Firstly please let me apologise for the lack of posts recently. I have been having a bit of a melt down over the summer. There are days when life gets just too much to handle. Having turned my hobby into an all consuming business, these days I have to resort to motorcycling in order to save my sanity. Thank God for a beautiful summer. So, what’s this Put an Old Knob to Good Use all about?
Before you start, NO it’s not me, I know I’m old but i’m not a knob…..most of the time. I have said many times that I have a passion for not wasting stuff. If there’s a way to make something old and useless good again or turn it to a practical use I’m all over it. Around here we even reuse empty cereal packets and junk mail, nothing gets wasted.
Recently I was sorting out my workshop where I have a big plastic tray full of the tools I use in my bonsai work. Everything is just tipped in together along with bits of wire, plastic mesh, old soil and a good collection of dead insects. I was having real problems finding what I needed so decided to have a clear out. Net result was I had a builders bucket full of tools I no longer use. This contained knives worn down to a nub, bent and broken chisels, worn out root hooks and rakes, bent and broken scissors, branch cutters and not a few totally worn out knob cutters.
I reconditioned what I could, put those beyond help in the scrap bin but just could not part with the knob cutters even though they were ostensibly useless. However after a little application and careful thought I came up with this solution.
If you are handy with an angle grinder and a flap wheel there’s a useful tool (or two) in there. Given that hand creation of deadwood is back in fashion at the moment and, assuming you to have a knackered tool laying around here’s a little half hour project for the weekend.
Put an Old Knob to Good Use and have a little fun with it 😉
Put an Old Knob to Good Use. Drill out the pivot.
Put an Old Knob to Good Use. Grind down the sides to create the desired width of cut.
Put an Old Knob to Good Use. Remove any thickness, refine the profile and round off the edges.
Put an Old Knob to Good Use. A good polish and careful sharpening and it’s good to go.
It’s amazing to me these days how everybody knows everything about everyone. Seems anyone with a working mouth is an expert on most everything and the affairs of everyone. However in the case of what I get up to that’s evidently not the case. I get fucked right off by being told, by folk I don’t know, all about what exactly I am doing. So let me put the record straight before some dumb shits get the better of us.
It seems every year or so I have to deal with this bullshit and it’s pissing me off. Just so you heard it from me ……. Kaizen Bonsai is not closing it’s doors and we are definitely NOT retiring, ever. The next generation of the family is already invested in the business and committed to it. We have put an additional near quarter of a million quid into stock recently and our turnover is 10x what it was just 5 years ago. We have fulfilled over 30,000 orders in the last year alone. We are only just getting started!
So, if you hear rumours contrary to the above you know you are dealing with a bullshitter and please feel free to straighten them out on my behalf.
Thank you! We REALLY appreciate your support.
I would refer my dear readers to the following.
The Reports of my Demise are Greatly Exaggerated.
As a young lad I was lucky enough to have some wonderful grandparents that were influential throughout my formative years. Waste not, want not was a phrase I heard regularly. On my fathers side my grandad served in the merchant navy and ended up in the water at least once. On my mothers side my grandad worked in munitions manufacture in the midlands.
I have wonderful memories of summers spent with the latter. Whilst my parents were always busy putting food on the table and paying the bills they did their best for us kids. Grandparents however had a lot more time to give us. Summers spent with my mums parents consisted of gardening, cooking, woodworking projects and household chores along with trips to the nearby beach and ice cream cornets on the seafront over the long summer evenings.
My grandparents had a nice little bungalow with a well tended garden just a short walk from the sea. Nan worked part time at a little new agents that smelled wonderful thanks to shelves creaking under the weight of jars of sweets and the iconic smell of newsprint and tobacco. I never remember grandad working but he always seemed to be involved in some project or another.
They had a little car that only came out for their weekly shop or a Sunday afternoon excursion to the countryside or a visit to a plant nursery, we didn’t have ‘garden centres’ back then. By todays standard their footprint in the world was extremely small and their lives were simple. Every meal was home cooked and most of their produce came from the garden and little glass house. That glass house was a magical place with it’s massive grapevine and huge sweet smelling tomato plants.
