The art of pruning, the art of growing.

Updated: May 25, 2018

" The philosophy in a bottle of wine is more than the worlds' greatest philosophers all together ". - unknown Italian saying.

Since the very first winter we spent in Italy home surrounded by our vineyard, this topic has been hanging in my back mind: what is pruning? when to prune? how to prune? and... why should we prune anyway?


Probably the last question should be the first one to start with, as whenever I come across something new, I always like to ask WHY. (most of the whys I kept quietly asking myself, so that I don't become socially unbearable for others ;-).


Why prune?




I always thought pruning is skilful to watch but also a bit of "cruel" to think about. Because you cut the plants (if you look at the vines cut after the pruning, it is swelling with some transparent liquid which in my eyes looks like the tears or the blood of the plant). Does it hurt? What would the plant say if it has a voice? Isn't the pruning the human invention to serve the human consumption?


But then again, if I park my "sentimental" and "naturalistic" side and listen to my fellow farmer's explanations, I do see great philosophies in it too (if we want the vines to last in producing high quality grapes for high quality wines). In fact, the logic is very simple, and it applies to both plants and people. The very purpose of the pruning is to direct the energy to the best potential to grow. In terms of human, pruning is equal to "focus", concentrate all your might to the area where your talent lies.


Sometimes we have to painfully saying "NO" to some directions, activities, habits, relationships, or momentary desires. All are to support the big "YES" for what we truly commit to grow in life. #noisyes

When to prune?


Pruning is a yearly activity. Basically the first pruning happens in the winter or the early spring when the plants are still dormant and before the budding occurs. There is no fixed formula as the nature is filled with unpredictable force. But what I understood is that if prune too early, if there is a frost, the plant may suffer the damage with the open cut. If prune too late, while the plant already preparing and spreading its energy to all branches to grow, then there will be more "bleeding" after the cut and there will be higher chance of damaging the buds if the pruning happens after the budding.


Pruning controls the number of buds on the plant where those buds will later become shoots, where those shoots will bear each about 3 bunches of grape fruits. The point is the balance. Too many buds are like having too many children, the vine itself might be weakened while it can be also difficult for all grapes to ripen properly. Yet too few buds is neither good as the plant will miss the growth outlets for its capability. The vigorous growth might make too thick shoot while the fruit yield might be insignificant.


Let's think about it in terms of human activities to grow: We start with many initiatives to test the water which path our talent can best express itself. Yet if we don't focus, soon our energy will be spread all around different projects and engagements. We do more, but harvest less, and become less clear where our true contribution lies. In contrast, if we eliminate the scouting efforts too early, shy away from opportunities too soon, or cut down too much, we might become too rigid, narrow minded, and if the chosen path doesn't serve us, we lose the flexibility to express the talent with other growth outlets.


The art is the balance, but to find that balance, it requires the "tuning" to the self knowledge and knowledge of the environment, and the wisdom to deploy those insights.

How to prune?


The best way to learn as a farmer without a visible farming history in my family, is to learn from the other farmers. And let's don't forget the modern farmers' resource: the Youtube. But doing is very different than watching. It looks pretty easy, till I hold the scissor in my hand in front of our barbera plant. Staring at those arms of the branches, where to begin? which one to save? What if I cut down the wrong canes? Looking at Mitko (the other farmer, and a real one)'s scissor singing chaka chaka swiftly in the air around the plant's messy branches and instantly "shave and shaped" it in a single bowing strand, I am calling in my heart my far faraway farming ancestor before the industrial time to help me with this scary task.


The pruning has effect on the plant's micro system and has to tune into the whole eco system of the vine in large: the immunity to disease, the leaf to fruit ratio for healthy yield, the plant structure, the balance of the productivity (quality versus quantity). Bearing that in mind, no mathematical formula will solve the mystery of the organic growth in nature. What to do?


My Italian farmer neighbour's explanation always start with "Guarda..... (look)......" then he points to the plant while cutting away what for him are obvious to be cut. So my biggest take away is: observe the plant, prune with the respect. That means to tune into the plant, seeing which path the vine's strongest "intention" to grow lies. If we care to see and feel, the plant already speaks it's path of growth.


If we care to listen to our intuition, where the strongest desire to grow and to serve lies, the "pruning" will be easy.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to share the words for Qimisola, and leave your comment below! :-)


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