother plant as cross pollination do occur. When germinating your seeds make sure you give them the optimum conditions, a little moisture, the right temperature, some light and oxygen. Make sure your equipment is sterile and your pot has ample drainage. Sow your seeds in a sterile growing medium and cover with a plastic bag or dome to ensure sufficient moisture. Spraying with a fungicide could also be useful. When making cuttings use sterile tools when cutting from the mother plant. It is normally useful to soak your new cuttings for a day or two in a water and Superthrive solution to ensure a higher success rate. Then dip your cuttings in a rooting hormone and put them into the growing medium. Keep out of direct sunlight at first then slowly introduce them into the sun once you know they are rooted. Amith also mentioned honey can be used as a rooting solution.

Another propagation technique is layering. Amith discussed three different types of layering. Air layering is something we are all familiar with. It is useful when you have a nice branch or apex on a large tree and you would like to train it as a bonsai. By removing some of the bark and then covering with rooting hormone, and peat moss or coco peat, even soil could work. And then covering the growing medium with a plastic bag or in some cases even a pot cut in half. Make sure the growing medium is moist and ensure it stays that way constantly. Hopefully after a few months you would have root growth and you can cut off the branch and plant it in a pot. Simple layering is another method of layering, in this method you take an already growing branch from a tree, scrape some of its bark off and apply a little rooting hormone, then you put that piece of the branch under some soil ensuring you have some of the branch sticking out on the other end. You can attach the branch with a wire of a v-shaped stick to secure it in the soil. When it takes root cut it off from the mother plant. Compound layering is similar to simple layering but you loop the branch more times into the soil to create more cuttings. Amith also discussed various methods of grafting. Whip graft, cleft, veneer and side grafts are but a few of them.

Next Amith told us a little about cold frames and about one he has built. Cold frames are used because they create a nice micro climate for plants to keep warm in during those cold winter months. We can also use it to germinate our seeds and grow cuttings in. It can be built using cheap materials, or if you want to you could buy an expensive green house, depending on your needs. Amith built a cold frame from PVC pipes. His biggest problem was the wind.

Terry Erasmus spoke about his apprenticeship at Aichi-en bonsai nursery in Nagoya, Japan. It was his second visit to the country. Peter Tea was also an apprentice at this nursery. Terry's day started at six thirty in the morning with breakfast and various tasks around the nursery, and lunch at twelve thirty. Watering was not a job given to a new apprentice (just shows you how important the task of watering is!). Work went on until late at night. Some interesting points Terry raised about bonsai nurseries in Japan was that more and more are closing down. One of the main reasons is a fifty percent inheritance tax, so keeping property you inherited is quite expensive. Japanese pot makers are dwindling and the Japanese are mostly importing their pots from China. Most bonsai nurseries buy in complete trees which they then style, refine and resell. Growing trees from young is not a luxury that can be afforded because of space restrictions.

Terry also had the opportunity to work on some trees. He did wiring and styling on trees which in turn was monitored but a more senior apprentice and then finally the owner of the nursery did the final adjustments. Some of the things he learnt included using a gasket sealant as a tree sealant and using rapeseed as a fertilizer. When working with pines Terry said they should be de-candled in the beginning of summer (although this does not count for white pines). When working on pines needle picking is used and up to five needles is left when doing so, it is done with the hand. Pine needles are almost never cut with a tool, only when really necessary before a show. Terry also learnt a good way of securing copper wire to a drainage hole when you need to bend a branch. Another tip when fine ramification is needed on a tree is to use a dense soil mixture, feed it less and water the minimum required amount.

A bonsai apprenticeship would usually last 5 years in Japan, at which stage a certificate of completion would be awarded to the student. It is also possible to do short courses, a typical two week stay could cost you around sixteen thousand rand. Be prepared to eat a lot of tofu! I am sure Terry learnt a great deal in Japan and we will hear more about his trip in the future and share more of this knowledge.

Sounds like I have a lot to learn still. Back to pruning maples, and reading my International Bonsai magazines. Until next month!

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Random Bonsai Tip

Salvaging wire - Off-cuts of heavy electric cable (three centimeters diameter) as used by the Electricity department will keep you in copper and galvanized wire for a few years. Galvanized wire can be used for stay wiring and also tying down trees and pots against the wind.