By Burton Flake (formerly in the service in Virginia and Bahrain; now in Mesa, Arizona)

                A little over a year ago I was looking for a bonsai tree that could grow in my apartment. I had gotten what I thought was an ďIndoor BonsaiĒ online, a blood orange tree. The tree was bigger than I anticipated and while I didnít understand what features make a bonsai look great, I knew this one didnít look like a bonsai tree at all.  I was able to find  and contacted David about the company and plants. I became so interested that I flew to Hawaii so that I could see and do workshops in person. There, I told David about my upcoming 6-month deployment to Bahrain and that Iíd be interested bringing some trees with me that I could keep in my barracks room. We also thought that it might be a good idea to try to bring True Indoor Bonsai to the troops deployed there.

               I told people about the cool tropical bonsai trees that Fuku-Bonsai had and how easy they were to take care of. I used it as an opportunity to put on bonsai workshop where people could learn how to take care of their own bonsai tree and bring some life to their barracks rooms. Over forty people in my command signed up for the workshop. I was also able to get our Morale, Welfare, and Recreation department to sponsor half of the cost to send them. While coordinating with David, I got permission from both the Bahrain and United States Customís departments and made plans to ship 48 plants across the world.

               I coordinated with my chain of command to plan the workshop on a day we had off.  I first taught a group of the most interested people to assist me during the workshop beforehand. When people arrived they were impressed with the trees, and admired the thickness of the trunks and branches on all the small sumos. I focused on teaching people how to plant, train, and take care of sumo style bonsai trees. I explained that these trees were young and had lots of potential to be great trees as they age and where to cut to encourage growth in the places you wanted. The workshop was a lot of fun and everybody got to take a bonsai tree to have in their rooms.

              I wasnít able to start a second workshop by the time I was returning to the states from my deployment despite the growing interest. However, many people passed their trees on to a person who was coming out to replace them. One of the trees donated by Fuku-Bonsai is in the HM-15 Operations room and many other trees were scattered throughout various shops and working spaces. I also did a personalized workshop with Ahmed Saeed Ahmed, a Bahraini official that worked at the Municipality of Agriculture and helped approve the trees to come into the country. Fuku-Bonsai gave a tree as a gift to him and I taught him how to take care of it and the other trees he ordered for himself and his colleagues.

              Iím now out of the Navy and re-starting in the Fast-Track study group with premium prepared bonsai stock. Iím beginning with a standard sumo planted on an accent rock working my way to sculpting a rock for a root-over-rock project. Iíve met Paul Bakerman, (who lives nearby in Phoenix, Arizona,  saw his awesome collection, and we hope to work together on workshops here.  Next month, I plan to go to Hawaii and possibly work on a project together while visiting the nursery, I hope to see Paul there as well while he is competing in the Kona Ironman Triathlon.

            (EDITOR NOTE:   Burton's Bahrain reports began in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai with articles consolidated in  which serves as a the Bahrain Portal Page with links to the various articles.  It includes a chronology that began with his visit to Fuku-Bonsai,  the details of getting agricultural and international air freight, and his actual workshop in Bahrain.)




          I gathered the main components for the workshop so I wouldnít have to stop what I was doing to go find something. I also had scissors, aluminum foil, a spoon, and a thick piece of wire to tease out the roots.





        I first began looking for the angles of the rock that had the most visually appealing features. Then I compared the rock to the tree and imagined where the sumo would be growing around the rock. I noticed the strong root growing down the right side of the trunk and thought that I might be able to place the rock between the trunk and the root.





         The mound is made by using course media and piling it into the pot like a hill. Using a spoon I made the mound as tall as I could and firmed it by moving the spoon back and forth to pack the media. Before I poured in half of the body media a thin piece of plastic was placed on top of the mound to ensure that water is able to drain from the pot and not get clogged by fine dirt.




          Giving my tree one last look I made sure I knew where I wanted to put the tree and began to bare root the sumo. Using a thick piece of wire to break up the roots and loosen up the soil, I began to expose the root system so that it could be reshaped and wrapped around the rock. And then this is about where I freaked out.



       The location I wanted to place the tree was wrong but I didnít realize that at the time. I kept trying to place my tree where I planned to, I cut away roots that were growing down but the problem was I picked the wrong side. I finagled the rock between the trunk and its main root trying to place it where I had originally imagined.            



         Once I placed the rock where I thought it should go the next step was to get the roots secured to the rock after sphagnum moss is added between. I wrapped the remaining roots around the rock with a piece of crochet thread. I looked at my work and then had a rude awakening saying out loud ďWhat was I thinking?!Ē



             I realized that by placing my tree where I did, I was blocking the character of the base and not adding more by placing it under the opposite side where most of the roots were growing out. The instructions were clear, but I wasnít listening. The rock is supposed to go between the main bulk of roots on the opposite side of the main trunk creating an awesome appearance of a tree growing over a small boulder. Another mistake I made was that I didnít place my tree off-center. I placed it right in the middle of the pot, a boring place indeed.




        A 3x12 piece of aluminum was prepared by folding it in half and then folding it accordion style. The purpose of the accordion fold is to make pathways to help roots grow down and get established.





         A bit of media is added into the aluminum collar filling it about ľ full. Then the structure is firmly squeezed so the foil hugs the tree. The top lip of the aluminum is pulled away from the tree like a funnel to allow easy watering.






          I used a pencil to make holes around the aluminum collar. These holes are important because the roots need air exchange to stay strong and not rot because of too much moisture.






        Heís in his new home and hope he likes it. Itís important that the tree is soaked for 30 minutes for two reasons. One, it waters the tree and soaks the media and two, it pushes out all of the old air. When the water drains after pulling it out, new air is sucked back in.



                  I trimmed up the tree just a little bit to reduce the load on the roots by reducing water loss. I didnít cut much, only two branches that had more than 3 leaf points growing from them. Some of the older leaves I cut in half to further reduce water loss.           - - -  Burton Flake  (Civilian!) 


                  Burton, on behalf of the Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai community,  we thank you for your service to our country and welcome you back to civilian life. I hope you're proud of helping to make your deployment just a little more interesting and we were happy to help you achieve your goals. Your "Beginner Study Group" history is the most unusual.  It began with multiple workshops at Fuku-Bonsai aimed to create smaller trees that he thought he could take with him, but that went awry.  So he really "graduated"  by teaching members of his unit and a Bahrani agricultural official! 

                   So the first "Fast-Track" assignment was a bit of a review,  with a standard pot and materials but with a Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock that is just a bit older, but a much higher standard plant with much higher potential.  It's obvious Burton understands and remembers the principles.  From what I can see, the only comment would be to make the air holes in the foil larger.  If too small (especially if you used too much sphagnum moss,  the roots will rot inside the foil.  One symptom of root rot is that roots will be jumping out and emerging from the upper trunk and dropping OUTSIDE THE FOIL. 

                   We seem to have a number of customers in Arizona that are beginner True Indoor Bonsai or old-timers more experienced with more traditional plants who are often teaching True Indoor Bonsai without a whole lot of experience.  There seems to be disbelief and unwillingness to follow our watering recommendations claiming the plants need more water.  But there are symptoms indicating plants are having problems due to over-watering.  Those who follow our recommendations and are incorporating humidity trays seem to be doing okay and there's rumors of happy plants with moss indoors! 

                 Paul Bakerman and Burton have made contact and they may both be here next month. I'm planning a very challenging workshop and looking forward to an update on Paul's rock projects.  I think you'll be hearing a lot more from these two!  Welcome back Burton!   ~~~David

*** Return to the October issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
             © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014