Peter Adams Seminar at the GSBF convention

Attila Soos

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I was really glad to finally be able to attend a whole-day seminar hosted by Peter Adams at the convention. He is a great speaker, passionate and opinionated (I mean this as a compliment), and entertaining. Overall, spending time with Peter is an interesting and inspiring experience. I came home with lots of new ideas and knowledge, worth many times over the admission fee.

The reason why I post this is mainly because of one thing that he said. This instantly attracted my interest: he recommends that a large portion of the growing medium should be organic. This is contrary to many who believe that a purely inorganic medium is just fine. Whe I asked him in front of the whole class to comment on this apparent contradiction (inorganic school of thought vs. the use of organic matter), he thought for a few seconds and said:

" How long are people using the 100% inorganic approach....15 - 20 years may be? Well, in England, we are successfully using organic medium for 300 years. And the plants growing in this medium are as healthy as they can possibly be."

He loves sphagnum moss, because it holds its structure practically forever, and has some anti-bacterial properties (unlike akadama, which can quicly break down into mud when exposed to the freezing-thawing cycle), coarse peat moss, composted pine litter, leaf mold, and shredded bracken fern. The last one is apparently a new discovery in the world of growing media (the fern grows in the Pacific North West), that has some intriguing advantages when used as growing medium. In addition to good drainage and moisture retention, these also contain useful micro-elements.

In certain cases I use purely inorganic medium, but I often use organic as well, so I don't have strong views on either side.

I don't intend this to be a debate between the two prevailing schools of thought, after all, plants can be grown in almost anything, if one pays attention. But I find his approach refreshing.
By the way, Peter lives and works in the Pacific North West (Oregon), and he absolutely hates akadama and Japanese terminology :).
 
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greerhw

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By the way, Peter lives and works in the Pacific North West (Oregon), and he absolutely hates akadama and Japanese terminology :).[/QUOTE]

So what does he call his hobby, I thought working on little trees in a pot was called Bonsai, a Japanese term I'm pretty sure.

keep it green,
Harry
 

Attila Soos

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So what does he call his hobby, I thought working on little trees in a pot was called Bonsai, a Japanese term I'm pretty sure.

keep it green,
Harry

Good point.:)
Bonsai is the only Japanese term that he still uses, but nothing else.
BTW, it's not really his hobby, he is a hard core professional nurseryman.

I know that he also does individual sessions, so Harry, I really think that you should hire him for a day, just to add some diversity to your collection. It may be just as affordable as Marco, and it never hurts to ask for a second opinion, as you know. I am not saying to hire him INSTEAD of Marco, but just to work with both. He is a fun guy to be around.
 
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Attila Soos

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By the way, a side note on the term bonsai, just to add more fuel to the fire:

According to David de Groot (see his book: Bonsai Design), bonsai is an archaic term, from the time when bonsai was really a bon-sai. But today, bonsai is much more than just a bon-sai.

In other words, there was a time when bonsai was just a tree in a pot. People in the Orient collected a naturally dwarfed tree, planted it in a pot, and the only thing to be done after, was to keep it healthty and keep it small. There was minimal consideration as to changing and developing the design.
So, bonsai was truely just a small tree in a pot, and not much else. The terminology was adequate.

In our modern days, in order to qualify, in addition to being a tree in a pot, a bonsai must be artistically shaped. The art has changed, but the terminology remained the same: outdated and archaic.
 

cquinn

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I was really glad to finally be able to attend a whole-day seminar hosted by Peter Adams at the convention. He is a great speaker, passionate and opinionated (I mean this as a compliment), and entertaining. Overall, spending time with Peter is an interesting and inspiring experience. I came home with lots of new ideas and knowledge, worth many times over the admission fee.

The reason why I post this is mainly because of one thing that he said. This instantly attracted my interest: he recommends that a large portion of the growing medium should be organic. This is contrary to many who believe that a purely inorganic medium is just fine. Whe I asked him in front of the whole class to comment on this apparent contradiction (inorganic school of thought vs. the use of organic matter), he thought for a few seconds and said:

" How long are people using the 100% inorganic approach....15 - 20 years may be? Well, in England, we are successfully using organic medium for 300 years. And the plants growing in this medium are as healthy as they can possibly be."

