Oldie (perhaps a goodie, still) on bonsai fertilizer cakes

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Oldie (perhaps a goodie, still) on bonsai fertilizer cakes

Post  Chris Cochrane on Sun Jan 29, 2017 10:33 pm

I am surprised to find detailed information from IBC's old website available through the Way Back Machine (generic internet archive).  It will take some prowling to discern the best means of searching-- e.g., one entry point is http://web.archive.org/web/*/www.internetbonsaiclub.org/*.  Webpages tagged "internetbonsaiclub.org" reach back much farther than pages saved from "ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com" and some "gallery" threads are saved (though without photos) while others appear empty.        

Among IBC's main menu items was a "Knowledge Base" composed of "best practice" posts.  On the subject of "fertilizer cakes," there were two entries-- one from Bruce Baker & another from Hud Nordin.  

IBC Knowledge Base 12/21/2004 wrote:
How do I make fertilizer cakes?

Here are a few different methods and techniques from Bruce Baker and Hud Nordin

Bruce Baker answers:
I've made hundreds of pounds of fertilizer cakes---known more commonly in the bonsai world as "poo poo balls". In fact, I now go through a couple hundred pounds of it per year. There are recipes for these in several books, including John Naka's, but I can give you a couple of pointers that will make it easier for you.

To start with you will need the following ingredients: 4 parts cottonseed meal, 2 part blood meal, 1 part bone meal, some form of liquid fertilizer, and trace elements if your liquid doesn't have them. I start with fifty pound bags of cottonseed, but unless you also have a huge collection you can start with a five pound bag. You will also need a mellon baller, unless you like to get your hands sickeningly dirty.

Step 1--Mix all of the dry ingredients and set aside what you don't need at the moment. About 2/3 of a standard sized bucket of dry ingredients produces enough poo poo balls to fertilize about 100 medium to large bonsai. Store leftover dry fertilizer in an airtight container for later use.

Step 2--Put the equivalent of a single application into a bucket. Separately mix liquid fertilizer to add to the mixture. I've used liquified kelp and inorganics like Rapid Gro, etc. Add trace elements (you can get concentrated trace elements at good nurseries) if you don't use a liquid fertilizer that already contains them. Add the liquid to the solids and stir until you have something with about the consistency of oatmeal cookies ready to cook.

Step 3--Use the mellon baller to scoop the balls directly onto the bonsai soil surface. You need to apply a bit of pressure against the side of the bucket to get them to stick together.

that's all there is to it. I put on a new application about once a month.

Here are all the things that have been recommended by others that I don't do and why:

Don't mix more than you need! If you do this I guarantee you will have a nasty problem drying it. It will stink, mold, and attract maggots and other repulsive insects no matter how much Sevin, or other insecticide, you use. In fact, maggots seem to thrive on Sevin-treated poo poo balls if they dry slowly enough. If you apply untreated balls directly to the soil surface, they will dry very quickly without stink or mold and best of all, without insects. Ask anyone who recommends Sevin if it really works.
Don't use binders like flour and corn starch. This just doesn't serve any useful purpose.
A final point is that although I am a big believer in organic fertilizer for bonsai, I supplement this with inorganics on a regular schedule. the combination results in stronger, better colored trees.

Bruce Baker <bwb@one.com>


And Hud Nordin answers with:
Recipes vary, but here's one from John Naka's "Bonsai Techniques":

Mix 2 parts of cottonseed-meal and 1 part of blood-meal with water to a texture about as soft as an ear lobe. Not too dry or too soggy. Form into a small ball about the size of a ping-pong ball (1 heaping tablespoon). Flatten each one to 1/2 inch thick and place on the surface of each bonsai.

Some folks add some fish emulsion. You can use other seed-meals, like rape seed. Some recipes call for letting the whole mixture, maybe with a little more water at first, ferment until enough water has evaporated for it all to become a paste again. You need a big yard for this; it's pretty stinky and you'll want it far from the living quarters.

Heck, here's John Jarrett recipe, from Deborah Koreshoff's "Bonsai":

3 parts soya bean meal, 1 part blood and bone, 1 part chicken manure, 1 part wood ash, 1 part fish emulsion. Put all the ingredients into a container at least 4 times the volume and add water to reach a little over half-way up the container (don't fill the container completely while fermentation takes place, as the liquid may bubble over--also, it is a good idea to keep the lid on during this time). When fermentation has stopped (in about 3 months time) then top-up the bin with water and when the mixture settles, use one part of the liquid to five parts of water. [...] An alternative to liquid fertilizing is to make fertilzer cakes. To do so, make the same mixture as above, but use less water, or allow the water to evaporate. When it reaches a thick consistency, add enough plain flour to make it sticky. Form this mixture into small biscuits or cakes and dry in the sun. the cakes are simply placed on the surface of the soil and a little fertilizer leaches out into the pot each time the bonsai is watered. Put four, one in each corner, in a large bonsai pot, two in a medium sized one and one in a small bonsai pot.

Uhh, make sure you have some rubber gloves for when it comes time to form the cakes! Yuck.

Oh, and don't panic if you see some insect larva enjoying the fertilizer cakes, or some mold; that's just nature's way of letting you know your recipe is nutritious and delicious. I saw one recipe that added a little insecticide to make it less palatable to creepy crawlers. I don't do that because then the possum-biscuits (well, the possums think they are) might harm our marsupial friends.

Hud Nordin

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Re: Oldie (perhaps a goodie, still) on bonsai fertilizer cakes

Post  Kev Bailey on Mon Jan 30, 2017 10:20 pm

Hi Chris. I've trawled through Wayback Machine several times and wish that I had a better technical knowledge, as I would love to try to reconstruct the best of the posts with the pictures that I have from the archives.

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Re: Oldie (perhaps a goodie, still) on bonsai fertilizer cakes

Post  Richard S on Tue Jan 31, 2017 8:36 pm

Well that's a fascinating couple of articles for sure. Thanks for dredging them up from the archive!

Although I have to admit that it hasn't inspired me to mix up any "poo poo balls".

Cheers

Richard
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