Why does paring back in winter help to rejuvenate in the spring?
Welcome to Winter, Issue #6] of Making Time. Each week, I share a seasonal perspective on the creative process. This month, my theme is Structure. If you’d like to follow along on this year-long experiment, you can subscribe for free.
When you live in the country, one thing you have to get used to is the lack of amenities. There’s no more running out to the store for a missing ingredient for dinner, or strolling down to the used bookshop on a quiet sunday afternoon. There are many small pleasures in city life that you learn to do without.
But we have our country amenities too, like the sight of baby goats frolicing on your way into town, or the fact that neighbors are eager and willing to help you when you get in a jam. And there’s also, I recently discovered, a nearby “demonstration orchard” where you can learn how to grow and care for fruit trees.
We inherited a few established fruit trees when we moved here, mostly pomme fruit (apples, pears, quince). My approach to growing fruit up until this point in my life has been, shall we say, rather laissez-faire. I let them do their thing, they generate a lot of so-so fruit, and that’s that.
Most of this comes down to my aversion to pruning. I do not like it. First of all, it’s always seemed highly technical. You have to be able to look at a plant and identify all these different parts that look suspiciously similar to the ignorant eye (i.e., me). There are a lot of rules. You can damage the plant. I mean, you are literally creating wounds that the plant needs to heal, and a bad cut can lead to disease.
But mostly, I just hate diminishing them, especially when they’re fruit bearing. You’re taking away branches and spurs that have the potential to create more fruit. In fact, you are intentionally trying to get the plant to produce _less_.
Yet, pruning is what allows the tree to thrive and create delicious, undamaged, large and robust fruit rather than huge crops of mediocre fruit, half of which you can’t reach. It enables quality over quantity. It also keeps the tree manageable for the long run, so that you have many years of harvest ahead of you.
With apple and pear trees, you prune in the summer to reduce the canopy and help keep the tree smaller. But you also do some pruning in the winter, when the tree is dormant. Here’s what our teacher wrote in the handout we received:
Dormant pruning: (December-February) Pruning during the dormant season invigorates the tree and does not remove actively growing photosynthesizing leaves. Dormant season pruning allows you to see the structure of the tree.
* Best used on young trees, low vigor varieties, for rejuvenation and restoration work
She described dormant pruning as “highly rejuvenating”. The tree wakes up from its winter nap, then begins putting all of its energy into growing enough to support its existing root system.
The dormancy of winter also allows you to see what’s going on with the tree, so that you can create the structure it needs to thrive. Not only does it allow you to remove anything that’s diseased or dying, but to create enough openness for air to flow through, to prevent branches and fruit from rubbing against each other, and keep branches from getting so heavy with fruit they sag or break.
It seems counterintuitive, but winter pruning is necessary for healthy growth. And it isn’t just about removing what’s obviously wrong, but also that which has the potential to bear fruit.
The tree can’t handle the energy requirements of doing everything well, and neither can I.
I have a lot of trouble pruning away the things I love. It feels wrong. But this is how nature works. There is only so much energy, and at some point you have to decide whether to allow every possible bit of potential, or to intentionally prune away and create specific new growth.
Another clearing away
More winter pruning: Kenn cleared out a patch of land with the tractor, the future site of a new backyard studio for me. We’re retrofitting a pre-built shed to house all my sewing, video, and audio work. It’ll become a little YouTube studio someday.
This would be much harder to do in summer. People complain a lot about winter, but some things are only possible when everything is quiet and sleeping.
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
Loving the unlovable, an excellent follow up read that makes the idea of self-compassion a little more raw and real.
In defense of the un-optimized life. As a business owner, this especially resonated with me. Sometimes optimization is helpful, but too much and you crush the magic. (Also, my business is literally teaching people to do something the hard way, i.e. make their own clothing).
Video: How to build a POPSICLE STICK HOUSE!! Like, one that I want to live in. This was mesmerising to watch.