Thursday, May 14, 2015

AUTUMN'S ALMOST DONE AND DUSTED.....

The days are shorter, the nights are colder and the bonsai trees are getting ready for their winter sleep. 

After spending spring and summer sending out new shoots and growth, its time for our trees to shed their summer outfits and have a well earned rest before next spring.
60 - 70% of my  bonsai trees are deciduous, so winter time around my garden looks a little bare.  In another week or two most of the leaves will have dropped properly off my elms and beech etc.  So I'm making the most of the change in colour, especially with the swamp cypress which is now a beautiful rusty red colour. The leaflets fall when you touch them, so no doubt the wind will take care of that job shortly.
  You get to see the "framework" of the trees after leaf fall.....sometimes (well most of the time) they don't look as appealing and other times there is a nice surprise with the branch structure.  Perhaps I have learned something and its looking the way it should be.

My beech always puzzle me though.  Some loose their leaves and others hold onto them with all their might.  The purple beech tend to loose their leaves more than the plain green beech, but I assume that because of the leaf colour and the different rates of photosynthesis.

 This beeches branches are trying to grow up vertical again, so I'll have a go at wiring them down into the sweep type characteristics of the large old mature beech.  One of the many jobs to do this winter.
My oaks are very similar to the beeches, in that some have totally lost their leaves and others have only slowly started to yellow off and remain quite green.  This English Oak (Quercus robur) is a classic example.  It'll probably hold onto its brown leaves over the winter if it gets the chance.  But I usually go around and cut the leaves off about July and just leave the petiole or stem attached.  I figure lots of eggs overwinter amongst the leaves, so I find it best to get rid of them. Many will disagree with doing this as they say the leaves protect the buds over winter....doesn't seem to harm them from what I've seen over the last few years as the leaf stem must still protect them to a certain degree.
Another tree that likes to hold onto its leaves is the good old Hornbeam.(Carpinus betulus)  This one was given its first wiring last year. The wire is still on as it hasn't seemed to have cut in at all.  I think it got such a shock that I was actually doing something to it, that it decided to sulk for a while.  Will have to repot it this spring as its been in that cut down pot for a year or two or three.
These larches are also not very coordinated in their approach to colour changing and loosing their leaves...some quite green still and others looking bare!  Just goes to show how each tree is totally unique and how it adjusts to its environment whether its in a large pot/small pot, in the sun/sheltered, well watered/not. These are going into a group planting hopefully, soon as I get a decent size slab made for them. 
 
You've gotta love these wee trees each with their own characteristics.... a bit like us, all totally different.
 
ROLL ON SPRING!

 


 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

GORE BONSAI CLUB OUTING TO DUNEDIN

 
While this blog is mainly about making bonsai pots, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to let others know about our Bonsai Club in Gore.

Its only small, with a regular attendance of 8 members (some more, some less) at our workshops.

Every now and then we organise an outing....sometimes its to a nursery or to visit a bonsai collection.  A couple of weeks ago it was time to go on a visit to Dunedin to see Joy and Colin Morton's large collection of bonsai trees.  We certainly weren't disappointed!

Yes Colin we can see you!!
Joys garden is full of bonsai in all different stages. Many she has grown and cared for over the last 30 odd years.


It was a time for old friends to catch up and the younger ones to see what could be made with a bit of time and patience.


We stopped every few metres for Joy to explain about some other bonsai and how it was grown and trained.  Unfortunately the camera and sun didn't play ball and many pictures were too dark to be of any use. 


A couple of her many trees.  I was particularly fond of the Ginko which was in its brilliant yellow autumn colouring.


We found this group of rocks particulary interesting, until Joy informed us they were made of fired clay from pottery that she had done back in her younger years.
 
Then off we went to visit Russell and Leonie Taits garden and bonsai collection.
Russell and Leonie live on a steep slope and their bonsai were in little terraced sheltered areas hidden around the garden.  It was obvious that Russel had a passion for growing bonsai as he explained his methods of growing and training his trees.

He had quite a variety of trees from maples to cedars.
Russell explained to us how he air layered the large maple in the background off a very large specimen tree in his garden.  We were told that Russell likes to experiment with his trees and find new ways of doing things as shown by some of these examples.  All great bonsai in the making.
 He showed us a beautiful maple in its full autumn colouring....a real stunner.
Just as we were about to leave, Russell called some over and gave them some of his maple seeding's that he'd collected from underneath his large garden specimen trees.  Thanks for you generosity Russell, as for some of the new beginners these would be their first introduction to maples.
My daughter was thrilled to bits when he have her these.  Enough for her to make a couple of small group plantings.
 
That's what being a bonsai enthusiast is all about......being able and willing to share your knowledge and experience freely with others.  Sometimes its not all about the plants, its about the people as well.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Couple of "WOW" Bonsai Pots from the Kiln

I'd just opened the kiln from the previous post where I'd loaded it up with a hard to fit moon/cascade pot.
 
What a beautiful surprise.
 
I'd made a pot without a drainage hole for a willow that was always drying out and wouldn't perhaps survive much longer without continual access to at least some water on the bottom of the pot.(albeit through a drainage layer)


My daughters first reaction was "it looks like a pond".  It'd be almost a shame to cover up that beautiful coloured shiny glaze on the bottom.  Perhaps a few strategically placed stones above the drainage layer and some water may well create that illusion.  It will be interesting to see what happens to it.
The pot needed to have slits along the sides to enable a little water to drain out when it got to a certain height. While a small fissure type gap would have done, I think I overdid it with the slits I made on it.  However they don't look out of place in the whole scheme of things.
This is a one of a kind pot......the remains of two glazes were mixed together to make enough for this one. A little too much flux meant the glaze ran beautifully, but also ran down the outside onto the shelf.  It adds to the watery flowing nature of the pot. 
 
