Bonsai for Beginners – Part 9 – Larch

Previous post.

I hope to have the spoons to write at least a few posts about bonsai trees again and today I will write a bit about one genus that I consider very suitable for beginners – larches. Among coniferous trees, larches have several huge advantages.

  1. They are deciduous and create brachyblasts with terminal buds that can almost always grow into twigs/branches for several years, thus they are one of the very few conifers that can be scaled back significantly and kept at a small size for decades with minimal effort.
  2. The roots tend to grow very fast in length but they also respond very well to cutting back, branching out from the cut, and above it.
  3. The seeds germinate reasonably reliably and can be collected from grown trees. Seedlings sprout everywhere around a grown tree, being a de-facto weed in nearby gardens.
  4. Larches are very sturdy and can survive adverse conditions like frost or short drought reasonably well. They can also survive slightly rougher handling than other trees and have a reasonably large time window when they can be re-potted safely.
  5. They create very dramatic and dynamic shapes even without the use of a wire. Two of my three larch trees were never wired.
  6. They need porous and airy substrate but if put into a well-drained pot they will tolerate almost anything except maybe wet heavy clay.

You have already seen one of my larch trees in the past. And today I have made pictures of the rest and I will write something about how to care for them.

First, the tree that was in the previous post, how it looks this year before re-poting.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

As you can see, it has grown slightly bigger, but not that much considering it’s been six years. And it is flowering again, showing that it is indeed a mature tree and not just a few years old seedling. But it had to be put in a slightly bigger pot because there is a limit to how much back the crown can be cut – new twigs can only sprout from brachyblasts, they cannot be cut back beyond them, and the roots must be of adequate size for the crown to prosper. So with a larch tree, either start with an oversized pot or expect to increase pot size every few years ever so slightly. The base of the trunk has visible roots and is covered with moss and lichen – as it should be.

The next tree demonstrates the sturdiness of larches.

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Initially, it was very similar to the first tree (and they both are from seeds planted in the same year). But two years ago, most of this tree’s crown has not survived dry summer followed by a tough winter. But it bounced back remarkably from a lower branch and as you can see, it has acquired quite a character in just two years. To help the tree to recover its strengths, I have put it into a slightly larger and deeper pot and I will continue to do so for another year/two depending on how it fares. But it looks quite well and the dead wood is now part of the composition. And the tree has now a genuine story behind it – it was not my deliberate destruction that created it but nature itself. Such dead wood is oftentimes part of a composition of a bonsai tree and it needs to be preserved. I am soaking it once/twice a year with an antifungal polysulfidic sulfur solution. It will slowly preserve and also somewhat bleach the wood. If I decide I do not like the dead branch, it can be cut and it will heal in a year or two.

And the best for last.

First, a picture from 2003, shortly (several years) after I acquired the tree.

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Originally, the tree grew near railroad tracks, on a rocky slope, in an orientation that was turned about 90° CCW to how it is in this picture. It was cut down at least four times – you can see where the trunk suddenly ends (cut 1), then there is one dead branch (cut 2), a living branch that suddenly ends (cut 3), and a thinner branch that overgrew all the rest from under until it too was cut. It was clear to me that the tree will ultimately be destroyed so I poached it from its location with a clear conscience and re-planted it in my garden. Because it grew in a rocky location, I could not get a nice rootball with it, just two long thin roots and a stump of the main root that I had to cut. That was the beginning of several years-long journey of restoring the tree’s roots. Each year I have cut back the roots a bit so they branch out, treating the cuts with crushed charcoal, and as it developed thinner roots nearer and nearer the trunk, I have slowly shortened the stump of the main root until it was completely gone. After about five years or so the tree could be planted in a pot, originally as you see it above.

The tree also had an unseemly hollow in the trunk where the original first tip was cut and that had to be filled. I treated the hollow with fungicide, then with a bit of resin I glued in a piece of cork and waited for several years too. The tree developed a callus over the cork and the trunk healed and developed nice bark. And now, after two decades, it is a pride of my collection. It is also the only tree that prompted me to give it a name – The Reclining Dragon.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

As you can see, I have in the end completely changed the direction in which the tree grows, and instead of a windswept informal standing style it has a windswept semi-cascade style. A tree like this should be grown in a different pot according to Japanese bonsai rules but I like the way it looks now. I am searching for a suitably big stone to make a pot even better suiting its dramatic looks.

