Time For Figs

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea that you could successfully grow figs in our area. But grow them you can, and they have started ripening here, and that is welcome news indeed! Fresh figs are a real treat, one that I seldom had until I grew them myself.

fresh figs (click on any image to enlarge)

Last year was pretty much a bust for the figs. We had a cool, wet spring, and a wet summer. The figs were late to  set on, and most did not mature before time for frost. Normally, the fig plants die back to the ground here in winter, but sprout back from the roots in spring. That means they grow into more of a bush shape, with multiple shoots coming up each year. But the last winter was so mild, they didn’t die back all the way. I’ve got 4 figs planted on the south side of our shop building, where they enjoy a nice warm microclimate they seem to enjoy.

fig plants

I pruned out the dead wood this spring, and they took off like crazy. I’ve learned that heading the branches back in mid summer helps force the plants into making figs, which form in the leaf axils (where the leaf meets the branch). Even after this second pruning, they still grew up to almost 12 feet tall. And this is with no fertilizer or compost added, either. Figs grown in the ground generally don’t need fertilizing. In fact, excessive nitrogen can actually cut fruit production and quality. Containers grown figs do need fertilizing 3 or 4 times a year with a good balanced fertilizer (preferably one that isn’t dyed blue).

young fig forming in the leaf axil

This year we have gotten over 3 pounds of figs so far. We have lost a lot of them to ants though, which are especially bad this year. The ants climb the branches and start eating the figs just as they ripen, climbing in the ‘eye’ at the end of the fig. This is the first year they’ve really done that, so I am scrambling to find a solution. Spraying is out, since anything that’s going to do a number on the ants is not something I want to spray on the ripening fruits. A sticky product like Tanglefoot or Tangletrap works well on a single trunk tree, but it would take forever to put it on all the multiple branches of the figs. So for now we are sharing with the ants, and I am trying to be vigilant about picking the figs the instant they are ripe.

ripe Hardy Chicago fig, ready to be harvested

What do we do with the figs? So far we have eaten them fresh, and they are luscious when lightly grilled. In the past I have dried them, and made fig preserves. This year I am going to try a figgy coffee cake. I’ve got some other recipe ideas I am eyeing as well. They are also great wrapped in prosciutto ham, or stuffed with cheese.

Brown Turkey figs

I have four varieties planted: Hardy Chicago, Brown Turkey, Conadria, and Celeste. The Hardy Chicago and Brown Turkey have been the most prolific this year, but they were also planted a couple of years before the other two. The Brown Turkey figs are huge, but the Hardy Chicago has more figs. I also have two plants I got this year that are growing in containers: Marseilles and Petite Negra. Having a couple of plants in containers is insurance against a year like last year when the ones in the ground didn’t produce much. If you bring the containers inside during the winter, the foliage won’t die back, and you can often get two crops of figs forming each year.

almost ripe Brown Turkey fig

There are still lots of figs coming on the plants, sizing up and ripening, so I have high hopes of getting to enjoy more of them in the days and weeks to come. Frost will do them in eventually, but until then we’ll have a figgy good time here at Happy Acres enjoying what for us is a real delicacy. To see what other goodies gardeners from all over the world are harvesting, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, host of Harvest Mondays. And Happy Growing to all of you!

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23 Responses to Time For Figs

  1. Norma Chang says:

    Wish I could have my fig tree in the ground year round. I had ants problem this year also. How do they know when the fig is at it best?
    Of the 4 varieties you plant, is there a taste difference?
    My figs are coming to an end, only harvesting ones or twos.

    • Dave says:

      I think the Brown Turkey has the best taste, but the Hardy Chicago is good too. I think the figs are best when they start to droop down and get soft.

  2. kitsapFG says:

    YUM! 😀 Those are gorgeous fig plants growing next to the building. I am pretty sure they grow well here in my region but I am not sure I have room enough to add them to my line up. May have to give it some serious thought though.

  3. Wonderful figs! I’m surprised you don’t share more of them with birds as well 🙂

    Fig “bushes” are indeed more like trees – a happy fig bush/tree can get quite tall and wide.

  4. Wilderness says:

    Love the figs. We are so limited on what we can grow here. Maybe it is better that way as I have a hard time keeping up with what I do grow.

  5. Barbara Good says:

    We love figs too, but I’m very lucky in that my neighbours grow the trees and I get all the fruit – it works very well! I too love them with blue cheese, as well as fig and pear pizza and I made a great fig and orange jam last year.