I wont hesitate to keep it if it doesn't suit the willows owner!
 
The other "WOW", or should I perhaps say "SIGH OF RELIEF" was from that crescent that had been tucked away on the bottom and surrounded by other conventionally shaped bonsai pots.
 
My worst fear was that the top would slump right down in the high glazing temperature and end up flat on the kiln shelf.   But it didn't happen........I feel the pot has a beautiful shape!

The owner to be of this crescent was very happy with it, as was I.  The challenge ahead will be to make one or two more with that same "sweep" shape. 
 
Overall, this firing was a success, and more importantly, I learned a little more......
 
Contact me on howimakebonsaipots@gmail.com, opinions and comments are most welcome.
 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

LOADING THE KILN WITH AN AWKWARD SHAPE BONSAI CRESCENT

One of the challenges of loading up a kiln for a glaze firing is making sure you can fit as much as possible into it with the little space available.

This load has a larger crescent shape in it.  It takes up just over half the height of the kiln and has an overhang that doesn't really allow a kiln shelf to be placed lower down.  Well.....not normally.
Here's the sequence I loaded it in. 


 


A few more pots were nestled underneath the bottom curve with maybe 2 or 3cm clearance.

Here you see the awkwardness of the shape.  There was just enough space along the sides of this crescent to ease in a half shelf.  I wasn't quite happy about the clearance from the shelf edge to the side of it, but if it slumps a little in the high temperature, then at least the shelf is going to stop it a little.  The back of it is reasonably close to the side kiln elements as usually I try and keep pots about 1cm away.
Usually when you place the kiln shelves, you make sure to have an even gap around the edge to let the air/heat circulate evenly, but this was as even as I could manage to get this one.
I squeezed in 4 pots on the layer above the crescent, and another half shelf with two on it.

There is quite a bit of wasted space in this load as I would usually put another half shelf in but the top of that crescent made it too awkward.

Its all closed up now and is quite happily firing away into the night.........now comes the long wait until I can open it up and see how some of these glazes turned out........fingers crossed!

Hopefully one or two of these will end up on my POTS FOR SALE page in the next week or two.

Contact me on howimakebonsaipots@gmail.com, any opinions or comments are most welcome.






Sunday, February 15, 2015

LOOKS LIKE THE KILN IS OVER FIRING

Recently I purchased some large cones used to check the temperature the kiln is firing at.  Because I have a kiln that uses a kiln sitter and doesn't have a temperature controller or a thermocouple, I am relying heavily on the little mini cone that bends when it reaches a certain temperature to turn off the kiln.

I've had my suspicions that my old sitter kiln may be firing higher than what I wanted it too. Some of my glazes had been starting to run a little too much, it never used to be too much of an issue.

I had the opportunity to purchase a used portable thermometer that could be used to measure temperatures up to 1300degrees Celcius.  While it needed the end replaced, it was still useable and appeared to have a reasonably accurate temperature.

Firstly the end is placed in the kiln peephole while the kiln was firing and after a fairly short wait it comes up with the temperature at the end of the wire.
(just a demo to show how it works, kiln already emptied)
The kiln had been loaded and had been on for 8 hours already.  When I put the probe in it came right up to 1094degrees Celcius.  Because this was a bisque firing I only wanted it to go to cone 04 (approx. 1000degrees Celcius)  Already it was 100 degrees over according to this thermometer.   The kiln turned off shortly after.
This is a pic of the little 04 cone that bends when it reaches the correct temperature.  When it bends the middle bar falls down when triggers the cut  off switch. The number of the cone correlates to the temperature it bends at.
I thought with end probe being a little burnt off that perhaps it wasn't that accurate anyway.
However when I unloaded the kiln I found that the two large o4 cones that had been sitting on the top and bottom shelf had well and truly fallen and were resting on the kiln shelf.  This had confirmed the over firing.
 A closer look at the fallen 04 cone that was on the top shelf

Normally the cone wouldn't bend right over to touch the shelf.  Unfortunately I don't have any 03 cones to see just how far the temperature really did get.

The pots from this load all looked a little duller in colour than the normal pinky bisque shade.  Just slightly though.
It will be interesting to see how well they absorb the glaze. I'm also wondering just how long this has been happening as usually I don't put cones on the shelves to check.
The large crescent that I talked about in the last blog was bisque fired with this load as well.
The top overhang did drop quite a bit, I had a feeling it might.  It will be interesting to see how much more it drops in the final glaze firing where the temperature is another 260-80 degrees above the bisque.

The lesson I've learned is to regularly check the firing temperatures with cones on the shelves.  Not too important with the glaze firing as most of my clays/glazes will withstand a little higher temperature without any negative affects, but the bisque firing temperature can affect how much glaze can be absorbed as the clay has already started to vitrify and is not so porous.

Things would be much easier if I had a new kiln with a temperature controller and a thermocouple, then I'd know exactly at a glance what was going on.  It looks like I'll have to sell a heap of bonsai pots to afford one of those!

Contact me on howimakebonsaipots@gmail.com,  any opinions or comments are most welcome.