Friday, August 5, 2011

Fig Tree Update

So we've had our three fig trees in large containers for a year and change now.  I wanted to wait this long to post an update on them so that I could have some results to share.  The figs are in 17-gallon containers with a sizeable water reservoir at the bottom that takes away some of the growing space.  These containers were constructed along the same lines as the self-watering potato buckets I experimented with last year.

The figs are doing well.  It's likely I jumped the gun just slightly in pulling them out of the garage this spring.  I was overeager, and the garage was really crowded.  I knew fig trees could withstand light frosts.  The garage where they spent the winter is large enough that the temperature inside had never dipped below 30 F (-1 C), even though it's unheated.  I pulled the trees outside in late April, though our last frost comes typically in early May.  I covered them with a drop cloth when frosts were predicted, and even put bottles of warm water under the cloths with them when temperatures in the 20's were forecast.  These precautions proved insufficient to fully counter my overeagerness.  The trees took some damage on the higher branch tips which held up the drop cloth.  I was afraid that I'd done serious harm to the trees.  But true to form, the figs proved they could withstand light frosts.  I waited a few months to see how much of each branch had died, and ended up needing to trim only a few inches here and there.

The soil in the containers had settled quite a bit after planting last year. In late spring I laid each container on its side, hauled the tree out, trimmed the roots that had grown down into the water reservoir, and added more soil to the bottom of the growing space.  The figs already had their leaves on, but they took this disturbance in stride. It's clear that the third year root trimming is going to be necessary next spring.  This is considered standard maintenance for fig trees in containers.  All the plants were working on becoming root bound.  The extra soil should do for this year though.

All three varieties now have unripe figs on them.  I've got them positioned on the edge of the driveway, and they seem to relish the extra baking that the blacktop provides.  Making sure they're well watered through the heat wave has been a priority.  They are thirsty plants indeed.  I think keeping them in sufficient water would be very difficult without the water reservoir.  It needs filling at least every other day.  I'm especially anxious to keep up with their water needs because I suspect the first few figs that one tree put on were lost last year due to lack of water.

I'm looking forward to our first fig harvest, perhaps in a month or so.  I don't expect it to be huge by any means, but I think we'll see a good handful or two from each of our three different varieties.  An older friend of mine who grew up in Italy told me once about a breakfast he ate every day for a few weeks in late summer.  Ripe figs smeared over crusty bread, drizzled with good olive oil and a pinch of salt.  His mouth watered when he described it to me, almost 50 years later.  Sign me up for that.  Or figs skewered on rosemary twigs and roasted over a real charcoal fire.  Or fig clafouti.  Or figs with soft goat cheese on a green salad.  Or, or, or...

Got any favorite ways to eat figs?


Anonymous said...

Kate, we grow figs here (Australia-temperate climate) where we get frosts as low as -6C, so your trees should be ok, they cope with 46+C heat in summer too.

Remember they do drop their leaves after they have browned and shrivelled, mine have nothing on right now, although it wont be long till they are budding up.

Not being familiar with your weather there it's hard to say much more lol

Frogdancer said...

I've got a large fig tree in my yard that takes up nearly the whole back fence. I only started eating the figs this year (I've lived here 14 years... d'oh!) and they're delicious!

The tree is fantastic. It shields us from the neighbours' unit along the back fence and the millions of leaves dropped in autumn provide excellent mulch for the veggie garden. Enjoy!

el said...

By hand, as soon as possible.
We've got 2 Chicago hardy figs and after schlepping and trimming and wrapping and all that I finally got so sick of moving them that I let one root into the ground through the bottom of its pot in the greenhouse. Guess what. It's so darned happy, and it's 8' tall. And it's covered with fruit, some of it ripening to larger-than-golfball size. I check it daily and eat it greedily, no thought to either sharing or saving it.

Bridget said...

Still waiting for figs to form on mine. I've had it for about 5 years also in a big pot. Maybe Ireland is too wet for them!

Kate said...

Molly, perhaps then it was the shock of transition from our sheltered garage to the colder outdoors that damaged our figs. From observing our figs it's pretty clear they can take any amount of heat, provided I keep them watered.

Frogdancer, better late than never! I would love to have a large fig tree, but I expect ours will have to remain fairly petite in their containers. Still, they should produce nicely, given their size.

El, yes, I plan to eat them that way too, of course! I love the idea of letting them root themselves in a hoop house. I don't think we'll be able to go that route with the little hoop house we plan to build this year, for a variety of reasons. But if we ever build a bigger one I'll certainly keep that idea in mind.

Bridget, if anything I might suspect Ireland of being too cool for your figs. I know of fig trees in northern California which never ripen their fruit because it never gets hot enough. (It's true: parts of California have rather cool summers!) Is there any way you can give it more heat? Driveway? Against a south-facing brick wall? But also maybe check the condition of the roots. If the plant is potbound it may need a root trimming and a bigger container.

LindaSue said...

I am from Chicago and was never exposed to fresh figs that I know of. Now I live in SE Ala and they are grown local here. I was introduced to fig preserves from my mother in law. Delicious. Last year I found a gentlemen, I call him my little fig man, that has over 150 fig trees. Brown figs a a Black Mission fig. Wife gave me a very simple recipe where you use strawberry jello with the black figs. So easy. It is gold as far as I am concerned. This year I made a double batch of strawberry, an single batch with cherry. Also 3 batches of brown figs, as they are, into preserves. If interested I can post a recipe on my blog. Let me know.

Patricialynn said...

Homemade fig newtons...been wanting to make them for a year now, but no one around here sells fresh figs. Gonna have to take a page out of your book and grow my own.

meemsnyc said...

Wow, they look lovely! If only I had room to plant a fig tree in the ground! I bought a dwarf variety and it's in a pot in my house. I should consider getting one your size and put it in the garage!

meemsnyc said...

BTW, what varieties are you growing? Are any the dwarf type?

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I have acute fig envy. The fig tree we planted in the ground seems healthy and robust, but is sprouting a mere 9 figs. (Yes, I count pretty much every day.) The one in the pot is just barely holding on. We were planning to transplant it, but perhaps it just needs better management (story of my life). A root trim, some new fertilizer, and maybe it'll revive.

Kate said...

LindaSue, for some reason I have this sense that there is a hardy fig named for Chicago. But I have no idea whether it's really from that city, or when it was developed. I would love to see any fig recipes you care to share.

Patricialynn, that sounds mighty ambitious. I doubt I'd go as far as making fig newtons, but I certainly encourage you to think about keeping a few fig trees - in containers if need be.

meemsnyc, our standard varieties include Neri II, Sicilian and Verde. They're not dwarfs, but will stay small due to limited root space. Your fig would probably appreciate the extra space of a large container, even if it is a dwarf. Hope you get some fruit off it soon!

Tamar, I wouldn't say that any one of our our trees is going to give us all that much more than your single tree this year. I'm guessing we'll see a dozen per tree from the three trees. I do try to pamper any plant I put in a container with a shot of worm tea and a couple doses of seaweed fertilizer per year. But that's about it. I wonder if your in-ground tree just isn't getting as much sun/heat as it would like. Ours get positively baked on the edge of the driveway, and seem to enjoy it.