2012 was another one of those watershed years that laid the groundwork for the direction of 2013 and indeed, the future of the nursery. I will be 67 this year, and as much as I would like to, I cannot keep doing this forever. Things have to change to allow me to keep running the business without expending as much physical labor as I used to. I was musing the other day, that twenty years ago in the old nursery I was working seventy hours a week on average, ten hours a day seven days a week. I can't work a fraction of that schedule, nor do I want to. This means getting some labor help and learning how to work smarter.
Last year, I committed to hiring enough part time help to make sure that the heavy work got done, no matter the cost. This has made a big difference in the look and health of the nursery. The infrasturture is now almost complete and the grounds and growing areas are nearly immaculate and weed free. My friend Peter has been a great help in this regard, He needed the work and I needed the help. The bonus was that he is a creative and talented professional, and an artist to boot. Thus I could give him tasks to do that I wouldn't dare let anyone else do with the exception of Dr. Bob, my former apprentice who still comes and works occasionally.
The other key was working smarter. Let's face it, I just can't get down and work squatting for very long any more. That means the plants have to come up to me. I designed a wire bottom table capable of holding one gallon plants making pruning and weeding a breeze. What an incredible difference this has made. I made a template for Peter and he constructed enough tables to take all of our one gallon plants off the ground. The debris falls through the wire mesh, creates water and air drainage and the plants stay naturally clean and healthy. An additional benefit is that debris and slime molds cannot build up on the ground cloth anymore. Cleaning the cloth every year used to be a monstrous job and took weeks. Now everything just stays clean. Since pruning is so easy when working standing up, I have been able to keep many more plants in salable condition and the tree branching is better than ever, becoming more ramified with each pruning. The first big benefit of this is a great crop of one gallon crab apples for this year. Before, it was almost impossible for me to keep them in a salable state. Fertilizing is also easier, and the system also prevents most blow over. All this means more efficiency and more time for useful productive work. The next and just about last project is to create benches for the two gallon stock. I have a prototype bench started but we haven't finished one yet to see how it will work. It will allow me again to stand and work on the trees, give them plenty of air and light around each plant and blow over will be impossible. We should have these benches finished by spring.
The big greenhouse has worked beautifully in its first year. The mume that were overwintered there last year were absolutely gorgeous with no losses and fantastic growth. This success inspired me to buy several more cutting grown cultivars for this season. The fast growth means that these will be ready in May instead of our usual June release. The greenhouse should also make an excellent overwintering area for the pine grafts that Peter and I just completed. These probably won't be released until 2014, but if all goes well we will have a nice supply of the cork bark Japanese black pines that are perennially in short supply. We are also keeping several thousand new cuttings in the greenhouse including several hundred 'Evergreen's Roughbark' tridents. We will have enough plants for everyone this May. I am keeping the greenhouse just above freezing at night and open the big eight foot wide doors every day to keep the plants cool and dormant. The double wall design is very tight and efficient with a Mr Heater keeping the inside temperature ten degrees above the outdoor temperature even on the low setting, thirteen degrees on the medium setting.
I am continuing to get more and more specimen plants ready for sale. I hope to be adding hundreds of conifer and deciduous trees by this spring. The last hurdle is photographing, describing them, and getting them up on the internet. I still can't devote as much time to this as I would like, but this is becoming a higher priority now that I have help. If you have watching the specimen catalog, you can see that these have been a great success by all the SOLD! signs. I have a new crop of monster cork bark elms ready for sale and these will probably be the next addition to the catalog. I guarantee that some of these will blow you away. We will also be digging a few trees from the field this year. These will be mostly hawthorns and crabs. They will go directly into Anderson flats and hopefully will be ready by next fall.
Except for the mume, I continue to pare down the listings in the catalog. We just can't grow that volume of material anymore and still have time and space to develop our larger offerings. This has really taken the pressure off me, and let's face it, much of this stuff didn't sell well anyhow. It's nice to be able to offer EVERYTHING, but it's just not practical or efficient. So, if one of your favorite items disappears from the inventory, I apologize, but I think you would agree that the result of slimming down is definite worth it. The waiting list may disappear in a year or two, or at least be cut way back, perhaps for only pine grafts. Keeping track of the names and addresses and sending out the notifications is a considerable amount of work, even using a database.
I apologize for not posting to the blog or the forums, but my interests are just focused elsewhere these days. I hope that changes and I can get back to sharing more with the community at some point. I finally purchased a good video camera and studio lights (mostly for specimen plant shots), and my plan is to record some of my pruning and designing sessions, giving you a running dialog of the procedure and showing you the result. This is what we do in our study group, and I think this is the most valuable exposure you can get in learning bonsai once you horticulturally confident. Since part of my long term plan is to develop larger bonsai material, this should be a natural adjunct. I'm not saying I will have it started in 2013, but hopefully soon.
My health continues to improve, and my brush with death seems like ages ago now, although I still have the obvious limitations to deal with. I continue to get stronger mostly due to my new found faith in exercise and body building. I had a wakeup call about a year ago when my back went out for the nth time, only this time I wasn't recovering. I ended up seeing a doctor and she gave me a prescription for physical therapy. In three days I was up and around again. Brad is really a wizard. He gave me a set of exercises for strengthening my back and also for my upper body. I do them faithfully every day, and I haven't had a serious mishap since. I am again doing things that I haven't been able to do for years. I rarely even get stiff or sore after a tough job. What a wonderful feeling it is to know that, if I am careful, I can just go out and do what needs to done without fear of injury. I am a convert: As you get older, it is truly 'use it or lose it'. That only left a cardio vascular regime to keep my wind and stamina up, and to strengthen my tricky heart. I was diagnosed with a PVC (pre ventricular contraction) arrhythmia this year, probably another gift from chemotherapy. It causes my heart to skip beats and reset, sometimes every other beat, but is otherwise harmless, mostly untreatable, and incurable. My cardiologist says to train like an athelete so my effective 50% pulse rate will be close to normal in pumping capacity. So again, a wakeup call. My on again, off again bicycle regime has become permanently on again, everyday for almost a year now. I don't have to go far, only about five miles a day, but I have to climb what my neighbor affectionately calls "cardiac hill" every day. Now if I could just stop getting fatter! But most of it is muscle, right?
We have a new member of the family, Ricky, or Ricky Ticky when we want him to come. He is a rescue mutt with multiple royal origins, Pomeranian, Tibetan Spaniel, and who knows what else. He is the first ankle biter we have ever had at about 18 pounds. He's a year old now and a real pleasure when he isn't barking as small dogs are prone to do. He is long haired and brindle all over, big upright ears, long body and short legs with a swell set of pantaloon feathers, and he can run like a broken field wide end, which is good because he and Oscar, our 100 pound Catalhoula play 'catch the Ricky' all the time. Talk about Mutt and Jeff! Old Liz is still around and is a pretty spry 14. She mostly tries to stay out of the way to keep her old hips upright and out of trouble.
Susie is double sixes this March and will begin collecting that rocking chair money. Other than the usual aches and pains she is good, and still working like a horse. She is continuing with her Social Security disability advocate work, but will retire to the ranch full time when it becomes too much for her. Me? I'm probably good until seventy now (only 3 1/2 years away!), but may want to cut back some more by then. Running the nursery and taking care of ten acres will eventually take its toll no matter how much I try to stay healthy.
I think that's about it. The new catalog is up, you can begin dreaming of spring and even order now for spring delivery (not a bad idea for plants in short supply). Happy New Year and may you enjoy peace and prosperity for the coming year.