  6. Jenny says:

    Beautiful! and I’m sure they were very yummy on taste too! Wish ours would grow faster so we can have them next year but it will probably take few more years before they start producing.

  7. Daphne says:

    I planted figs here last year. So far they haven’t set figs fast enough for them to mature. I do have small figs on both the Brown Turkey and the Paradisio, but nothing that will ripen. The grower here says to wrap them up in insulation in the winter so they don’t die back to the ground. That way they get the two crops and the early crop has time to ripen. I’m thinking about it. The problem is the figs are along the driveway and wrapping them would be so ugly.

  8. Shawn Ann says:

    Figs are definitely on my wish list! Your plants look very happy! Love to know if you find a solution for the ants! I have ants nesting and laying eggs around the tops of my carrots and ruining them!

  9. Thanks for the report on your gorgeous figs! You might be interested in this post that describes overwintering the trees by burying them: http://www.diaryofalocavore.com/2012/09/the-local-food-report-figs.html

  10. zentMRS says:

    Grilled figs – sounds wonderful! Oh I hate those pesky ants though. My co-worker told me that my garden sounded like a war zone – and sometimes it feels like it. Good luck with your “sharing” solution!

  11. I like how you describe figs as more like tall bushes in climates where they die back in winter. That’s how I remember my grandmother’s fig tree. It has always confused me in the Bible, when they act like the fig is the huge tree. I guess it would be in Israel, though, huh?

    • Dave says:

      I saw some fig trees in Hawaii earlier this year, and they were huge! They were obviously quite old, with a gnarled trunk and branches. I might not have recognized them – except they had ripe figs on them.

  12. Nartaya says:

    Your fig bushes are huge! I only have one fig tree and we have been absolutely loving the fresh figs every week. Beautiful, hope you get loads and loads of figs (without ants!).

  13. Patsy says:

    I have never tasted a fresh fig, but they do look good. Makes me wonder if I should try planting them here to see what they would do. Unfortunately it seems like our entire property is one huge anthill.

  14. Liz says:

    My next door neighbours fig has branches which have grown up and under the fence into our yard. Its leaves are just starting to unfurl and the first fruits are being set – such anticipation. I love having the branches coming into our garden – saves a lot of space but I still get to enjoy the fruits.

  15. maryhysong says:

    Those figs look yummy; here fig trees are huge. I have a white Kadota that I planted last spring, no fruit yet, but next year should see some. I’ll be planting more, too.

  16. Barbie says:

    OH! I just found a new recipe for ‘fig newton’ type cookies…. OH my what I would do for those figs right now. So faqr my fig ‘trees’ are only about 2′ tall. LOL. Beautiful figs!!!

  17. Christina says:

    Figs are the best. Around here, they’re the only tree fruit that reliable come in this time of year, when it has been hot for so long, and they’re so very, very tasty. They’re also pretty drought tolerant too, which makes them perfect in our climate. To preserve them, they’re easy to dry, make a yummy jam (it sounds like you’ve already experimented in that direction), and make one of my favorite to-serve-with-cheese nibbles ever: pickled in red wine vinegar with fennelseed, orange peel, and chile. Also, they make an amazing tart when set in a layer of frangipane or custard. Yum. I’m making myself hungry thinking about figs.

    I’m so glad you got a nice crop this year. Here’s to many more years of figs, and even more years of marriage! Congratulations on the anniversary!

  18. LynnS says:

    Your fig bushes are so lush!! I only have one and it’s a newbie so I have several years to go before I can hope for those like you have. I’m excited for fresh figs!

    For ants, have you thought of tansy at the base? Tansy is an ant repellant (for the sugar ants). There’s also sage and the mint family.

    • Dave says:

      It’s such a jungle under and around the figs, I’m not sure if I could get anything to grow there. But I could grow the tansy elsewhere and spread it around the base of the figs. Thanks for a great idea! I already have a lot of sage and mints to add to the mix.

  19. Mary says:

    Hello! I have a question about the Chicago Hardy. I just planted one by the side of my house a couple years ago. It’s probably 3 feet away from house. Should I be concerned that it might do some damage in the future? I hate to move it bec it gets a good amount of sun from where it is now but I have to protect my foundation as well. Please advise. Thank you!

    • Dave says:

      I had mine planted about the same distance from our garage, and it didn’t cause any problems. The figs did die back to the ground most years, so they developed into more of a bush than a tree. I haven’t been growing them for several years now, as the yields in our area weren’t enough to justify keeping them.

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