Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: Dale Cochoy on July 29, 2009, 04:39 PM

Title: POO on me
Post by: Dale Cochoy on July 29, 2009, 04:39 PM
I think this might go along good with this thread here (
that I just noticed and read when I went to post this article.

Yesterday my friend Matt and his wife Jamie and I mixed up a BUNCH of poo ball mix for Matt and I to split. We mixed it in a wheelbarrow. I hadn't done this in about 5 years I guess and Matt wanted to learn how so we decided to do it when we had a few days forcast of hot and no rain. ( So much for started to rain 8 hours later and is still raining after a day!!  and thats all that they forcast NOW until Saturday .....Grrrrr)

I intended to take some shots as we mixed it for a photo essay but forgot until we were all done, so I only have shots in the greenhouse drying after I cut them today. I placed a fan in there  to help dry in this cooler, humid, rainy weather which will most probably cause them to mold ( BTW, mold won't hurt them, it just looks bad).

I was suprised at the cost of chemicals over the last time I did this!! It was almost exactly TWICE for everything needed for the same size mix I used about 5-6 years ago!

It cost retail $137 to completely do the job  this time for everything we needed.  Back in 1996  I did a photo article about this for the ABS  journal and it was roughly about 1/3 the cost as I recall. We use a lot of the more expensive chemicals in our mix, not just a lot of bone meal.

Also, for the first time this year I mixed in a bag of mycorrhiza mix containing 25 types,  of colony forming units ( 15 species) and endomycorrhizal fungi ( 2 species)  and ectomycorrhizal fungi ( 8 species) .

We should have roughly  3,000 cubes to divide between the two of us for that cost ( $67 each).

The pictures show the hospital food trays that we pat out the mix into ( it has a consistancy like cement, not too wet, not too dry) . Before we put it in the trays we line them with Saran wrap so they will release easy. They are cut into squares using a pizza cutter after about one day. If the weather is hot and not too humid they will completely dry hard in 4 days in my greenhouse. After the first day I flip them and remove the saran wrap. Then I flip them a couple times a day. As they  harden up I break them up and place them on more trays to dry better.

here are a couple shots I took an hour ago.

BTW, Larry, years ago I had trouble with Racoons getting in them as they dried if I left the greenhouse doors open to get some air movement. I solved that problem by placing a radio in there and turning it low. The talking and music kept them away.

Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: Dale Cochoy on July 29, 2009, 06:04 PM
I just updated , for about the  4th time, my original artical text from  the WINTER 1996 ABS journal article.
It might answer any other questions you might have about the slow-release fertilizer 'poo balls'.
I'll try to copy it here:

     All experienced bonsai growers agree that one of the best methods of fertilizing styled bonsai is with a slow-release type of fertilizer ball or pellet.  These will release a constant low-dose of fertilizer with each watering or rain.  This constant but slow-release of nutrients keeps your trees healthy and steadily growing instead of the shot-in-the-arm type of strong fertilizing that is often done by enthusiasts from time to time during the growing season instead of a regular fertilizing regime.  These occasional doses of strong fertilizer can cause your bonsai to grow out of control ---like a weed.
     Slow-release organic fertilizers can be very expensive.  Even the rapeseed cakes from China or Japan can be quite costly as well as the more commonly available marketed brand names.
     In 1996 I purchased the ingredients to produce my own slow-release fertilizer balls that I thought would be better than some mixtures I had seen in magazines or heard about elsewhere.
     In my first experiment the ingredients comprising approximately 65% of the bulk were bone meal and cotton seed meal.  These can be purchased easily in 3lb. or larger bags.  I used 20% gypsum as an experiment to help release possible salt build-up in the haydite used in our potting soil mixes.  Blood meal made up about 10% of the bulk of the dry mix.  For the liquid I used a couple of things.  I mixed in some "Alaska Start-Up"tm  low dose natural fertilizer made from molasses, this also contains B-1 vitamins.  I poured in a considerable amount of fish emulsion.  If you are unfamiliar with this product, it is quite possibly the most disgusting substance on the face of the earth!  
     I, by no means, measured anything.  I added bulk and liquid to use up most of the materials and keep the mixture moist enough to form balls.  For about $35 ( 1996) I mixed up roughly  71/2 gallons of the foulest smelling stuff you can imagine!
     It formed balls but they didn't stick together well.  After mulling over several possible additives that might help adhere the concoction, my wife, Nancy, came up with the solution.  I mixed in about 3 cups of flour per gallon.
     It is a good idea to wear some hospital rubber gloves for the mixing involved in fertilizer ball manufacturing.  With the binding problem solved it was time to form the mixture into balls.  I found that two people could process a gallon of the mixture into about 250 balls 2/3 the size of a golf ball, in about 1/2 hr.  We just rolled the mixture in the palm of our hands.    I found that with the mixture two people could make well over 1,000 balls in a few hours, at a cost of about $35.
     Since my original attempts I have made some changes in manufacturing and mixture.  I no longer form them into balls by hand.  A wheelbarrow full will leave you crippled without enough grip strength to hold a beer can.  After trying several different methods of extruding, I found that a simple tool made from about 18 inches of 1 inch or 11/4 inch PVC pipe with a corresponding sized wooden dowel to push through the pipe worked OK but a better, simpler method of forming cakes was adapted.
     I now mix up the disgusting muck in a wheelbarrow then I press it into old hospital food trays ( cookie sheets or pizza pans work well ) about 1/2" deep.  The trays should first by lined with Saran wrap to allow release of the cakes from the pan while still moist. Note: a good trick to get Saran wrap to stick to the tray without fluttering around is to spritz  the tray with a little water first. Another trick my wife came up with!
     After one day of drying in the hot sun I can cut it into 1 or 11/2' squares using a pizza cutter.  The sheet of cakes takes longer to dry than the balls, but can be made in a fraction of the time.  I simply flip them over into another tray once a day until dry.  They easily break apart when dry.  Note:  Try to manufacture your "poo balls" when you are expecting about 4 days of warm, dry and low humidity weather. They take about  four days to dry. If it is very humid or they get rained on it could cause them to mold before they dry. This will not hurt the chemical make-up at all, but some people won't like the looks of them!  You want to get them dried BEFORE they start to mold.
      As I stated, I mix up a wheelbarrow at a time.  The best method for doing this is to first mix all the dry materials together, including the flour.  Mix any amount you want.  Combine all your liquid ingredients in a sprinkling can with some water and slowly pour in while mixing with a shovel.  It is very much like mixing cement.  I slowly add liquid to get just the right consistency.  I use about 10lbs of flour per wheel barrow. This hardens the cubes to where they resist having a finger nail poked into them. I find this to be the perfect "Hardness".
     In about 2000 I made some changes in the mixture.  I now add liquid seaweed to the mix, liquid chelated iron, triple super phosphate, and muriate of potash to assist in strengthening roots and aid in absorption of nitrogen and phosphorus, and to increase resistance to heat and cold.  I only use about 2 cups of muriate of potash  and triple super phosphate to a wheelbarrow. The muriate of potash, triple super phosphate and flour probably round out the 100% total for the "dry" mix.
     I worried about the attraction of flies and maggots so I thought of spraying the finished cakes with an insecticide or mixing in some “Sevin” but I found that my dogs find the cakes an exquisite snack and they disappear often from pots that are low to the ground.  Luckily I have had no problem with flies/maggots and they wouldn’t bother the trees if I did..
     The ingredients I  now use are as follows:
            Bone meal  0-10-0
   Cotton seed meal  6-1-1
   Blood meal  12-0-0
   Fish emulsion  5-1-1
   Liquid seaweed  0.1-0.0-1.0
            ( Note: You can also use Kelp Meal instead of liquid seaweed if you can find it. . The cost isn't much different in the long-run but the kelp meal adds more "bulk" for making cakes which the  liquid doesn't.  10 lbs. of kelp meal adds 10 lbs. of cakes!  These are the two most expensive ingredients so I opt for the "bulk increase" of the kelp meal.)  
   Alaska Natural start-up  2-1-2 w/B-1
   Muriate of potash  0-0-60
            Triple super phosphate 0-46-0
   Liquid chelated iron
            Agricultural lime        