It is flowering this year too, so it is now covered in beautiful teensy red (female) and yellow (male) cones.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

If you wish to start growing bonsai trees, you cannot go wrong with larch if they prosper in your climate. The one major downside they have is that they are susceptible to being infested with aphids, especially wooly aphids. But they respond well to being treated with insecticides.

Teacher’s Corner: Fuck TikTok Parents

This took a long time writing. I started this post a few times, but I was just too emotionally involved at that time. By the time of this post, the whole situation has “resolved” as so often: The child changed schools, nothing is actually solved, it just became somebody else’s problem. Let me try to start at the beginning…

Social media is a mixed batch. We all participate in some kind, it can be a tool of liberation, to create community and organise, it can be a tool of oppression, censoring and blocking, boosting fascist propaganda. All of this is true for adults and children, but with children there are some added problems. There’s safeguarding issues, grooming, cyberbullying, all that shit. But all those dangers are external threats, there are mechanisms, laws and we can offer some protection, but nobody really protects the children from the threat at home, one that is much subtler, that is hard to spot at first, and where our already outdated laws when it comes to digital issues are completely useless. Nobody protects children from over zealous social media parents.

For us, the story started with the new school year. The new kids in year 5 started and right away a mother whose son had a fight with another kid showed up, hit the other kid and threatened him. Things calmed down a little after that, until the kid started bragging about being a TikTok star. He is the star of his mother’s channel with 42k subscribers right now. Of course that meant that he was exempt from certain school rules, like doing your home work, right? And he should be the popular kid, right? You can imagine how that went down with a bunch of 5th graders, which is when trouble in class started. Also, his TikTok brand is eating things considered “disgusting” like innards, snails, insects…, so the older kids started teasing him. They didn’t think him cool and brave at all. Or funny. They thought him an arrogant jerk.

At that point, his mother started cashing in on the alleged “bullying” of her son. Teary videos were shot, there was (is) a life chat every evening from around 6pm to 10 pm, where she and the kid rehashed every single minute, telling how badly the poor boy is being treated, with people lapping it up like a telenovela. If you had a critical remark, she was quick to block the heretic. I only watched very little of it, but it was completely bizarre (and honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I’m very sceptical about online tales of “how I’m being bullied”). The audience isn’t kids. No kids find any of this cool or interesting. The audience is adults, mostly women, who adore that cute as a button (blond, sparkling blue eyes) oh so lovely boy (who used to walk past kids, randomly insulting them as “whores” or “sons of a whore”). The audience is also generous, sending gifts and money.

As you can see from this setup, there was no way forward left. The drama created an audience on social media, support, sympathy, money and gifts, therefore the drama needed to continue, so mum created drama. Mum showed up at school after class, chasing the alleged bullies, refusing each and any reasonable talk. One day during recess, the kid jumped the fence (because just walking through the door wouldn’t have been visible enough) to go to the take away on the other side of the road to get some fries. When asked by his class teacher why he did that, he shrugged his shoulders and said “instructions from mum”. The incident, the following written reprimand with the punishment, the refusal to accept the punishment (nono, it wasn’t true at all) created enough drama to get things going for a while. The other parents kept watching that life stream, fearing that their kids would be thrown to an online mob, we tried to involve CPS because WTF?, the principal and assistants basically took turns watching to see if we needed to involve lawyers and the whole school was not doing much else. Meanwhile the kid himself became more and more isolated. No kid wanted to even talk to him anymore, because no kid wanted to become tonight’s main character in the boy and mummy show.

And while social media can be a tool to speak truth to power, in the case of school and parents, it’s actually not a leveller of the playing field. Because parents can say whatever they want, but teachers have to keep their mouths shut, because we have professional ethics and guidelines. That’s why I won’t tell you even the name if my school and there is no identifying information.

