Dale's Pooballs Recipe


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How To Make Your Own
Slow-Release Fertilizer Cakes
1996 to 2009
Dale Cochoy

All experienced bonsai growers agree that one of the best methods of fertilizing styled bonsai is with a slow-release type of fertilizer ball or pellet. These will release a constant low-dose of fertilizer with each watering or rain. This constant but slow-release of nutrients keeps your trees healthy and steadily growing instead of the shot-in-the-arm type of strong fertilizing that is often done by enthusiasts from time to time during the growing season instead of a regular fertilizing regime. These occasional doses of strong fertilizer can cause your bonsai to grow out of control ---like a weed.
Slow-release organic fertilizers can be very expensive. Even the rapeseed cakes from China or Japan can be quite costly as well as the more commonly available marketed brand names.
In 1996 I purchased the ingredients to produce my own slow-release fertilizer balls that I thought would be better than some mixtures I had seen in magazines or heard about elsewhere.
In my first experiment the ingredients comprising approximately 65% of the bulk were bone meal and cotton seed meal. These can be purchased easily in 3lb. or larger bags. I used 20% gypsum as an experiment to help release possible salt build-up in the haydite used in our potting soil mixes. Blood meal made up about 10% of the bulk of the dry mix. For the liquid I used a couple of things. I mixed in some "Alaska Start-Up"tm low dose natural fertilizer made from molasses, this also contains B-1 vitamins. I poured in a considerable amount of fish emulsion. If you are unfamiliar with this product, it is quite possibly the most disgusting substance on the face of the earth!
I, by no means, measured anything. I added bulk and liquid to use up most of the materials and keep the mixture moist enough to form balls. For about $35 ( 1996) I mixed up roughly 71/2 gallons of the foulest smelling stuff you can imagine!
It formed balls but they didn't stick together well. After mulling over several possible additives that might help adhere the concoction, my wife, Nancy, came up with the solution. I mixed in about 3 cups of flour per gallon.
It is a good idea to wear some hospital rubber gloves for the mixing involved in fertilizer ball manufacturing. With the binding problem solved it was time to form the mixture into balls. I found that two people could process a gallon of the mixture into about 250 balls 2/3 the size of a golf ball, in about 1/2 hr. We just rolled the mixture in the palm of our hands. I found that with the mixture two people could make well over 1,000 balls in a few hours, at a cost of about $35.
Since my original attempts I have made some changes in manufacturing and mixture. I no longer form them into balls by hand. A wheelbarrow full will leave you crippled without enough grip strength to hold a beer can. After trying several different methods of extruding, I found that a simple tool made from about 18 inches of 1 inch or 11/4 inch PVC pipe with a corresponding sized wooden dowel to push through the pipe worked OK but a better, simpler method of forming cakes was adapted.
I now mix up the disgusting muck in a wheelbarrow then I press it into old hospital food trays ( cookie sheets or pizza pans work well ) about 1/2" deep. The trays should first by lined with Saran wrap to allow release of the cakes from the pan while still moist. Note: a good trick to get Saran wrap to stick to the tray without fluttering around is to spritz the tray with a little water first. Another trick my wife came up with!
After one day of drying in the hot sun I can cut it into 1 or 11/2' squares using a pizza cutter. The sheet of cakes takes longer to dry than the balls, but can be made in a fraction of the time. I simply flip them over into another tray once a day until dry. They easily break apart when dry. Note: Try to manufacture your "poo balls" when you are expecting about 4 days of warm, dry and low humidity weather. They take about four days to dry. If it is very humid or they get rained on it could cause them to mold before they dry. This will not hurt the chemical make-up at all, but some people won't like the looks of them! You want to get them dried BEFORE they start to mold.
As I stated, I mix up a wheelbarrow at a time. The best method for doing this is to first mix all the dry materials together, including the flour. Mix any amount you want. Combine all your liquid ingredients in a sprinkling can with some water and slowly pour in while mixing with a shovel. It is very much like mixing cement. I slowly add liquid to get just the right consistency. I use about 10lbs of flour per wheel barrow. This hardens the cubes to where they resist having a finger nail poked into them. I find this to be the perfect "Hardness".
In about 2000 I made some changes in the mixture. I now add liquid seaweed to the mix, liquid chelated iron, triple super phosphate, and muriate of potash to assist in strengthening roots and aid in absorption of nitrogen and phosphorus, and to increase resistance to heat and cold. I only use about 2 cups of muriate of potash and triple super phosphate to a wheelbarrow. The muriate of potash, triple super phosphate and flour probably round out the 100% total for the "dry" mix.
I worried about the attraction of flies and maggots so I thought of spraying the finished cakes with an insecticide or mixing in some “Sevin” but I found that my dogs find the cakes an exquisite snack and they disappear often from pots that are low to the ground. Luckily I have had no problem with flies/maggots and they wouldn’t bother the trees if I did..
The ingredients I now use are as follows:
Bone meal 0-10-0
Cotton seed meal 6-1-1
Blood meal 12-0-0
Fish emulsion 5-1-1
Liquid seaweed 0.1-0.0-1.0
( Note: You can also use Kelp Meal instead of liquid seaweed if you can find it. . The cost isn't much different in the long-run but the kelp meal adds more "bulk" for making cakes which the liquid doesn't. 10 lbs. of kelp meal adds 10 lbs. of cakes! These are the two most expensive ingredients so I opt for the "bulk increase" of the kelp meal.)
Alaska Natural start-up 2-1-2 w/B-1
Muriate of potash 0-0-60
Triple super phosphate 0-46-0
Liquid chelated iron
Agricultural lime

If you wish to mix up a wheelbarrow full I'd start with about 60-70lbs.+ of dry mix, then add the liquid slowly. This would be an average-sized wheelbarrow load, which could almost be doubled if you had a nice big and deep wheelbarrow . The wheelbarrow is nice for mixing because you can move it around to where you want to do your work
The mixture of dry materials and liquid has to be slowly experimented with as you work to get the consistency right…like cement….not too wet and not too dry.

Update 7/2009 :
Chemical prices have certainly gone up, but, I find I can make about 3,000 cakes for about $135 worth of ingredients, supplies and an afternoon of time. I believe this mixture is far superior to anything imported into this country, and cheaper in bulk. They will not burn trees or retard mycorrhiza growth so you can place as many as you want on the surface of your pots. I put two on a 6" pot, four on an 8-10", and more on larger pots. Replace as they start to disintegrate.
Also, as of 7/09 I have started adding a small bag of various ecto and endo micorrhizal fungi and colony forming units of 25 species.
In 2009 I could no longer find the Alaska Natural brand start-up w/ B-1.

Posted with permission from Dale Cochoy :D

Bill S

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Western Massachusetts
Thanks Irene, I copied that when it was up at BT, but it's good to have Dales recipie here too.

Guy makes some incredible pots too.;)


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Thanks Irene, I copied that when it was up at BT, but it's good to have Dales recipie here too.

Guy makes some incredible pots too.;)
He sure does...........
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Piedmont NC
I made a basic batch of this about two years ago. Came out real well.

But when I put them in my pots the dang chipmunks start digging in the pots to retrieve them. This spring I still have chipmunks digging in some pots looking for them. Trees that don't require re-potting yet. The smell must still be there.

I still have a pretty good batch of these left and have no use for them unless I want to have to re-pot every tree two or three times a week. I could take care of a chipmunk or two but could never get them all.
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