“Pass me the chainsaw,” is not a sentence I’d ever thought I’d say.
Maybe ‘pass me the child-proof scissors’
‘Can someone just cut this damn thing for me?!’
…but not ‘pass me the chainsaw’.
Yet here we are. Staring up at an old-as-dirt (technical term) pear tree trying to figure out how to bring it back to life.
Moving onto a property with ancient fruit trees has been.. interesting. Grape vines are coming away dead as doornails, apple trees aren’t going to produce, who knows what else?! So with a few unseasonably warm days in winter, we started laying the groundwork for getting this place up and running in the spring.
Hence the chainsaw.
Now, i don’t know about you, but I always thought pruning was bullshit. I want the plant to grow, so I’m going to cut it off? That sounds like some flat-earth ish right there. However, upon further consideration (read: my husband explaining it to me), it sort of makes sense.. in the same way that all science kind of sounds like magic to me.
Trees all have access to a finite amount of energy; they have what’s in the ground, in the air etc. Based on that they will grow as best they can- whether that’s up, out, fruit, leaves etc. Pruning helps guide that resource to the type of growth you want to achieve. In our case that’s pears.
Step one: You want me to do WHAT in February?
The best time to do this is absolutely the LAST time I’d like to do it. Ideally, the tree is still dormant and just starting it’s spring growth. That means I’m outside in late february in boots and a chainsaw rather than in front of the fire with a hot toddy. Which, let me tell you, I was not thrilled about.
Luckily we had an unseasonably warm day in February, (I wasn’t making pina coladas, but it was acceptable), so we tossed on our boots, layered up on sweatshirts and grabbed our pruning shears as we headed out the door.
Step two: Survey the tree
When you want something to grow up, you gotta look down.
Firstly, we needed to cut all of the mini-shoots who took it upon themselves to start growing out of the bottom of the tree instead of the trunk.
Like, wtf?! Stop trying to do your own thing! Get on the bus!
These little shoots are actually called ‘suckers’ and do absolutely nothing for your tree, except steal energy and nutrients. You don’t need that type of negativity in your life.
When we started, the tree was about 30 feet high, about 10 feet higher than we’d like. Instead of growing wide, it was currently growing tall- which is an indicator that it isn’t going to be bearing us fruit.
While it might look a bit strange to have a tree that looks like a rocket to space, once each of these branches bear fruit it will gently pull the fruit back down to a more horizontal shape.
We first went through the pull out any extra debris like dead branches or leaves. This increases the light and air that’s able to circulate to the healthier branches. Each of these cuts are done with pruning shears on an angle by my wimpy biceps; by keeping them on the angle the cut lets the moisture drain away.
Step three: Clean out the ‘uptown transfers’
Each branch seems to be growing these little nodes or ‘v’ shapes on them. Each of these are trying to get as much sunlight as possible to grow. In this way, each branch is kind of a self-interested little shit. Our job became cutting off each little ‘v’ that is growing up rather than out. The more out we grow, the more sunlight they will have access to, the more fruit they’ll produce.
The pear tree is interesting; and staring up from beneath it I couldn’t help but think of a subway map, which is the only way I can make sense of it in my Brooklyn mind. Therefore, armed with my shears I started at the bottom and looked for any ‘uptown transfers’; those pesky northbound branches that are ruining my pears.
Step four: Wait an ungodly amount of time
As the clippings pile up around us, we start moving towards the bigger branches and start revving up the power tools. As the muscles in my arms start to burn I start to daydream of pear tarts this summer. Looking at my dreamy face, Garret immediately knows what I’m thinking and interrupts my reverie to bring me back down to earth, ‘you know we won’t get pears for about 2 years, right?’
Fast forward two months and our tree is thriving! We’re starting to see the early flowers that have hundreds of little buds that I hope will yield fruit.
However, I’m just happy they’re flowering at all to be honest. If someone hacked away at me for the better part of an afternoon there’s NO WAY I’d be putting my best foot forward come spring.
Yet here we are- basking in the beauty and resilience that is farm life. Sometimes it’s a slow crawl, but one thing this place is teaching me is that time isn’t always my enemy. Sometimes, it’s better to take it slow.
More on adjusting to how time flies (or doesn’t) on the homestead next time. I’m off to find some good pear recipes…