Apple thinning

It is early morning in the chook forest and there is gentle mizzling over the apple and plum trees. As usual I am out at dawn in my jammies and dressing gown feeding the girls and inhaling the peace. I have very organised friends who call this time their Tour and Tidy. They survey their garden with a cuppa and make lists of what needs doing. These people do not have couchgrass, bindweed or naughty errant chickens. But then they are also retired and have much smaller gardens to cosset.

I treasure this time of day – simply appreciating the habitat we have created for wildlife and ourselves. I try to avoid the Tour and Tidy vibe as it quickly turns into Overwhelm and Avoid. Instead, I focus on what needs to be done to maintain the health and vitality of my planty and feathered friends. And today I notice that suddenly it is the season of Apple Thinning. Our Brambley apple is covered in hundreds of juicy green marbles all in bunches of 5-6 baby apples. As I look beyond to the food forest and the opposite slope, I can see that all our trees are calling for some help. Usually, a good gale or five in Spring do all the thinning for me but this year has been strangely still, with not enough wind to shred blossoms, break branches or rattle all the baby fruit off the tree.

Apple thinning is one of the things I did 30 years ago to pay my way through university. It involves scooting up a slippery ladder in Spring showers and making tough decisions about who stays and who goes. If you leave all the fruit on, the apples are then prone to black spot, they are small, and the tree branches will break with the weight. However, if you get carried away on a thinning frenzy then you end up with a few huge apples but not enough to share. Like all things in life, it requires a healthy balance.

For the last few years, I have been apple greedy and lacking in time to thin and this has cost me limbs in some of my heavy fruiters such as Peasgood Nonesuch (chosen for the name!) and Monty’s suprise. They now have some stumpy sawn-off bits; they bear the scars of my neglect. As I climb the tree getting soggy in my nightwear, I start thinning and reflect on how thinning needs to be applied to all areas of life.

Where can I remove stuff to allow life to be big, juicy and with enough to share? Somehow these pandemic years have become all about keeping on keeping on, seizing the opportunity to study and trying to pay the bills. So many little apples! And yet all the energy needed to grow such a big crop has diluted the experience and left me with a few scarred limbs. As I thin, I make a decision to grow a more balanced crop, perhaps 2 apples per bunch and perhaps even fewer on the spindlier branches. Sitting in the tree I can feel it responding to this act of care, the limbs almost breathe a sigh of relief, and they visibly lift.

I know that I need to do the same. As this year draws to a close and the growing season kicks into gear, I know I will be spending my summer break making decisions about the coming year and how to grow a sustainable crop. There are lots of exciting things I want to start and perhaps some things to let go. Somehow, I need to scale the ladder of all that I have been doing and get a good bird’s eye view.

What about you? What needs thinning to let in the light, air and have room to grow? What can you let go of? What can do to calm and soothe your nervous system? Can you make the call for a sustainable life?