Sunday, 13 November 2016

Post 226 Annual Show

At my local club we have just had our annual bonsai exhibition. It's a one day affair and fairly frenetic. As I said last post we had the local camera club along. They set up four stations to take pictures - good lighting and dark backgrounds.

Many visitors to the blog enjoy my ceramic tanukis. I actually exhibited one this year after three year's development. It won best in the size class of 250 to 450mm and I might add the judge knew what it was made of! It has a long way to go in its development and in another three years will be infinitely better.
 Here's the picture, a nice interplay of light and shade:

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Post 225 Bonsai photography

At my local club we are very close to having our annual exhibition. This year we're sponsoring a photographic competition with the local camera club. These guys really know about how to take a photograph. The camera club held a workshop today, in preparation for the competition at the show, on the subject of focus stacking. This is best described as taking many images in different focal planes and then stacking them in a photo editor to have everything in focus.

This is a low resolution shot of one of the trees, my Ficus benjamina, we took along for them to practise on. The combination of great lighting, dark background and focus stacking make for an arresting image.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Post 223 Book launch

I'm getting closer to having a product on the market. The first bulk order has been placed and these books will be available for sale after October 20.

Self publishing is something that is relatively easy to start but to carve out a space it is very much a business matter of acting like a publisher not a writer. So it is a matter of working out how the industry works, who are the payers in the space you want to be in, what is the means of distribution and a whole world of intrigue around pricing, royalties and margins. And all this is an industry that has been going through a process of disruption for some time, now more-so than ever with a proliferation of ebooks and e-retailers. Bricks and mortar booksellers really do need a particular niche to survive. Its all about who is adding value and who is adding cost.

In the real world the intermediaries have a place. Final larger customers, like public libraries around Australia, who have no doubt been inundated by pitches from we self publishers, have outsourced their selection to traditional distributors. The same goes for some of the more prominent e-retailers, which is a surprise. So its interesting to see things swinging back to bolster rather than water down the position of the intermediaries. It is an interesting industry.

If you visit the Blurb bookstore you can see a preview of the book.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Post 222 Native bee hive installed

With my friend's native bees accepting the new entrance I made for their nest site I decided to bite the bullet and install the hive.

Here it is in place. Because of the position of the shelf (easier to drill into the mortar than the bricks) a spacer was needed to get it up to the right height.

This is a shot of the connector. Its a short piece of PVC pipe, pre-drilled with an escape hatch, which has been black taped over. It seems that once a new brood gets working in the hive this little hatch may reduce tension between the groups, until they are fully separated. It sounds like it will be a time of careful observation and fine judgement.

I set the hive in place in the gloom of dusk at about 16C. There was no action around the nest entrance. I came back at 930 and still nothing happening.  Back again at 1100 and just the one little guy buzzing around the outside. It was still pretty cool (22C) and the hive is in a position where it doesn't get morning sun, unfortunately. It seems that is a key point in siting a hive - to get them out of bed and working in the mornings.
So with no apparent action I took the lit off to look in through the perspex cover under the lid. Happily there were about 30 bees in the hive thoroughly checking it out. Early days indeed for a process that sounds like it will take months.

Boxed it all back up again and put the poly cover and tin lid on the top. The hive is on a really bad spot, exposed to the south west which is going to be hellish in the heat of the coming summer. If we could get this done by new year that would be helpful. The polystyrene cover is 20mm thick. That's equivalent to about 80mm of pine of 100 mm of hardwood. There is also a small air gap. So with the reflective colour it should be ok. There is another 20mm of poly stuck to the underside of the metal roof. Just to bring a little objectivity to the matter I've put a temperature  probe into the inside of the hive to keep an interested eye on the internal temperature.

The entrance is located towards the east, away from the afternoon sun. Ok bees over to you.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Post 221 Native bees

This year I've noticed we have a good number of native bees on some of our flowering shrubs and so started doing some research on them and where to acquire a hive. They seem to be a pretty hot item these days and a populated hive is quite expensive. I mentioned my research to a friend and he said 'oh yes I've got some of them nesting in a wall'.
Of course that was just too tempting. He was more than happy for me to come along and try to offer them somewhere better to live.
By connecting the entrance of such a wild hive to a constructed hive box and forcing the bees to move through the new hive there is a good chance they will take up residence. This is called 'eduction'.

The first thing has been to make a surface to mate the new hive to. Here I've secured a timber plate to the wall and a joint to insert a tube to connect to the new hive. The bees straight away just kept on coming and going, not too disturbed at all.

I then built a shelf to hold the hive while the eduction proceeds. Apparently this could take many months.

This is the hive. It is actually in two parts secured by an external skin of ply. On the front is the future gateway. To the rear is another port for the tube to the wall.

The location is up on a very exposed wall and over coming months will be very exposed to the sun for protracted periods. This is not good, so I thought the both insulation and a sun/weather shade might be necessary. This is the insulation layer - made of polystyrene, glued together with liquid nails. It doesn't need to cover every surface just those exposed to direct sunlight. The white surface will be a good reflector too.

