Fires, Pestilence and Pruning: Musings of a Fig Fanatic

Brown fig distantTwo weeks ago, I returned from seeing Twelfth Night at OC Shakespeare with four friends and discovered our Brea drop off point in darkness with fire trucks milling and police directing traffic in the intersection.  Whole blocks of homes had been without power for several hours.

An 87 year-old friend had been there when it happened and his step-son sprang into action, filming the event which Richard showed me Monday.  A transformer blew, sending up a geyser of sparks, and igniting a line of cypress trees.  I love fires and enjoyed the show till the flames spread to his neighbor’s black mission fig trees.  She had eight and lost half.  Although they weren’t my trees, I felt devastated by their destruction.

I love everything about figs: the leaves, the size of the tree, the taste of the fresh fruit and its beautiful red center.  I’ve wanted fig trees for ages, and just before Easter, I bought two: a Brown Turkey fig and a Peter’s Honey Fig.  The latter is a green fig not unlike the Calimyrna or Kadota.  So far they’ve not demanded much care beyond watering.  I haven’t seen much insect activity, and the birds may roost atop the trees but haven’t been interested in eating the fruit.  (They decimated the blueberries, grape tomatoes, and pluots this Spring.)  Both fig trees have produced prodigious harvests.

Brown Turkey Fig Close upThe trees are in 24-inch pots.  The Brown Turkey Fig began providing fruit in late June and yielded its last fig about five days ago.  The fruit remains green for months, then in a space of 2-3 days, it turns a purplish-brown, expands to almost twice its size, and softens.  I prefer them not-too-ripe so will obsessively watch them till it’s time to twist the stem gently, holding the fruit upright so the white sap doesn’t drip on me.  The figs are wonderful with a dry cheese or on a breakfast salad or just by themselves.

I enjoy the Organic Gardening magazine, and found this article at their website:  Fig Trees: A Growing Guide .

The article recommended: “Mulch trees well with compost, and apply foliar sprays of seaweed extract at least once a month during the growing season.”  I buy some compost with seaweed and guano, but have a lovely, open air compost pile accumulating in the side yard, made of mown grass, wilting lettuce, crushed egg shells, and rabbit droppings which I turn infrequently and layer in the garden late Fall.  I did not spray with seaweed extract, but plan to ask about that at Whittier’s Blue Hills nursery.

Soon I’ll have to think about pruning.  At the nursery, Stan suggested removing the branches that grow from the trunk low to the ground.  I couldn’t bear doing that as I’d seen green fruit budding there.  About a third of my harvests came from those branches.  Although it detracts from the look of the tree, it may take more gumption than I have to remove them.  The article offers a method of propagating the tree using a low growing branch, and I may try that.  Especially with the Brown Turkey fig tree.

Peter's Honey fig close upI’ve enjoyed the Peter’s Honey fig also which has proved very prolific.  About half the size of a Brown Turkey, the green fruit didn’t ripen till several weeks after the Brown Turkey, but they look as if they’ll continue for another month.  They spoil very fast, even in the fridge, but are wonderful eaten the same day.  If I wait a second day, the lovely red center has turned a pale brown.  Still edible, but not as enticing.  While the external green of the Peter’s Honey does not change, they also expand and soften as they ripen.

I’d been warned about ants, and have watched the patio pad carefully for trails.  I’ve not seen them on the march this summer.  Another friend warned about the fallen fruit leaving stains.  As I harvest aggressively, no worries there.

The article included ways to deal with too many figs: “Cook figs by simmering them with a dash of lemon and honey for about 20 minutes, mashing them as they cook. Then puree in a food processor, blender, or food mill. The puree freezes well and makes an excellent cookie filling, sauce for ice cream or poached pears, or spread for toast. You can also dry figs in a food dehydrator for nutritious snacks.”  I might try making the puree, but that would mean slowing my consumption of the fresh figs.  Probably won’t happen.

Which brings me to thoughts of Easter 2014.  I plan to buy at least one more fig tree and am looking for suggestions of something exotic and tasty.  If I can’t find something new, then I’ll buy another Brown Turkey fig.  Maybe two.

About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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8 Responses to Fires, Pestilence and Pruning: Musings of a Fig Fanatic

  1. Rebecca Ifland says:

    We have a Desert King up here which is prolific and wonderful! Also, I freeze extra figs that are quite ripe, then throughout the year I make 2 crepes for breakfast and fill one with 2 frozen figs, microwaved to warm. They a very nearly as good a fresh.

  2. mlknowlden says:

    Sounds wonderful, so I looked it up. Apparently it’s a northwest variety not recommended for Southern California. What a pity. I love the idea of freezing them. A filler for crepes? Ooh la la!

  3. Kaye Klem says:

    Michelle, I never knew what fresh figs tasted like until we were served them [and given extras] from Jean F.’s garden. So delicious! Also her fruit from her blood orange tree…

    What a gardener-gourmond [sp?] you are!

  4. mlknowlden says:

    I did not know she had figs! Right now I’m eating a Peter’s Honey fig with a slice of Coastal white cheddar for a late night snack. Very yummy.

  5. Rebecca Lang says:

    Now I want a fig tree too. I want to pick them when they’re ripe and eat them when they’re still red inside. (The only figs I’ve eaten were dried.). If you should have any extra, I’d be glad to take them off your hands. 🙂

    I’m sorry for your neighbor’s loss of all those precious figs.

  6. mlknowlden says:

    Get one! They’ll bring you joy.

  7. dayya says:

    In Louisiana, fig trees are a common sight, like palm trees in California. I grew up among fig trees and the fig has always been a favorite, any kind–tree and fruit! I love those hand-sized, velvety leaves and the inside of the fruit is like a pouch of jewels. Good post!

  8. mlknowlden says:

    Thanks, Debra. Sometimes I just want to go out and hug my Brown Turkey fig tree. This week, teeny figs began budding among those lovely leaves. I’d heard they sometimes produce a second harvest in the Fall. I’m not sure yet if that’s what I’m seeing, but God bless it!

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