He loves sphagnum moss, because it holds its structure practically forever, and has some anti-bacterial properties (unlike akadama, which can quicly break down into mud when exposed to the freezing-thawing cycle), coarse peat moss, composted pine litter, leaf mold, and shredded bracken fern. The last one is apparently a new discovery in the world of growing media (the fern grows in the Pacific North West), that has some intriguing advantages when used as growing medium. In addition to good drainage and moisture retention, these also contain useful micro-elements.

In certain cases I use purely inorganic medium, but I often use organic as well, so I don't have strong views on either side.

I don't intend this to be a debate between the two prevailing schools of thought, after all, plants can be grown in almost anything, if one pays attention. But I find his approach refreshing.
By the way, Peter lives and works in the Pacific North West (Oregon), and he absolutely hates akadama and Japanese terminology :).

This also contradicts everything that's in his book. He talks over and over again about the gritty sand componet in the soil used by the Japanese guy he imports from. That's another thing that bothered me about his book, while he goes on and on about growing maples when you read about the trees set as examples they were imported. They looked better imported than most people's "finished trees". Try Fafard 52 mix for your moss componet. It's course, and actually contains some perlite and vermaculite. We've been using it down here for a while, so the organic mix is nothing new. The Japanese have been using Spagnum and leaf mold forever. Read the books by Saburo Kato and Yoshimura. Those old Japanese guys have it right, and for some reason every person that comes down the pike wants to reinvent the wheel. John Naka lists those things as major soil componets too.
 

Attila Soos

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This also contradicts everything that's in his book. He talks over and over again about the gritty sand componet in the soil used by the Japanese guy he imports from. That's another thing that bothered me about his book, while he goes on and on about growing maples when you read about the trees set as examples they were imported. They looked better imported than most people's "finished trees". Try Fafard 52 mix for your moss componet. It's course, and actually contains some perlite and vermaculite. We've been using it down here for a while, so the organic mix is nothing new. The Japanese have been using Spagnum and leaf mold forever. Read the books by Saburo Kato and Yoshimura. Those old Japanese guys have it right, and for some reason every person that comes down the pike wants to reinvent the wheel. John Naka lists those things as major soil componets too.

I agree that the Japanese have been using those forever, as well as Naka in his days. As you know, many people think that those things are now "outdated". I am not so sure about that.

But I am not sure what you mean about contradicting his own book, for example, in Bonsai with Janapese Maples he recommends: 5 parts mixed sand (includes sand, decomposed granite and gravel), 2 parts composted peat, 2 parts leaf mold, and 1 part pumice/lava - so basically he recommends 60% inorganic and 40% organic. There is no contradiction between this book and what he said in the seminar.
 

irene_b

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My term for Tree in a pot....Wee tree....
 

cquinn

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The plants haven't changed. We should follow what the Japanese have so successfully refined for bonsai as far as horticulture is concerned. It works. The way they style works too if you like beauty and simplicity.
 

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Good point.:)
I know that he also does individual sessions, so Harry, I really think that you should hire him for a day, just to add some diversity to your collection. It may be just as affordable as Marco, and it never hurts to ask for a second opinion, as you know. I am not saying to hire him INSTEAD of Marco, but just to work with both. He is a fun guy to be around.

Now thats just down right mean Attila ;)............."If" Harry were to have a individual session with Peter, a western practitioner, he surely would have Harry going ... but ... but ... but, with a deer in the head lights look, as he desperately clung to Marco's eastern influenced teachings.

Actually now I think about it I'd buy a ticket to that show :p
 

Attila Soos

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Now thats just down right mean Attila ;)............."If" Harry were to have a individual session with Peter, a western practitioner, he surely would have Harry going ... but ... but ... but, with a deer in the head lights look, as he desperately clung to Marco's eastern influenced teachings.

Actually now I think about it I'd buy a ticket to that show :p

I think you're right. :D

I really think that Peter has a great sense of design. You look at a small-ish japapanese black pine, for example, created in the spirit of Kokufu-ten in mind. It is very pleasing and dignified, but it basically has a helmet on.
Then look at how Peter would design the same tree, based on his drawing: the foliage pads vary in size and shape, and there is a little more negative space. As he said, it only requires a little work to change a helmet into an interesting tree, the changes are mostly subtle, but the tree becomes much more interesting. It's really easy, anybody with a little training and imagination can do it.
 