Having lived through the war folk were, in general, much more content with the simple things in life. Whilst they were not poor they were very content to have a TV, a little car and a fridge. I don’t recall them going on holiday but would regularly entertain friends with afternoon tea. Sitting in the garden on a fine sunny day with a cuppa and a biscuit was a great delight.
Nan spent most mornings cleaning before heading to the kitchen to prepare lunch. I never knew anyone that could whip up a two course cooked meal in such a short period of time. They always did the washing up together before a leisurely afternoon was enjoyed. Grandad was a great fan of snooker and spent many happy afternoons watching Pot Black and enjoying a smoke with his afternoon tea. Nan’s greatest joy was always time in the garden pulling weeds and the like.
That all had a profound effect upon young Potter. I loved this benign quiet life of simple pleasures. They wanted for nothing except grandad who always hankered after a snooker table which he never got but then there was not a room in the house sufficient to contain one.
As I approach the age I remember my grandparents being, and as a grandad myself I am minded of those days and look back fondly at such a simple life. Today the world has become a boiling cacophony of noise and fury within which peace and contentment are hard to find. Technology has helped ruin society which moves too fast for most of us to keep up.
Speaking personally everything I do is aimed at restoring those simple pleasures and garnering appreciation of the privileged and prosperous position that I enjoy. That did however came at a cost. I never had a family holiday and in over twenty five years of marriage Catherine and I have not had a night away from home unless it was for business. We work twelve hours a day often six or seven days a week. Whilst that means we are significantly more prosperous than my grandparents or indeed my parents ever were, as the years pass I have to question the cost.
In the words of Chuck Palahniuck (Fight Club) “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”
I can’t say that Tyler Durden was a significant role model for me, though I loved the book and the movie, I have to concede that he had a point. I may have fallen for the societal dictate that to have and achieve more is good and to go without is bad. As the years have passed I begin to realise that having a bit less is a bit better. Like all of us I have too much stuff, most of which I do not need. I am entirely at a loss to understand why I need more than three hundred bonsai or thirty motorbikes. I love everything I own and and bust my hump taking care of it all but why?
My grandparents were pass masters at living frugally, no doubt a result of living through the post depression years and the war. My grandad was a great woodworked and I remember we spent many hours dismantling old furniture and packing crates to supply the wood he used. We even saved all the old nails and screws for re-use. We spent a lot of time in the workshop with a little hammer straightening out bent nails. Today that sounds totally bonkers but it had a profound effect on me. I still save nails and screws and nothing is thrown away before I pull out anything of use. I recently had a knackered printer/scanner to dispose of. Having pulled it apart I had a box of useful bits and bobs including a piece of glass. That came in useful recently as I was fixing up window frames and used it to replace a broken pane.
I have tried to extend my hatred of waste to our business over the years. I consider creating bonsai a form of re-use and have always loved garden rejects above all else. Whilst current vogue is for recycling I consider that to be a last resort. We pretty much use everything we have. Why recycle something that still has a use? Recycling uses a vast amount of resource. Reusing it costs nothing, in fact it saves a great deal both money and resource.
Since the day we started our business nearly twenty years ago I have endeavoured to eliminate any waste. The primary resource we need, as a mail order business, to function is boxes. We can easily blow through up to a hundred every day. In all of those twenty years we have never, once, used new boxes. Every parcel we have ever sent has gone out in a reused box. Because that has that saved a fortune (a large box could easily cost £5) it’s enabled us to keep shipping costs to a minimum.
Thanks to my grandparents influence I am happy to say that Kaizen Bonsai produces less waste than our household does. We don’t have any waste disposal facility, no wheelie bins or waste collections. On top of that we use all the cardboard and packaging waste from three local small businesses and a lot of local families. We use everything from old newspapers and magazines, paddy bags and junk mail. All of our pallets are re-used or returned to a local company dealing in such.
We shred old cardboard and paperwork for loose fill packaging. Literally the only packaging material we have to buy are bubble wrap for pots, sticky tape and bags for soil products. I actually produce more waste in the form of empty beer bottles than all of Kaizen Bonsai’s activities combined. Waste not want not!
When someone turns up here with a load of old packaging it takes some sorting out and it’s always of interest to me to see what comes in. It’s heartening to know some folk think as I do and see value in these things.
