Creating a Bonsai

My most recent obession – Bonsai! Here’s what I threw together over the weekend.

The first task is to find a proper container. I found this large shallow concrete pot at a local shop in Berkeley for about $17 (super cheap for something of this size!). Next I threw in some volcanic rock to ensure good drainage.

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Cover those rocks with a sandy soil mixture. I just used the same mix that I use for all my succulents, but with some rock dust and epsom salt added. Nutrition is key for a healthy bonsai.

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Picked up some potting soil from the same shop for $3. Its a porous loamy mixture that I know these plants are gonna love.

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Add some rocks for extra drainage.

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Add some different colored rocks because it looks cool.

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I don’t want my bonsai tree to get lonely, so let’s add in some friends. I picked these up from a local nursery.

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Now we’ve got to find a bonsai tree. Lucky for me, I have a dwarf pomegranate that I rescue’d from Lowe’s off the discount rack. It’s also got a few years on it already since I just threw it in the ground 2 years ago and forgot about it.

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Doing my best to take a large chunk of the roots with it. Also important to ensure a successful transplant is to take some of the native soil with it, which contains beneficial microbes.

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Give the roots a little rinse to keep them moist and help untangle them.

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I decided to do a ‘root over rock’ design. This rock was salvaged from an old saltwater aquarium I had. Fun fact about pomegranate trees: they’ve got a higher salinity tolerance compared to other trees. I still gave the rock a good blast with the garden hose to knock off excess salts though.

I packed in some soil around the roots to sort of act like a glue until the tree can fully recover from the transplant. I’ll be slowly rinsing away this soil over time to give the bonsai more of an ‘exposed root’ look that will help make it look even older.

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Time to add in the other plants. Look how root bound they are! Let’s fix that.

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Gently untangled the bottom of the roots. If you don’t do this, the roots may continue to encircle the plant and eventually suffocate it.

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The ‘rough draft’.

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Cover with some cool looking pebbles to hold in the soil, give it a good rinse and there we have it! A little bonsai landscape. All that’s left to do now is trim/train the pomegranate tree over the next few years. If you decide to go with an exposed root style for your bonsai, just remember to keep the roots moist until they become more established. Enjoy and good luck with your own bonsai project!

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Experimenting with Semi-arid Marijuana Cultivation

Back at the beginning of April I became inspired by an account on my Instagram page (go check it out to see whats blooming in 9bGardens!). Eel River Organics is a local company that cultivates dry farmed cannabis in Humboldt County, which to me is very interesting since I was always under the impression that cannabis farming requires copious amounts of water. They claim that dry farming places a unique stress on the plants that results in better flavor and potency, so I’m here to put this theory to the test!

I’m going to approach this a little differently than Eel River Organics by going with a semi-arid style of cultivation (Basically, I’m only going to water very lightly about once a week).

Varieties – Afghani (top right, grown from seed that was given to me by a friend), Blue Cheese (middle, clone), Honey Bear (bottom right, clone) and White Yeti (bottom left, clone). You’ll also notice a Poppy Flower in the top left that I’m growing just for fun.

Soil mixture – Keep it simple and organic. Steer manure, chicken manure, sand, woodchips (the secret ingredient to success), and top soil.

Active fertilizing – You’ll see a plastic black lid in the bottom right. That’s my “worm hotel” filled with red wiggler worms from my compost bin. The container is simply an old protein bucket with holes drilled in it. I’ll be filling this up periodically with kitchen scraps, coffee grinds and weeds that I’ve pulled up. Hopefully the worms will propagate through the soil and provide aeration/nutrients directly to the plant roots.

Plant placement – In the picture below, you’ll notice that I have the plants placed in a sort of circular setup with the plants connected by trenches. In the center is a sort of donut shaped soil mound that I had thrown some compost/worms into as well. This will also serve as a watering point. The purpose of this is to attract the roots of all the plants to meet in the center where they will hopefully develop a relationship with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi.

