- Author: Michelle Davis
Many years ago, as a student at CSU Fresno, I frequently drove the backroad off of Highway 99 into the campus. At that time the road had no traffic lights until really close to the school. I drove by what seemed like miles of fig orchards and then a shopping center appropriately called Fig Garden Village. I asked a friend a few years ago about her recent trip to the campus. She told me my old route was no longer miles of orchards, but now miles of traffic lights and businesses.
I didn't really appreciate the fig trees then, except as a peaceful last stretch into the campus. My only experience with figs to that point in time was eating Fig Newtons.
Figs are not technically a fruit, but a little bundle of tiny flowers inside a small, thin sac. There are basically 3 kinds of figs, but lots of varieties. Most figs grown in home gardens are called common figs. What's nice about these is that only takes one tree to get figs. Common figs are self-pollinators. Some varieties in this category are 'Brown Turkey' and 'Celeste'. The second kind is the 'Smyrna' fig requiring cross-pollination from a caprifig by a fig wasp carrying the pollen. No pollination equals no figs. The third type has two crops of figs. The first in the spring grows on the prior year's shoots and doesn't require pollination, but the second crop in the late summer/fall that grows on the current year's shoots does. This second crop is the main producer. The first crop usually produced in June is used commercially as fresh fruit. Shelf life is really short. The second crop is dried and used as fig paste.
If you like figs, these are great deciduous trees for the home garden. They can be grown in pots or in the ground. Potted figs need a sunny spot and consistent moisture and they can easily be grown in pots with reservoirs. Multi-stemmed plants are attractive in the home garden and can be put directly in the ground. All that's needed is sun and soil with good drainage year-round. Potted trees do need fertilizer, but the in-ground ones usually take care of themselves at the expense of nearby plants. Trees in the ground can grow to 30 feet tall and wide. Pruning them does not hurt them. Do it when the tree is dormant. Keep them smaller, so you can pick the fruit without getting on a ladder.
To harvest your fig crop, here's what to look for: The fruit changes color. When it starts to droop on the branch, and the fig neck gets soft and the skin cracks, pick it. Don't wait. The window is short. Other critters will get the fresh fruit before you do or it will land in a messy splat on the ground.
Long after my CSU Fresno commutes, and for many years, I helped an elderly British friend pick his crop. He and his wife would dry some of the fruit in their garage and would make jam out of the rest. He had one large, unpruned tree, so I was on a ladder with kitchen gloves in my nursing scrubs after my shift had ended. It was a messy job. The fuzzy leaves and the white milky sap from the stems made me incredibly itchy. The glove fingers would even stick together. Upon finishing, I would spend at least 10 minutes scrubbing any part of my arms not covered by my scrubs and the gloves trying to get rid of the itchiness.
And so that brings me to this final fig thought: Did Adam and Eve really wear fig leaves?