The Home Growers Circle: Real people with a passion to grow real food

Ethel & Bill Robert Charmaine & Brian Brandon Nancy Lewis & Tara Malika & Donny Andy & Susanna Craig & Gary Warren & Lovejoy

Lewis & Tara / Santa Monica

Pruning - Spires, Forks and Perforations


Friday, October 01, 2010 at 7:33PM

As one prunes a tree, there is a dance of understanding the leaf, branch, and fruit relationship. The Japanese Bonsai technique comes to mind. You're trying to create a living sculpture, a thing of beauty, while having a delightful addition to your menu.

There is a tension between the artistic and mechanized approaches that converges toward the same goals. The fact remains, clean, healthy and well pruned trees tend to produce higher yields. While a round or square tree is easiest to harvest for industrial purposes, a tree pruned with perforations and irregularities is perhaps better for the urban micro-farmer. As well, one must fit this plant among the others in a tightly packed urban environment.

Each type of fruit tree requires a different approach. For mature citrus we achieve a tree shaped like a giant inner tube. With the guavas, I leave "holes" within the trees so it gets better air flow. It's also easier to see the ripening fruit and harvest it without disturbing the rest of the branches. The same theory of increasing light and air flows in small gardens applies to the technique, "castling," which works for fruit trees such as zapotes. We call it castling because the tree has multi-level spires.

For branches that are growing vertically, stagger them, cut some lower, higher and in between. Then, you get fruit growing and ease of access at every level. Citrus trees tend to get a dark mildew, spider web-ridden quality. You can prevent similar problems in all fruit trees by hosing off the leaves once a month, particularly when there is no rain. With guavas you must remove the flower’s fiber dust, because that’s what would happen in the rain forest.

For fig trees, fruit only grows from the new growth. This I learned from my ex-father in-law, Irwin B. Rothschild, Jr., who at 88 is still playing in his productive garden. Help the tree create an interesting, somewhat complex skeleton. As one prunes it back, after it looses its leaves in the fall, the new growth expands outward. There will then be new forking branches next year, for a higher yielding accessible harvest. The following year cut it back again, to achieve the next set of forking branches. Once you’ve achieved a satisfying skeleton, trim back to that point in subsequent years.

The light, yield, squirrel pirates, and mellifluous bird bandits are among the more significant issues which keep me from sleeping. The article would be incomplete without a cautionary note that fingers do not grow back! This may seem rudimentary, however not an impossibility. Remember, you’re holding branches with one hand, clipping with the other, while thinking, "Will the stock market recover so I can retire, and just do this as a hobby, rather than as a feeding necessity?"

Think of your garden in its totality. Take advantage of light, access, and aesthetics as you walk through the space. Also, consider sequencing harvest times as a parameter for the types of trees you select. Fragrance, color, height, and seasonality are important considerations. In this way, any time of year you can enjoy your garden and your efforts.

Lewis Perkins lives in Santa Monica, nestled in a semi-tropical paradise, growing exotic edibles in Southern California. When not working with Tara in the garden, Lewis is a Certified Financial Planning Professional® spending time with clients as a real estate, insurance, and securities broker. His websites are and

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We know how much everyone in this city loves the movies. Have you seen this one? The Garden is an Academy Award nominated documentary that tells the story of urban farmers who struggle against land developers to keep their community farm in South Central Los Angeles alive. This film offers a revealing look at the challenges of urban farming in a megacity once known for its agricultural output. The director of the film, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, is a Silver Lake resident and he has offered to not only sell DVDs of the film at a 10% discount, but also grant 10% of proceeds to support the certification fees of future participants of the Home Growers Circle. Buy a DVD and help us build support for an eleventh urban microfarmer. Maybe we'll have to ask one of the microfarmers to raise some corn so that we can make some home-grown movie popcorn. Click here to order a DVD and support the Home Growers Circle. Remember to use promotional code FORAGE.