Recently a good friend and supporter of ours arrived with a van full of boxes having been clearing out his fathers loft. Obviously another old gentleman that lived through the war. It looked to me like he had saved every box that ever came into the house. There were boxes for huge old cathode-ray tube televisions, betamax video players, cassette players and power tools from the 1970s. Some of the boxes featured address labels and had blocks of postage stamps on. How things have changed.
However within the generous donation of boxes was this one from the first part of the 1970s that I will let speak for itself.
Waste not want not!
Our fragile existence seems to be an exercise in going around in circles. At this particular moment in time some would have us believe we are circling the plughole. The Eeyore in me would concur. Bonsai, as it turns out, is the art of going around in circles.
I guess, seeing as we live on a big ball that spins, a circle is the appropriate geometry for the passage of our lives and existence. Our plants lives are intricately linked to the passage of the sun and the turning seasons. That passage drives all life on earth.
Our bonsai endeavours and technique are also dictated by the seasons. To get the best results we have to do the right thing at the right time and with appropriate frequency. Once we figure out what those things are we then have to complete the work, with only subtle adjustments, ad infinitum.
As the years have passed I have come to realise that in order to get the best from our trees, timing is critical. Where we have to make an intervention choosing the best moment ensures an optimum response.
Sadly it’s impossible for me to pass on the understanding of how I might arrive at that particular moment. For instance if I were to suggest pruning a particular species at such and such a time that could quite easily be inappropriate for your tree. That’s because there are just too many variables in the equation.
I remember one year I was preparing an impressive monster hornbeam for a September exhibition. In order to have pristine leaves at the scrag-end of the season it was necessary to defoliate at just the right moment. So, based on previous experience I picked my time and jumped in some time in July which is later than normal but with a big greenhouse I can bump things along a bit. As it turned out my late action followed by the coldest August in living memory meant not a single new leaf grew that year.
This week, here on the east coast we have been basking in glorious sunshine from dawn to dusk whilst the west of the country has largely been locked beneath a blanket of cloud and rain. What I might be doing over here in sunny Norfolk is not likely to be possible at this moment in the soggy north west.
Another seemingly imponderable variable we face is that of vigour, or the strength a particular tree might have. Defoliating a strong and vigorous maple is a valuable technique to balance energy distribution and develop ramification. However where the tree is compromised by poor conditions or cultivation the technique can do irreparable harm.
Learning these things is the careful work of a lifetime and involves the navigation of many circles (or should that be cycles? I hate bikes!). The hope is that on each new circumnavigation we learn a few things and get/do better than last time. It’s going to take time and that, to me at least, is where the magic of bonsai lies. Making a beautiful bonsai is not about the tree it’s about my (our) skill and understanding. Given quality care and technique, patiently and appropriately applied over decades pretty much guarantees success in bonsai. Charging around like a rat in a s##t-house likely does the opposite.
In the words of Jesse “This week I har mostly been……. pruning Chinese elms. It’s that time, at least it is here in my garden. Chinese elm gets a bad wrap but here at KB the ubiquitous ‘indoor‘ bonsai is held in high regard. Getting the best from the species is actually very technical and demands a lot of commitment.
This year I have been lucky enough to buy up a few nice bonsai tree collections. Within those were a few very good, if slightly neglected elms. Now is the time to begin the restoration process of those. I’m also lucky enough to have a couple of others I have been tending for a few years and those are slowly beginning to come together now.
A lot of this was previously detailed in my earlier post…
44,000 Hours Well Spent – Growing Bonsai Trees
Here are some of those trees…….
Big neglected elm needs pruning back into secondary branch structure.
This hard prune will produce a dramatic reaction.
Moved to a larger pot to develop strength. The first step in a significant reinvention and restoration.
Just one week later it’s COVERED in opening buds.
This monster was reduced by nearly a third overall.
No3 Snip, snip, snip….
Now I can see what we’ve got. There’s a future for this one i’m sure.
This one cost £10 from a bargain bin a few years ago. Happy with progress so far.
Every single extending shoot needs to be cut at the same time in order to get a uniform reaction. This 3 footer took all afternoon.
