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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!