And this is the roof. A nice piece of colorbond steel.

I'll give the bees another couple of days to settle and then fit the new hive into position to start the process. The weather is warming and there are plenty of flowers around for pollen and nectar; a good time for them to get building.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Post 220 Proof copy print

   After what has been months of work I finally uploaded my book for a proof copy print run of one. It is always the way for the first time at anything of course, but if only I knew then what I knew now; as we all say. Apart from the writing the whole process of self published typesetting has proven to be quite a task. I guess this all depends on the software you might use but each variation will have its own quirks.
   A couple of bonsai friends and my wife have also proof read for me. The result of that was another three runs through it word by word making changes and basically fixing things. It has made for a much better read, thanks. 

   I've rejigged the covers. Everyone says 'Ahh but you have to put a picture of a bonsai on the cover', and it's true that every bonsai book you've ever seen does just that. Getting the structure of a bonsai right, is important to carry the illusion of age and miniaturisation. So having a more structural picture on the cover sets the scene, I think. In the book I have encouraged a little pushing of the aesthetic and styling boundaries, so I might as well do the same with the cover design. Besides it does have a bonsai on the cover.

  First volume print run likely in October. Distribution by hard copy I'll do direct and find a channel for ebook sales on line.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Post 219 Large ficus root pruning

The following shots are of one of the trees I've root pruned today, a large root over rock Ficus Benjamina 'Baby Ben'.

This is before starting. Over the cooler months it has been quite static but new shoots are just starting to emerge at the ends of the branches. All those leaves keep pumping water however and it has become increasingly difficult to keep the water up to it and overcome the tree's capacity to dry out its potting medium. Once dry in the center it is almost impossible to wet again without soaking the tree and that's too difficult with the size of it. I can't imagine it going two years without root pruning.

 First task is to reduce the leaf load so that there is a balance between the impaired root capacity after pruning and the tree's capacity to discharge water. This is also done to give it a preparatory pruning for the coming growing season, to bring in the reach of the branches and foliage.

 That done the attention turns to the roots. As expected there is a tight mass of roots to resolve.

 I begin by using the root hook to tease out the walls all around the edge, in towards the surface roots, at the same time removing any new ones running over the surface.

 Then a slice off the bottom, taking about half the root depth. Ficus roots are not easy to cut but the machete does the job very well.

 This is followed up by tidying up any roots running sideways. You can see that it is quite dry under here.
 Here you can see the final root mass left after pruning. 

And finally re-potted and ready for the season to come. The new medium will allow water to get to where it is needed and even with less roots the tree will be far better off.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Post 218 Big air layer separation

Three years ago I harvested a number of mature Celtis from a local site. Most had big lumpy bases and in the just past growing season I put air layers in place to make the final separation from those bases. This is the largest of those trees.
The photo series was taken on the root-pruning afternoon session of the Foundations Development program in the local club. This was the last of 8 afternoon sessions for a group of 17 participants.

 By mid way through August after such a mild winter and no leaf drop it was time to prepare for spring. This is how the tree looked before the work started. The shade cloth on the surface is to keep the potting medium around the layer site.

 First task was a defoliation to rationalize the branch structure and get it set for spring. The poly box was about the only thing that would hold the base when I collected it.

 This is the view from the rear.

 This is the front view after branch pruning. It has been cut back hard to promote good close new branch development. Here the root mass is being reduced by machete with cuts all around the sides and across the bottom. Under the trunk is a piece of old trunk material like a wooden shoe box.

 This is the tree upended after removing all the medium and a lot of roots. The upper structure of the tree is hanging over the bench to the left. This is just to get int in position to cut off the old now redundant base.

 A chain saw is used to cut just under the new set of roots that have been produced at the layer site.

 Cut in progress.

 Separation! The tree is being held upside down for inspection and the old base on the bench. That was quite a cut.

 Here are both parts again. In this shot you can see the annular fan of new roots around the base of the trunk. There are not many roots there but quite enough for the tree to get started and knowing the species it will not hesitate to run quickly.

 It just needed one final adjustment.

 Finally potted up for the next season.

Not such a good picture from the front but there will be more in time. The tree will shortly spring into life and the pot will be full of roots by this time next year. Thanks Mal for the photos.

You can see the stump when first collected here in July 2013.
Or in August 2014 here
And also in November 2014 here.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Post 217 Rootpruning time - Japanese Box

The photos in this post were taken on the 31st of July. The weather has been so balmy and there is definitely a hint of spring in the air. New shoots are everywhere in the garden where the ground doesn't see the overnight temperatures so much. The time for root pruning has been coming back by about a week a year. Not long ago the start date was the 31st of August, then the 15th and now this year here I am making a start in July.
I usually start with my deciduous trees but I wanted to get this Japanese Box done so here it is.