Still a lot of poor quality structure I have to deal with.
44,000 Hours and going around in circles.
Recently I have spent too much time ranting and raving about things unrelated to bonsai. I assume that’s why lots of my loyal readers come here, to find out something about little trees. So, in the interest of balance here’s a tree story about just how easy bonsai can be. I’ll do my best to stay on message, but first…..
When you attain a certain age it becomes apparent that anything worth achieving is a lot harder than it appears. I have spent endless time over the last decade of writing blog posts talking about just how hard it is to master the creation and maintenance of bonsai trees. After more than thirty years ‘at it’ I categorically believe it takes ten years just to know which end goes in the soil.
After three decades of insanely dedicated effort I am still a very long way off creating what I now consider to be a real and significant bonsai tree. That’s because as we progress down the road of this endeavour and learn more our goal recedes before us in direct correlation to our understanding of what a real bonsai tree actually is.
Many folk will not understand this. Some will consider I am talking a lot of old w**k or being self-deprecating. Others may consider this to be false modesty. However I genuinely believe I am about as far from reaching the goal as I was the first day I stuck a seedling in a pot. The level at which I consider a tree in a pot becomes bonsai is now a lot higher than it once was.
I see a lot of keyboard warriors on social media making a name for themselves with really shoddy poor quality immature trees. In a lot of quarters what is classed as bonsai really is not and it’s sad to me that the standard of quality is so low. To a degree it’s always been that way, look at some old bonsai books from the ’80s or ’90s. Many of the colour plates feature what we might call ‘raw material’ today. Sure there are some folk doing really good work but not many, at least not in the UK.
My old mate Blacky used to say ‘Bullshit baffles brains‘. I looked that up and found….To talk or write absolute nonsense but do so with such conviction everyone comes to believe it unquestioningly.
He was also often heard to say “you can’t educate pork” (He was an award winning pig farmer!). Again I Googled that and got.. When somebody won’t listen to reason. It’s my opinion that a lot of us settle for what’s comfortable or easy in life because to achieve more is potentially difficult or just too demanding of us.
The perceived quality of anything is in direct correlation to the experience of the individual. Back when I was a spotty teenager I got off my crappy 50cc, 4 horsepower Fizzy and plonked my bum on a 17 horsepower 125cc Honda. I thought I owned the most powerful machine in existence, my God what a machine. However now I have ridden two wheelers with over 200 horsepower those little bikes feel like they couldn’t pull the skin of the proverbial desert.
Bonsai was the same in my experience. When I visited my first local club show I thought I had passed through some sort of portal into a different world. However, having been lucky enough to get around a bit over the years I don’t think that any more. I am a lot harder to impress these days. Kevin Willson pushed me pretty hard back in the day and insisted I went to see stuff and it raised the level of my game a lot.
Eventually striving for perfection becomes self perpetuating, progress fuels progress. That’s when the standard to which one works really begins to accelerate. However it’s important to bear in mind the law of diminishing returns here before our self imposed standard becomes realistically unachievable and it all comes crashing down around ones ankles like a pair of worn out Y fronts.
Just once in a while it’s good to park all that ambitious and pretentious bullshit and just have a little bit of fun mucking about with plants for one’s own entertainment. Over the last few years I have discovered a species that allows the practice of bonsai technique with remarkably fast results like nothing I have ever seen. This is a species little known in the UK that you will probably not see in a show but personally I absolutely love it. So, what am I talking about? Go on, take a guess before scrolling down.
Wikipedia describes it thus….
Portulacaria afra (known as elephant bush, dwarf jade plant, porkbush, purslane tree and spekboom in Afrikaans) is a small-leaved succulent plant found in South Africa. These succulents commonly have a reddish stem and leaves that are green, but also a variegated cultivar is often seen in cultivation. They are simple to care for and make easy houseplants for a sunny location. In frost-free regions they may be used in outdoor landscaping.
Bear with me here…. When I was a little kid my Nan’ instilled in me a love of cacti, she had some monsters. Eventually I had every windowsill in the house chock-a-block with the prickly little beggars. Portulacaria bring that back all these years later.
So, here’s the portulacaria I started as a 5″ tall, pencil thick cutting just seven (yes 7) years ago.