I’ve also placed my largest plant at the southern most corner of the garden bed. Once the plant gets bigger it will help to shade the soil and smaller clones behind it.

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A close up shot of the woodchips that are about to go into this gardening bed. You’ll notice the white stringy mycelium omnipresent throughout the woodchips. This is exactly what we want! This fungi will eventually spread to the roots of the plants where it will develop a symbiotic relationship. In this relationship, the fungi will exchange nutrients and water for sugars released from the plant roots. The cool thing about mycelium is that once it matures, it’ll be able to pull nutrients and water from several feet away and bring it directly to the plant roots!

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Below you can see I’ve filled up the trenches with the woodchips in an attempt to create a “river of mycelium”. I’m not totally sure how well I will actually accomplish this, but remember we’re just experimenting.

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Covered up more of the surrounding soil with woodchips. You want to try to not leave any bare soil exposed to the sun. The UV rays from the sun will kill off any beneficial bacteria in the top layer of the soil. The woodchips acts as a sun block, protecting beneficial microorganisms, cooling the soil and slowing evaporation.

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This photo was taken roughly 2 months after planting. They’re thriving so far! I’m surprised these babies grew so well on such little water. And check out those beautiful poppy flowers in the back!

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Prepare your garden for battle!

9b Gardens is entering it’s 4th year since inception, thus slowly starting to mature into (what I hope will be) a self-sustaining permaculture food forest. Despite my efforts over the years of establishing a host of beneficial plants such as Yarrow, Wild Carrot, Milkweed, Dill, Nastursium, Marigold and various native wildflowers; I’m having trouble attracting more beneficial insects to join my miniature garden defense army. So in this article, I’ll show you how to prepare to wage war against our gardens most dangerous invaders… the Aphids!

My choice of recruits for this mission: Coccinellidae; more commonly known as the Ladybug. Here’s some quick facts about my little soon-to-be mercenaries:

  • There are over 350 species of Ladybugs in North America alone and over 4,000 worldwide.
  • Both the adults and larvae are predators of aphids.
  • Adults consume roughly 300 aphids before it lays eggs and will consume upwards of 5,000 throughout its lifetime.
  • Larvae consume about 400 aphids during its developmental stage.
  • Adults often overwinter under fallen leaves and bark (watch your step!).
  • The larvae look like fierce tiny alligators.

I’ll be releasing ladybugs that I’ve purchased from my local Lowe’s (you can easily find live ladybugs online as well). But before I set them free to wreak havoc on the pests in my garden, I’ve gotta give my warriors a reason to call 9b Gardens their new home. 3 key things here: Food, shelter and timing.

Let’s get started with our “Ladybug Hotel”. You’ve probably already seen more elaborate bug hotels for sale or on pinterest. What I’ve created is a very quick and dirty method for housing beneficial insects.

  1. Choose a proper location and prepare the ground for the foundation if your bug hotel. I’ve chosen a spot that is central to my garden and close to plants that are known to suffer from aphid attacks. Simply lay a concrete block here.20170416_094104

2. Add more concrete blocks. Remember, I’m keeping this simple and quick! You get the idea.20170416_094740

3. Add some rocks because what bug doesn’t like a good rock! These will heat up in the sun, giving ladybugs a place to sunbathe.20170416_095226

4. Add sticks/twigs of various sizes. Throw in a few pine cones. I also added some old Wisteria pod cases to give the ladybugs all sorts of interesting nooks and crevices to hide in. 20170416_100011

5. I was running out of things to fill the concrete blocks with, so I ripped up some Mint from the ground and threw it in there. Mint seems to attract lots of beneficial insects, so I figured it couldn’t hurt.20170416_100338

6. Prepare your Ladybug warriors for battle by putting them to sleep! Store the ladybugs in your refrigerator for 6-8 hours before release. The dark and cool temperature will calm them down (but not kill them) so that they don’t fly away immediately upon release.20170416_194344

7. Spray down your new bug hotel and surrounding area with water before release. This will further encourage them to stay in the area since they’ll be very thirsty after being trapped in their container so long. Protip: throw some raisins in your bug hotel. Ladybugs love raisins. Now you’re ready to release the ladybugs!

