I DON'T GIVE A FIG! - A DINER'S GUIDE TO THE LANDSCAPE

Oct.21, 2017: In today's divided and partisan world, I can stand up and declare "I don't give a fig!", literally, and, if you owned a fig tree, you would understand. I consider myself a reasonably generous person and when it comes to produce from my garden, I am a vegephilanthropist. I give away bushels of squash, chard,kale, prunes and other fruits and vegetables I have in abundance to friends, neighbors and even strangers, whether they ask or whether I have to force it upon them. But not figs! They are too precious to my palate. So, keep your hands off my figs and go grow your own, which I'm happy to tell you , out of my own self-interest.

If you live in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon, you can grow cold hardy figs outdoors. Easy peasy. If you are on the coast or Cascades. it's a little dicier. Figs require summer heat and the coast's summer often don't provide that and they also can't take temperatures of -10 F or solidly frozen ground, so the Cascades are too cold.

When I'm talking figs, I'm talking about the common fig, Ficus carica. The genus sports a plethora of tropical and sub-tropical species , some of which we use as houseplants, such as the rubber tree or weeping fig. There are over 200 cultivars of figs grown in North America, but in our area it dries down to about a handful. I myself have a Vern's Brown Turkey fig (named after Oregonian garden writer Vern Nelson). Other recommended varieties for our area are Lattarula, Desert King , White Dakota and Chicago.

As a landscape tree (figs can grow 15- 30' tall), the large lobed leaves give a tropical air to a planting. Figs don't have a compact crown (unless you're pruning alot) and can look a little bit gangly, but it's a minor fault when compared to its fast growth, pest free, low maintenance and drought tolerant characteristics. If you don't want to use an orchard ladder to gather your figs, then topping (which in this case is OK) can help to keep the height manageable.

Right now, fall, is a great time of year to plant. Pick a sunny spot with well drained soil. Organic matter or compost is nice to add, but not essential. And then you just wait. It took me about 6 years from a cutting before I started getting figs. Speaking of cuttings, it's easy to propagate figs. They are rooted from hardwood cuttings, simple layering or air layering (my favorite) and you can find out from somebody else on the internet the details of doing it.

Here in Oregon we get one fig crop a year. More southerly tropical locations will get two. Many fig cultivars produce 2 types of figs, a "main" fig and a" breba" . Brebas form in the spring on last season's wood. They sprout directly under a leaf. Main crop figs grow on current season wood and sprout directly above a leaf. In the Coast Range where I live, I get a crop of brebas in August and the mains never reach maturity to harvest. Brebas are said to be less tasty than main figs, but they're plenty tasty for me and no, you still can't have one.

Most of the cold hardy figs are self pollinating, which is good and bad. Good because we don't have to worry about having male fig flowers around, but bad because we miss out on the utterly fascinating pollination process involving tiny suicidal wasps. In fact, that's what I wanted to write about originally but I got wrapped up in telling you how to get your own figs. Stay tuned for a future series, "Sex and the Single Plant", in which I will delve , in erotic detail, into the kinky sex lives of figs and other swinging plants.

Knowing when to harvest figs was a skill that evaded me for the first couple if years. I always got overly excited and picked too early. Once picked, figs do not ripen. and they taste crappy. Figs, even when ripe, don't keep well. Maybe a week in the fridge. A ripe fig looks and feels like it's overly ripe. It's squishy to the touch and the stem attaching it is drooping. They will often also change color from green to yellowish, goldenish or brownish.

Since figs don't keep long, you have to process them quick. Fresh figs are great but dried figs, to me, is hog heaven. I'm also partial to drunken fig jam, which has lots of brandy in it.

I hope I've discouraged you from asking me for figs and encouraged you to grow your own damn figs!

F & P