Portulacaria Bonsai Tree 7 years from a small cutting.
The stupid and misleading phrase ‘Indoor bonsai’ has done a lot of damage to our hobby and precluded a lot of wonderful species from our repertoire. Ficus for instance, one of the greatest species possible for the creation of bonsai trees. I know we live in the relatively cold north but a lot of these warm climate species are adaptable enough to grow here. I also consider it a challenge to learn and master the care of these beauties. Any knucklehead can keep hardy natives alive, right? Mastering a species that cannot possibly survive in our country is a true horticultural challenge which in this case is not entirely hard. At least it isn’t now I know how to do it. Portulacaria are EASY when you know how and that’s a nice change form the normal battle of trying to push water uphill.
So first let’s get the obvious out of the way. You can’t freeze a portulacaria, not unless you want to make a smoothie out of it. Apparently they are edible. In the wild it can grow very dense and can survive an overnight frost with light foliage losses but let’s not confuse a cold desert night with our British winters shall we. Portulacaria is best overwintered at 3˚ to 10˚ Celsius. Any warmer and it will get confused and try to grow and will also likely drop a lot of leaves. The cool winter will force dormancy which in turn will push a hard and fast summer expansion.
In winter mine live in the poly-tunnel with a heater set to kick in at three degrees above freezing so it’s pretty cold all the time. At the same time I keep the soil dry. Maybe once a month it gets a splash of water. It’s also important to keep the air moving to prevent fungal blooms. Overwintering in your house is likely to be too warm and too dry. However I am guessing a conservatory with good light ought to be pretty good.
Once the spring temperatures reach a consistent 12˚+ all day portulacaria will begin to grow. Again, in the poly-tunnel I would typically expect to do a first pruning around the end of May. Once growth starts plants will appreciate full direct sun, even in a tunnel or glasshouse these are NOT going to get too hot. It’s a fact they are actually fire proof and readily survive brush fires. Mine love it when summer temperatures get above 50˚ and do their best work. These are summer plants and once it gets warm and light look out!
Once you see steady growth it’s time to begin the propagation of new stock and this is the best bit. A party trick that, by and large, only succulents can perform. Any piece of stem can be rooted. I once rooted a 10″ diameter stump so here’s how to make as many plants as you could ever need.
Around end of May, or when good growth is consistent, prepare cuttings thus. Just chop off the bits you don’t need. No matter wether it’s a little shoot tip with a couple of leaves, a bit of branch, a whole branch or even the loose end of a trunk chop. Cut the stump end cleanly with a sharp knife and leave it overnight to dry out. A wet stump in the rooting medium could rot easily.
To root I use any old bonsai soil mix I have to hand. A lot of pumice seems to work wonders. Dump this in a plastic pot about half full, put the cutting in and fill to the rim sufficient to hold it still and upright. For big cuttings I use a deep pot filled to about 1/3 with soil and then rely on the pots sides to hold my cutting still. So long as the cutting is not wagging about it’s good and the stump end needs to be well submerged in the medium.
These cuttings then go into the greenhouse, a shady corner out of direct contact with sun and out of the wind works best. Keep the soil very lightly damp. Constant wet causes rot. Don’t be surprised if the leaves go a bit soft and the surface wrinkles, that shows it’s all working as it should. Assuming it’s warm you will have roots in a couple of weeks and after two months the pots will be solid with root. Don’t take cuttings after the beginning of August, it’s unlikely they will be established sufficiently before winter.
I then simply pot on into larger pots every time the plants get too big and falls over a lot. Just keep on with that until the trunk is the size you want. Portulacaria can be shaped with wire but this is fraught with issues and unless you are a master of the wire stick to tying, pulling and pushing with bits of wood etc’. All pretty much standard bonsai stuff really.
Re-potting of portulacaria bonsai is done any time from June to mid-August. I use a reciprocating saw to get the bulk of material out of the way and then rake back to the margin of the nebari and smaller roots. In a bonsai pot I use a mix of Pumice and Moler. Not too much moler because it’s too acidic about 10/15% on average. Portulacaria will grow in anything so long as you manage it properly.