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greerhw

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Now thats just down right mean Attila ;)............."If" Harry were to have a individual session with Peter, a western practitioner, he surely would have Harry going ... but ... but ... but, with a deer in the head lights look, as he desperately clung to Marco's eastern influenced teachings.

Actually now I think about it I'd buy a ticket to that show :p

Ain't gonna happen, I stand steadfast that what the Japanese perfected I will practice, do you know the secret handshake.............:p

keep it green,
Harry
 

Attila Soos

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Ain't gonna happen, I stand steadfast that what the Japanese perfected I will practice, do you know the secret handshake.............:p

keep it green,
Harry

It's a good thing that you don't live too close Harry, otherwise I would invite myself to your place, and we would drive each-other nuts by arguing about your trees.:D
 

greerhw

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Okay, Tom and Attila, you helmet head haters, what would Peter Adams do with this 28" JBP..........;)

keep it green,
Harry
 

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greerhw

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I would tend to agree

but

Remember were talking Harry...he can be a stubborn SOB ;)

I'm not a student of boons, get you facts straight.........:D

keep it green,
Harry
 

Smoke

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Okay, Tom and Attila, you helmet head haters, what would Peter Adams do with this 28" JBP..........;)

keep it green,
Harry


Well..I ain't no Peter Adams but right off the batt I can see about 6 branches that have to go:eek:
 

greerhw

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6 branches.........:eek:

keep it green,
Harry
 

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My thoughts on organics and soil?

I think we are about to turn a new corner in bonsai soil. I feel organics are going to come back in a hurry. Many of the new gaurd have never grown bonsai in fully organic mixes nor experimented with fertilizers and what they can do with the addition of humates with a fully energised soil mix. Many of the California crown were never fully convinced of the totally inorganic soil mix. From the look of the trees I just posted as well as those from the exhibit, it is painfully apparent that super good bonsai can be grown in organic based soil.

A small article

I would like to first talk about soil. Many people feel they have the secret. Great! Continue sharing those recipes. I use a fairly straight forward mix but with some twists. What I use will seem exotic to many but is really not that special. It contains many things not available to many across the US or abroad for that matter. It does not really matter, the best thing is to keep looking and experimenting with what you can find.

These are the materials I use.

Akadama. Japanese red clay balls. Superior soil for bonsai. Not used by many because of availability and price. Once used you will find any way to get it. If you have never used it this will mean nothing. I wouldn't tell you its magical if it wasn't.

Lava. I use this for many reasons. First it's cheap. Of course I live in California, pacific rim, so lava is cheap out here. Good amendment if you can find it, but shipping makes it impractical.

Hyuuga. This is Japanese pumice. A yellow pumice that looks attractive in the mix. It is softer than the USA agricultural pumice. Being stark white it stands out in soil mix, but if topping or moss is used it is not bad. I use both, but prefer the Hyuuga when I can find it.

Cali-dama.
I will refer to it as CD here. Great stuff, those of you that remember Ripsgreentree from bonsaiTALK will know Glenn VanWinkle and his contribution to the soil world with his crushed hardpan. Great stuff will never break down and holds a reasonable amount of water. Not as much or as long as akadama, but a suitable substitute.

Charcoal. I use this to keep the soil sweet. It keeps out heavy metals and actually will harbor bacteria pound for pound better than anything else on earth. More about bacteria later.

From the top at 12 oclock clockwise; Akadama, cali-dama, 1/4 lava, Hyuuga, 1/8 lava, agricultural pumice and charcoal.

Sometimes I place the charcoal at the bottom of the pot and sometimes I just mix it in. I don't think it really makes a difference where it is in the pot. My soil is screened to remove the fines and saved for topping or to make keto clay for saikai.

A closeup really shows the crunchy structure and the porosity of the pumice. This is a totally inert soil mix. There is no organic component included. For those that can not find all the inorganic components I have showed here then adding a mixture of fir bark will add the friability to the soil that many of the pumice or lava stones would.