Finally, during class council (it’s a lesson we have in years 5 and 6 where the kids can talk about issues in class and in school), the kids openly told him that they were fed up. They didn’t want to be called names during recess, they didn’t want him talking about them on TikTok. Of course, in his eyes, this was another bullying incident, he ran out of class and started calling mum. During recess, he followed one of the girls who had criticised him with the phone in hand, because “his mum wanted to talk to her” until the girl hid crying in the toilet until the other kids informed me and I could get her to safety. He was waiting in front of the toilet, refused to leave or to turn off the phone (later mummy bragged about having it all on tape, actually illegal in Germany)The boy himself was without any remorse. We tried to talk to him about why it was wrong not just to use the phone (we have a “no mobiles” rule), but also to completely ignore anything us teachers said and worst of all, to follow that girl and harass her. That was the last time any of us saw him. Afterwards, the mum said he was sick (while posting both scripted food videos and doing life streams with him), until the ministry found him another school. Now he is their problem.

The whole story made me incredibly sad and angry. While the boy was a pita for us, he’s the actual victim here. He’s building his whole identity on being both a TikTok star and a poor victim. What will become of his “career” when he outgrows the cute as a button age? Research shows that children do increase traffic, but only till age 13. He’s already eaten about everything he can legally get his hands on, what will he eat next? Sample dog poo? And how is he develop a healthy sense of himself away from mummy, who posts Valentine’s Day pics of him in front of roses and heart shaped balloons, with texts the boy clearly didn’t write himself and that would have been cringe if an actual partner wrote them, but are downright creepy when allegedly coming from a child. And last but not least, from what you’ve read so far, you’d have guessed that the child is an only child, mummy’s little prince. He’s the oldest of 5. Yes, and still mummy does life chats every night from 6 to 10. No, daddy isn’t always there. The younger kids are left to themselves, which is probably better for them than having mum’s attention. And nobody protects any of those kids. They’re clean, they’re fed, they don’t get hit, everything is fine. France is finally trying to do something to protect children from their own parents on the internet. I hope that other countries will follow suit, even though it’s too late for this child.

Starlings and Potatoes

It’s not a dish, it’s that time of the year. Today was the first day I saw starlings in my garden and I managed to snap a few pics too, although I could not open the window – firstly they would whoosh and secondly I would need to remove several plats from the windowsill first.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Shame that I could not make better pictures, the light was just right to show the green metallic sheen on their feathers.

And since the ground unfroze and it is unlikely to freeze again, I have taken out the moldy remnants of last year’s potato harvest and sorted out about 100 tiny sprouting potatoes.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I did not plant them in the regular vegetable patch though. I have prepared a small plot in the fall by covering it with mown and dried grass and I put these tiny potatoes on top of the soil below the rotting grass.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It is an experiment to check how (whether) they will prosper. Even if they fail, the mated grass cover has at least succeeded in suffocating all other plant life below it (grass and moss) and that portion of the garden will thus be prepared for flattening and rejuvenating the lawn. The potatoes were really tiny, as you can see, so no matter what, no big harvest is to be expected. Best case scenario – I get bigger seeding potatoes for the regular vegetable patch for next year.

The regular patch will this year be covered with beans, sunflowers, corn, and maybe beets and onions. Now that the weather is warm, I will have about a month of busywork in the garden and only after that I will be able to go back to making knives again.

Project Phoenix – Part 6 – Finished

I worked a bit in the garden, I got over 1 cubic meter of wood from the coppice already stacked away in bags. That’s about 10% of my yearly firewood usage so it is a good haul this year – there will be at least as many bags of wood chips from the smaller twigs etc, totalling somewhere around 20%. Given the current prices of firewood, that’s a significant cost saving.

But winter does not want to give up so quickly this year and after my injured hand had healed, a short spell of frosty weather hit us again. I have used that time to be a useless couch lump and also to finish the bobbin lace phoenix.

Here it is finished still on the lace pillow.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

After this, it took me about one hour to take all the pins out and approximately another hour to frame it. Completely finished picture is below the fold.

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