 Straight out of the pot the root mass is as expected and there is evidence of fresh growth, a good sign for timing. The root mass holding its shape like this is a good indicator of healthy root conditions and growth over the last year. It is interesting to note too that the mass of roots around the lower part of the pot have been living almost hydroponically, demonstrating the value and necessity of regular fertilization.

Knowing this the tree's roots will be made up exclusively of fibrous roots I make a start with cuts around all the sides.

 This is followed up with a slice off the bottom. I'm using the blade of the machete as a knife here rather than chopping. For this tree the thickness of the root mass was reduced to about one third of the original depth.

 More trimming around the edges brings it back to a relatively small 'cake' of roots, to perhaps 10% to 15% of the original volume. There is nothing to be gained by raking these out or water washing as I do for the deciduous trees.

Cutting away directly under the trunk is helpful to ensure new roots come mostly from those around the periphery of the nebari, getting it set for the next growth season. Back in the pot and its ready to go again.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Post 216 Bonsai book publication

I've been conducting an 8 lesson (3 hours each) training program for a couple of years, at the local club, which I've called the Foundations Program. It's for those new or not so new to bonsai who want to cover the basics in a more structured way than is possible to pick up at the usual club activities. The program is supported by a series of Powerpoint presentations on a wide range of topics. The idea is to cover the syllabus using mostly discussion points on the slides, so there have been no detailed notes. The idea behind that is to encourage active learning.
Suffice to say it has gone down very well and so over the last couple of months I've been writing it all down, in book form. The Powerpoint presentations felt like I'd done most of the work, but that hasn't been quite the case. Is it a text book? Perhaps, but with all the pictures it is close to 130 pages and I'm heading down the exciting path of self publishing.

This is the title page, featuring my Lilly Pilly. 

And this is the intended table of contents. The summary I've drafted to describe the book, which I've needed for the various registration details, like ISBN and Catalogue data etc is as follows:

"The book offers information on the aesthetic and horticultural knowledge which is essential to the cultivation and stylistic development of a bonsai tree. The Japanese bonsai aesthetic, as it is widely understood in the west, is analysed and described in terms of design principles. Alternative models and approaches to a tree’s style are discussed. Step by step guides are provided for a variety of development paths, activities and techniques."

 It's 95% written with 95% of photos taken. Should be out for Christmas!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Post 215 New pots for June 2016

I just completed a batch of new commission pots. Here are the first three:

Pot No 257 at 470 x 363 x 90 is a big oval with quite sloping sides and a square rim. The glaze is one I've used many times; good old 7-27. It has a nice weathered bronze coloration with some variation with application depth. Glazing the feet completes the simulation of a weathered unglazed pot.

 Pot 258 at 430 x 323 x 82 is an oval with rounded rim and lower bead. The pot has nice lines with that convex wall. Greenish glaze has come out with blue tones in this shot.

 Pot 259 is a round  semi cascade pot at 309 diameter and 118 high. The proportions worked very nicely with this one to make an attractive pot. The concave walls sweep up to incorporate the rim which is offset by the lower bead, slightly elevated from the base. The feet cant ever so slightly outwards. It is surprising how these small changes have a big impact on look and feel.

Another more elevated view. The red brown glaze has just a little sheen again to simulate the waxed unglazed look.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Post 214 New pots

Ok, well I'm catching up and have another post today, having taken a few more pictures. As I said in my last post in this firing group there are a few pots which have been inspired by the rugged sophistication of paleolithic pots. For most of the people of the time most of what they have left behind are their flint tools and pots. As challenging as life at the time must have been just to survive they found time for decoration of their utilitarian pots. Inscribed lines and patterns often filled with a clay of a different colour, exercising creativity without concern for precision; truly wonderful objects. So I have made a few of my own, to follow:

First up is Pot 236, an oval at 215 x 170 x 50 with a 'beaten' wall surface reminiscent of beaten copper ware, in a lightly applied matte blue glaze.

Next is Pot at 244 at  250 x 195 x 50. A nice little formal oval with rounded flange and mid brown satin glaze.

 This is Pot 249 an oval at 210 x 170 x 50. The wall is fluted and the pot rimless in my beige breaking rust glaze.
 Pot 249

Pot 251 at 215 x 165 x 50 is an unglazed oval with three rings of oblique slip filled engraved lines.  The body of the pot is my standard stoneware which fires to a biscuit colour in the electric kiln and the slip fill is an off-white stoneware.

 Pot 251 detail

Pot 252 is the slightly larger oval with straight sides at 240 x 185 x 50, unglazed. The walls have vertical engraved slip filled lines.

 Pot 252 detail

  Pot 253 at 215 x 165 x 50 is an unglazed oval pot with convex walls, inward curved at the top and vertical slip filled engraved lines.

 Pot 253 detail
 Pot 254 is an oval with three rows of impressed marks then glazed in a brown glaze. Size is 250 x 190 x 50

 Pot 254 detail