The second part of my soil article has to do with fertilizer. The two, soil and fertilizer work hand in hand and is the reason I am combining the two here. Many think that fertilizer is a step that can be taken haphazardly during the year without much emphasis, but keeping fertilizer front and center throughout the years is more important than anything else we do in bonsai.

First lets take a stroll down memory lane and bonsai in its early years. Many of the bonsai books written in English in the last fifty years have alluded to "loam" in the soil.

What is loam?

Loam is composted organic matter i.e.; garden loam. Farmers will plant silage crops in between cash crops to plow into the soil to help renew it by composting in the organic matter. Home gardeners have also benefited by adding composted garbage from dinner as well as grass clipping and yearly leaves. Huge amounts of money are spent on home composting devices that will compost leaves in weeks rather than months. Back when I was young, my father would drive to the foothills where the oak trees grew. He would park the pickup near a cattle crossing, a sort of open grate device that allowed cars to pass over but would keep cattle from passing over. The oak leaves would collect under the grate device and compost over many years. My father would shovel this thick black almost spongy material into the back of the truck. Upon arriving home, it would be placed in the home garden and tilled into the earth to help nourish our vegetable garden. Unbelievable material the “oak leaf mold” as my father used to call it. This was something his father did while my dad grew up in Ohio. He brought it out here and I have never known anyone that has ever collected the black gold.

Why was loam important?

Because loam offered the composted organic matter to the soil mix. This was the catalyst that enabled other organic matter to become colonized with beneficial bacteria to breakdown organic fertilizers (mostly used back then) into useable compounds that the roots could use. Without these organics, fertilizer would become unusable and wash out of the pot before being used by the plant. At this point all the organics in the pot used to help breakdown the fertilizer would clog up the pot causing the roots to rot due to being submerged in a pool of water captured in the pot. This anaerobic atmosphere is fast death for a colony of healthy roots. (More on captured water later)

In time, it was believed that a more porous soil mix with inorganic components would keep the soil from clogging up. We were right, it did. The soil is fast draining and water will never pool on the surface even if the water source is left to rain forever. It continues to run straight thru. The addition of decomposed granite; larger sand particles, lava, haydite, expanded shale, and pumice have gone a long ways towards helping keep the soil friable and fast draining.

One thing was missing

The missing link in the whole soil chemistry was humates. In our zeal to remove the soil clogging organics in our bonsai soil and substitute inorganic last forever particles we lost the ability for the soil to harbor bacteria, and chemicals beneficial to the plant for thriving conditions. These composted materials help to efficiently break down the organic fertilizers into useable compounds, and make them useable for the roots to absorb.

The trick is to get back to a soil medium that is fast draining, yet contains the organic material useful for the tree. At this point, most people have decided that they like the inorganic soils and have spent many years developing recipes that work on specific species and geographical regions.

The secret catalyst

I was introduced to humic acid about four years ago. I came by it in a more sinister way than I really feel comfortable sharing. Lets just say I came by it by accident in my work while investigating a basement that had flooded. Upon finally gaining access, I found that some amazing “farming” was going on behind closed doors. As I gained acceptance and he figured out that I didn’t really care how he made his living, he would go on to share what he was doing to get super human plants fast. Lets face it when growing cash crops time is money…so to speak.

Humic acid was everywhere within the lab. It was used for every step in the process. From making cuttings to forcing buds. The humates were used in conjunction with the specific NPK values to increase yield in whatever step was needed. The problem with this newfound information was that I did not know how to get the humic acid. It wasn’t as if I could go down to the neighborhood pot store and buy the stuff. (I would later find out I was wrong).

I began to look for information about humic acid on the Internet and did indeed find out that this was a very miracle type material. What I found out was that humates are used in farming locations that have very poor soils, especially clay type soils. Clay soil is very poor at holding and releasing nutrients. It has a very low cation exchange capacity (CEC) With the addition of humates to the soil it allows the soil to repolarize thereby allowing the fertilizer ion to bond with the clay soil. A byproduct of the catylistic exchange is that the soil can now hold more fertilizer while also allowing a faster bacteria bed to break down the organic compounds faster and make them more available to the plants roots. Less fertilizer is needed because the clay now holds the fertilizer and the soil does not allow the soil to wash out the fertilizer as it did before.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to add compost to my new draining soil


Humic acid is available in many ways. The easiest way to introduce it is by adding pure humates in the form of leonardite to the soil surface. Leonardite is a mineral mined in a few places around the world. It was laid down during the carboniferous period nearly 350 million years ago. It is black and considered soft coal being nearly 40 percent pure carbon. It can contain as little as 5 percent humic acid to upwards of 80 percent humic acid depending on where it was mined. I have experimented with 40 percent humic so far but have never seen stronger percentages in the USA. The larger percentages seem to be mined in China. The humic acid can also be chemically extracted and sold in liquid form for dilution and used as a soil drench or applied with liquid fertilizer either by soil uptake of applied on the foliage.


