‘RIPE FIGS STRAIGHT OFF THE TREE’ IS HARD TO BEAT AT ANY TIME
The benefit of growing your own fruit and vegetables is enjoying the sun-ripened harvest.
Tomatoes, strawberries, sweet corn, snow peas, stone fruit and citrus all taste wonderful when picked fresh from the garden and eaten immediately. But the best by far must be a fresh fig.
I have been known to eat far too many freshly picked figs. I justify it by saying it’s either me or the birds because when figs are ripe, they have to be eaten. As well as scoffing figs straight from the tree you can toss them through a salad, serve them with cheese or fold them through a chocolate cake.
With figs, the riper the better. As figs ripen they become sweeter and sweeter. At this stage, they’re so soft that transporting them to market would be impossible, so the best-tasting figs you’ll ever eat are the ones you grow yourself.
Figs do well in our Mediterranean climate and are an ideal size for most backyards. There’s even room under their canopy for a shady seat. Position a few pots of red geraniums in a sunny spot nearby, grab a glass of wine and a plate of small olives and you could imagine you’re on holidays somewhere in Greece.
Edible figs grow to around 3m tall and 5m wide but can be larger. They need a sunny spot – full sun is vital – and well-drained soil. Figs can be planted virtually year-round but, as they are deciduous, there are good stocks available in winter, or you can grow your own at that time from a hardwood cutting.
They can also be grown in large containers. Figs are long-lived, so it is worth putting some time into them when they are first planted. They have a reputation for being virtually ‘unkillable’ but this is only when they are well established.
To get them bulletproof, make sure young plants are kept well watered, especially during hot, dry periods. Although mature trees tolerate cold and frost, protect new plantings from frost until they have grown over a metre high.
Care and problems
Figs really do have few problems if given a good start in life. Expect to start harvesting your luscious, sun-ripened figs 2–3 years after planting. Most varieties produce two crops a year when in full swing. The first crop grows on last year’s wood and ripens in summer. The second crop forms on new growth and ripens in autumn.
Most of the figs we grow don’t require a pollinator to set fruit, however you will need to fend off the birds. Netting is probably the best method but do check nets regularly to rescue any trapped birds, lizards or other animals.
Trees are pruned when young to develop several main branches. Aim for an umbrella-like shape so you can enjoy their shade. Once established, however, there’s no need to prune except to maintain the overall shape and size the way you want it, or to remove older wood.
Varieties of figs
Figs have evocative names. How could anyone resist a tree that’s called a Brown Turkey, Black Genoa or White Adriatic? The fig variety that is traditionally grown and dried is Smyrna.