Allowing portulacaria bonsai to grow out a good bit at the height of summer really helps keep the vigour high. I would normally do my last prune towards the latter half of September.
I use Green Dream Original exclusively for fertilising from end of May until beginning of September.
In the UK creating truly great bonsai of any species is not really possible in the way someone might in Japan, Taiwan or the Mediterranean countries, we just don’t get enough sun and the growing season, even with a greenhouse is just too short. I figure we just have to do the best we can by refining and perfecting our techniques.
So, I grew a big stock plant. It was about 6′ and forever in my way so I cut it up…..
Portulacaria. A big lump I chopped off the top of a 6 footer.
Cuttings I took off the big cutting. Every bit of a portulacaria will root. Old bonsai soil used for rooting.
Let the cut end dry out overnight before placing into soil.
Pot half full. The pot sides hold it upright securely whilst roots form.
Little sticks used to keep everything secure.
Completed cuttings. Those long thin ones are what I grew the big one from 7 years ago.
Nebari forms readily with conventional techniques.
Tall pots always produce better growth in all raw material. This one really helped my tree to bulk up. Once it was the size I wanted it went into the bonsai pot as seen below.
I’ve a long way to go before we call this bonsai but i thoroughly enjoyed the process at every turn. BTW this is it’s first pot six months after planting. Never be in a hurry to put raw material into bonsai pots.
Life leads us down a winding path on occasion. I was never the most social of animals, us Norfolk folk are renowned for our reticence. However I did not really expect I would end up quite so isolated behind this screen.
Our business has been very demanding and entirely isolated me from the world at large. I am one of many folk that work from home. Not in the modern fashionable sense of the phrase, here at KB we really WORK. It’s long hours, hard, heavy and responsible work that’s thankfully relentless. It might well appear a simple task from the outside but trust me it’s NOT!
The down side of working from home is the fact I live at work. That means there is never a moment to switch off. My lovely Catherine typically works from 9am until 8pm and a lot of hours at weekends too. We have been married nearly 30 years now and apart from travelling for work have never had a night away from home. Last autumn we took a day off and went for a drive and ended up at the pub. That’s the first day out in years. What a catch I was!
I chose this path but honestly I did not realise it would be so all consuming and costly on a personal level. For sure we made a few bob but I have no pension to fall back on so we will have to work until the last and then hope our beloved Richard and Sarah can support us because sure as shit stinks the government won’t be there for us.
Most days I feel very out of it, stuck behind this fugging screen. I almost never get to see anyone and the minute I step away something always seems to happen that pulls me back. If I do go out for a bit there is always a steaming pile to clear up when I get back. So, the only social contact I get is when one of my four lovely mates come here to see me. That’s always a red letter day for me and lifts my mood for days. However most of the time I just want to go and crawl into a hole.
In this miserable day and age I fear I am not alone in feeling this way. In the words of the wonderful late Bob Hoskins “It’s good to talk” or, in my case write. To that end I feel obligated to get out and do my little bit for others that just might be in the same boat.
For several years now I have been supporting the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride who have to date raised over $30 million USD for schemes supporting mens mental health. Suicide is a huge killer of men, particularly younger ones. Male suicide if THREE HUNDRED PERCENT above that of women.
I have been really thrilled to be able to partake in this wonderful event even though my lack of social skills mean it’s not the jamboree I might aspire too. However the one thing that is REALLY exciting to me is just how wonderful some of my lovely supporters are. I have received lots of sponsorship for the ride from folk I barely know and most likely have never met. The generosity of some of you is simply amazing and I humbly offer my thanks to ya’ll.
I won’t name individuals, that would be crass. Enough to say I salute you gentle-folk for supporting your fellow man in such a generous way despite all the doom and gloom out there. For me it’s just wonderful to be a part of something that get’s me out of the house for a day. Our little jaunt around Bury St Edmunds last Sunday has so far raised over £15,000. Donations are still welcome up until 5 June so please visit my fundraising page, i’m so close to my goal of a lowly £400, PLEASE DIG DEEP! www.gentlemansride.com/fundraiser/GrahamPotter148253
To have a brief look around the ride and see what the local TV news had to say…
See if you can spot me disappearing down the road!