     If you wish to mix up a wheelbarrow full I'd start with about  60-70lbs.+ of dry mix, then add the liquid slowly. This would be an average-sized  wheelbarrow load, which could almost be doubled  if you had a nice big and deep wheelbarrow . The wheelbarrow is nice for mixing because you can move it around to where you want to do your work
     The mixture of dry materials and liquid has to be slowly experimented with as you work to get the consistency right…like cement….not too wet and not too dry.

Update 7/2009 :
     Chemical prices have certainly gone up, but, I find I can  make about 3,000 cakes for about $135 worth of ingredients, supplies  and an afternoon of time.  I believe this mixture is far superior to anything imported into this country, and cheaper in bulk.  They will not burn trees or retard mycorrhiza growth so you can place as many as you want on the surface of your pots.  I put two on a 6" pot, four on an 8-10", and more on larger pots.  Replace as they start to disintegrate.
     Also, as of 7/09 I have started adding a small bag of various ecto and endo micorrhizal  fungi  and colony forming units of 25 species.
     In 2009 I  could no longer find the Alaska Natural brand start-up w/ B-1.


Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: bonsaikc on July 29, 2009, 06:50 PM
Thanks for posting this. I use a similar mix but have been having problems this year and last from a black slime that tends to cover the soil and creep up the trunk of the trees. Have you seen this?

Also, I certainly hope you have your pizza cutter clearly labelled!! :o

You mentioned this in your text but I would like to reiterate it for emphasis. As a former cement mason, this is an important aspect of mixing dry ingredients to be wetted (like cement or poo balls).
A. Always add wet to dry. It takes far less liquid to give you the consistency you want than you realize.
B. Add liquid a bit at a time. At first your mix will just get lumpy and you will think you need much more, but at some point just the tiniest bit more liquid will give you what you want. Add more and it's too soupy.

Thanks again for a good article!

Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: Dale Cochoy on July 29, 2009, 08:55 PM
I can't say I have seen that. Possibly, do your poo balls break down too quickly leaving a crust on the soil surface to be scrapped off? The key to binding and making them deteriorate slower is the flour. I assume that was reason behind Johns wallpaper paste too? I don't know if you add the flour to yours but that is the binder. As I said in my article 10+ pounds of flour in the wheelbarrow really sets them up nice. I TRY to get them so that when hard it is hard to push a thumbnail in them.
I noted you use Persianno's mix.The one from the '97 Bonsai Today?. I think he had problems with 'over-pooing' and had to keep scraping the soil surface. I'm not so sure he any longer 'superfeeds' thusly?

Yes, I have my own pizza cutter!

Yea, the mixing can get away from some. Like you said, mix wet to the dry. If you find you are too sloppy when all mixed you might it easier to go get more bone meal or something to contain the water rather than making them sloppy and possibly taking forever for them to dry , and consiquently, mold.
The way I do it is I just mix up a watering can of the liquid at a time, pour it in, mix, then mix up more liquid, etc, etc.

Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: rockm on July 30, 2009, 09:00 AM

Not only does your money not  buy you as much as it did back in the day, but some of the ingredients aren't as potent: (

I can't use these pooballs because the local squirrel population takes them up into the trees about five minutes after I put them on. I've tried a few times, but the fuzzy tailed tree rats have made off with them every time.
Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: Dale Cochoy on July 30, 2009, 12:31 PM
I understand about the squirrels ( tree rats).  Mine are, as we speak, beginning to drop hickory nuts on my trees as they eat them, plus all the little pieces of fruit over the nut that they chew off.

