“A great fig should look like it’s just about to burst its skin. When squeezed lightly it should give a little and not spring back. It must be almost unctuously sweet, soft and wet.” ~ Yotam Ottolenghi
I love fresh figs. Juicy, dribbly and delicious, they taste like summer.
But unless you have a tree of your own, or have a friend who does, figs can be disappointing. They can spoil rather quickly once picked. A few specimens I found at a farmer’s market last season were limp, soggy and weepy. And pricy!
Refrigerating them in an attempt to conserve freshness seems to make them less appealing, robbing them of their aroma and texture.
Lucky for me, my lovely friend Tracey gifted me a couple of trees from her Dad’s plantation in Manjimup. I planted one right outside my office window.
In the summer, this spot gets full midday and afternoon sun. So for some crazy reason, my office has two full sized windows at that aspect. In the evening the sea breeze can offer some relief, but without shade, my office becomes so stiflingly hot it’s downright unpleasant to even be in here, let alone get work done.
Fortunately, figs love heat. Their large, rough leaves bear the summer weather very well indeed. Tracey assures me there’s no shade cooler than that of a fig tree and I think she’s right! In the summer, my gifted fig provides much needed shade. In winter, it loses its leaves and lets the sunshine in. Despite it’s modest size, this little tree produced lots of the most delicious figs last season. Admittedly, the ants got a few.
My little fig has grown and done so well, it needs a prune. I want to shape it so I can walk down the path without getting skewered by a few pokey fig branches. Figs can also be notoriously leggy trees and I want mine to grow into an attractive, bushy, full tree.
All the books advise you to prune your fig tree in winter. Technically it is spring. But in my defence, my fig carried fruit and leaves almost throughout our winter.
But I’ve decided today’s the day. I’m pruning before the tree unfurls it’s new spring growth.
It looks like I have a ripe fig on this tree, doesn’t it? Actually, it is sun-ripened. Which means the outside is perfectly purple, but inside, it’s dry, firm and not very juicy at all. Figs need heat, as well as light, to cajole it’s fruit into perfect, ripe, unctuousness.
Figs fruit on new growth, so if you are new to pruning, and a bit shy, be assured that these trees are pretty much indestructible. I remember asking a local nurseryman for advice for pruning figs and he said…
“You can prune them like a chainsaw massacre. Take them down to the ground and the bloody things will sprout and come back one hundred times stronger.”
O-kaaay. Oddly reassuring advice though, isn’t it?
So I lopped the off the fig’s gangly limbs and made it a little more compact.
But the best part about pruning is the opportunity to propagate new fig trees. Because figs are as easy to propagate as they are to prune.
I had a few old buckets that were perfect for the job. I drilled holes in the base of the buckets for drainage, figs don’t like being waterlogged. You will need a free draining mix of sand, manure and composted plant matter for a good strike. Lucky for me, the perfect soil for the job is found in my chicken coop.
I filled the buckets with chicken coop soil, then I watered the soil to settle the mix and to ensure it would drain as freely as I hoped. It did!
One of the cuttings still had fruit and leaves on the branch, so I stripped those off. It is important that the branch can put all it’s energy into growing roots, rather than struggling to ripen fruit.
So then I simply pushed the pruned branches into the soil, a good 1/3 of the branch submerged in the pot. I topped with vermiculate, and placed them in a spot where they will get full morning sun, with afternoon shade.
It’s that easy!
Incidentally, a few weeks ago a friend and I were on a scouting mission for some fruit trees. The nursery we went to had similarly sized figs retailing for $20.00 each. A half-hours effort of pruning and propagating cost me nothing but some recycled rubbish, my lazy-Sunday afternoon, yet saved me $60.00!
I had a few branches left over and decided to push them into the ground, near my fence. The soil there is pretty good, and now I have a control for my potted figs. I’ll let you know how they go.
So if you live in a warm climate, with free draining soil, put figs on your to-plant list.
Do you love figs? Can you recommend a favourite way to serve them? I’d love to hear from you.