University experiments bear out the fact that liquid fertilizers applied with humic acid did improve the plants ability to take in the fertilizer by folier feeding to the point of even surpassing root uptake. An important side note is in a past issue of Bonsai Today, it was noted the poor CEC of Japanese akadama. I am a firm believer in the miracle red balls from Japan but never really understood the reason the soil acted differently with my trees. Further research has shown that Japanese volcanic soil (akadama, kanuma, and huuyga) all contain percentages of humic acid.

Humic acid is not fertilizer. It is just an additive that makes fertilizer work easier, faster and better. Humic acid will still require a full compliment of fertilizers to work properly. I have found that small percentages of humic acid premixed in a good fertilizer to work best. Two of the products I use now are Gro-Power. A fertilizer fully endorsed by Ted Matson. I also use Gro-Power planting tabs. A simple tablet that will sit on the soil like any Japanese fertilizer cake. The bonus is they do not smell and are looked over by pets and rodents. Both of the products are distributed by Kellogg’s fertilizer company, which carries a full list of fertilizer containing differing percentages of humic acid.

Why haven’t we heard about this before?

If you read Bonsai Today many years ago you probably did, you just didn’t know it. In 1997, Michael Persiano along side Chase Rosade wrote an article for Bonsai Today (issue 47) about “super feeding”. The article explains a myriad of fertilizers and concoctions for this super feeding program. The super feeding fertilizer cake recipe contains a product called Roots 2. In the first article, Michael used the dry form powder for his cakes and would go on in a later article to use Roots 2 liquid with iron, Killing two birds with one product. Many people would go on to use that recipe for making cakes thinking they were super feeding not knowing that if they didn’t include the Roots 2 (which was/is hard to find) they were not adding the humic acid part of the formula. Michaels article and subsequent follow up article neglected each time to tell us of the miracle properties of the Roots 2 formula with humic acid. I suspect that all the additional components that were used to add to this chemical cocktail were probably not needed and the Roots 2 alone would have done just as well.

I can’t find this humic acid stuff?


For those of you that can’t find humic acid which can be found in most cities that have a hydroponic store (the place all the pot growers hang out) look to the internet. There are many companies out there that have fertilizers that list humic acid in the contents right on the box. Even Home Depot and Lowe’s will carry at least one product that lists humic acid. Humic acid is really coming on strong in the fertilizer trade and will continue to grow as more is learned and results gathered. For those out there still not finding it you can make it yourself. Garden composters can be made to throw grass clippings and leaves as well as dinner scraps and stuff like banana peels and coffee grounds. This will have to be composted down. I mean really composted, to the point that a hundred pounds of raw material will be only about 20 pounds when done. It will be black and will smell good, like mushrooms. If it smells bad and is really smelling like rotten garbage than it is not composted enough. At the point of decomposition it will have enough humic acid in it to be used for trees. It can be placed in a bucket with water and made into tea which can be used as a soil drench. Remember you still need fertilizer, this is just the humic acid.

Remember that oak leaf mold my dad used to collect? That stuff would be very good to make tea from. Not something you would want to add to your soil mix (although many probably did many years ago) but the tea will do amazing things.

Like many new things that are introduced to bonsai, they are slow to catch on. Many think this is just the new Super-thrive or HB-101 but after 4 years I have had huge success with the products I have been using. It is very inexpensive to try this for yourself. I hope you can and you might thank me for the heads up.


Cheers, Kep
 

greerhw

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Pinus envy, an epidemic in some parts of California, no cure, but a frontal lobe lobotomy eases the symtoms............:rolleyes:

keep it green,
Harry
 

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