IMPORTANT! – The release must be done AT DUSK. Fun fact: Ladybugs don’t fly at night. Releasing them at sunset will give them ample time to settle down and adjust to their new home.

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Now you’ve got your natural defenses up and ready for the battle against the dreaded Aphids! Check out the 9b Gardens Instagram page for videos of the morning after release. Spoiler alert: the Ladybugs are here to stay =)

Re-potting a San Pedro Cactus

Greetings fellow gardeners! This past weekend I decided to pick up a cactus that will hopefully produce beautiful and fragrant blooms.

The famous San Pedro cactus – Echinopsis pachanoi. I wanted to provide you guys with some quick tips on replanting this particular cactus.

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  1. Get your soil mixture ready. The San Pedro cactus thrives in a rich, nutritious soil with good drainage. This allows the roots to permeate throughout the entire container and lets water flow freely.20170402_101515Here we’re going to mix up a 50/50 mixture of composted steer manure/sand and capped off with lava rock. Choose a container with a good amount of drainage holes. I went with a dark colored container to draw in a bit more heat from the sun since cacti generally enjoy warm roots. Nothing fancy here – I like to keep things easy and cheap.
  2. Drop in some lava rock for the base layer of your pot. This will ensure you’ve got good drainage. If the roots become waterlogged on the San Pedro (or any cactus/succulent), it will most likely perish.20170402_110602
  3. As I mentioned in my previous post, wood chips are the secret sauce to my garden! I’m adding a small amount here to encourage fungal activity in the root system.20170402_110625.jpg
  4. Mix up the manure and sand really well. Gently tamp down the soil mixture around the cactus. Make sure to gently break up the rootball when transplanting. Leave about 2 inches of room for another layer of lava rock.20170402_111239
  5. Top off the container with lava rock. This helps ensure adequate air exchange can occur at the top of the roots and keeps the soil in place. Rocks also help draw in heat from the sun and retain it overnight to make the cactus feel at home. Water the container thoroughly. If it retains the water briefly and then runs out from the drainage holes, you’ve done good! Set it out in the sun and that’s it!

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This area is just outside of the kitchen door, so I figured it’d be a good place for an herb garden! Sticking true to my permaculture values, I’ve chosen to go with a hugelkultur style raised herb bed.

The area you see under the window is where some lovely lavender plants used to reside (sorry, I forgot to snap pics before I mowed down the flowers!). While they’re beautiful, smell great and attract many pollinators, they just weren’t of much use to me.

How to:

  1. Cut down lavender stocks using a hedge trimmer.
  2. Lay down cardboard as the first layer to block any invading growth coming from underneath.
  3. Build your raised garden bed (I used 1×12 common board because it was cheap).
  4. Alternate layers of nitrogen and carbon (green trimmings and dried wood). I had some Iris flowers nearby that were getting out of control, so I just cut it back and used the trimmings here. My yard also had random bits of wood laying around, so I just tossed in whatever I could find.
  5. Add woodchips if you got em’ (not pictured here). Woodchips are the secret sauce to any garden! Seriously
  6. Top it off with a soil of your choosing. Here I used a mixture of steer manure, chicken manure/bedding from my chicken coop, and organic top soil.
  7. Whenever planting a new project, I like to throw in some compost/worms from my worm bin to get a jump start on beneficial bacteria colonization. This will ensure healthy plants, help break down the branches/wood chips and shift this raised bed towards a self-sustaining mini ecosystem.
  8. Plant! Here I have Black Prince heirloom tomato, black cherry tomato, Mammoth Jalapeno pepper, spicy bell pepper, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, and hopefully several varieties of basil soon.