I don't use sevin because my large Old English Sheep Dogs years ago used to cruise the garden chomping them down!  UUmmmmm! :P
Now we have three Jack Russell Terriers who are "altitudinally challenged" so they can't get up to squirrels don't touch ground in our yard much!! ;D

Along the lines of what you mention. I used to get a half gallon of Alaska brand FISH EMULSION. Goopy, thick stuff that was great for this mix and a half gallon lasted forever. This time I bought a quart of another brand ( couldn't find Alaska). I mentioned to my friend while mixing that it was more watery and not as goopy, OR didn't really seem to smell as strong. Then, I noticed the bottle said FISH FERTILIZER.   AHA! :o I assume FERTILIZER was a bit watered down EMULSION?  But, after using the whole quart in the mix, and smelling it in the greenhouse and garden now for two days while they slowly dry in our  30% chance of rain week ( rained steady for 30 hours, and more forcast now through the weekend ! GRRRRR)  I'm convinced the smell is not reduced!

BTW, I'm banning THE WEATHER CHANNEL from my TV clicker! They simply CANNOT forcast the weather! And , whats up with this 30% chance of rain thing they are doing a lot now. Thats not even a 50/50 GUESS like 50% chance. Crap, theres a 30% chance of ANYTHING!!!!

Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: rockm on July 31, 2009, 09:00 AM

In the last few weeks, I've welcomed a six foot black snake into the backyard. He's taken up residence in the hollows of a cinder block post built to support my trees  ;D I'm hoping he will help deal with the tree rats--he may not be big enough though. At least he's big enough to thin the growing chipmunk population...chipmunks are even worse than squirrels, as thew chew branches and trunks AND dig through the soil.

My 15 year old bull terrier isn't the rodent terror he used to be. He still hates the little bushy tailed ba#@!$^s but he's not fast enough to get them and he can't see very well, which means he runs--very slowly-head on into the fence. ;D ::)

I've used the Alaska fish emulsion as a straight fertilizer. It seems to perk up some of the trees, particularly my oak.
Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: Dale Cochoy on July 31, 2009, 11:43 AM

In the last few weeks, I've welcomed a six foot black snake into the backyard. He's taken up residence in the hollows of a cinder block post built to support my trees  ;D I'm hoping he will help deal with the tree rats--he may not be big enough though. At least he's big enough to thin the growing chipmunk population...chipmunks are even worse than squirrels, as thew chew branches and trunks AND dig through the soil.

Oh boy! I know how that is. My one JRT is a KILLER and he will sit and stare at a cement block post all day if he hears something in it. He gets frustrated and will DESTROY any nearby shrubs, etc if he can't get to it.
He has torn the rough cedar trim off front of garage  a couple times because a chipmunk was up in side. Also, he tore a huge hole in the walboard inside the garage and left pieces of wallboard and insulation all over the garage.....same reason!  He tears stones off the pond looking for moles, etc. They have the PETSAFE collars ( A GREAT invention for me and them, we easily installed it and it works great and gives them SO MUCH freedom) they roam the yard at will, but, if I don't see him for a couple hours I need to find him to see what he is tearing up! The other two aren't nearly as 'destructive'. They will actually sit and watch him tear into things! He would LOVE a big snake hidden in a cement block ;D

I've used the Alaska fish emulsion as a straight fertilizer. It seems to perk up some of the trees, particularly my oak.

Is it still available there? I wondered if still in business since NO SIGNS of their products here anymore? I wondered if someone had blackballed them here.


Title: Re: POO on me
Post by: rockm on August 03, 2009, 09:28 AM
Haven't seen Alaska brand in the last couple of years. I've been using the "Neptune's Garden" or something--stinky fish is stinky fish... ;D

My bullie used to be like your JRT in pursuing varmints, except he weighs 60 lbs and isn't as smart ;D Makes (or made) up for it with brute strength and a very large hard head...