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Figs – the perfect tree for the Gold Country by Don Urbanus 

Black Jack

Figs are one of the oldest domesticated fruits predating wheat and other grains by over a thousand years.  A native to western Asia and the Middle East, figs have figured prominently as a staple food since ancient times.  Greeks passed a law that the best figs could not be exported.  The Romans had many varieties listed in their “De Agri Cultura” or farmer’s notebook.

Apples are typically suggested to be the “forbidden fruit” in the bible, but you could make a case that it was the fig, not the apple, that was forbidden.  After all, when Adam and Eve are exiled from Eden, they wear fig leaves.  Also, later in the bible, Jesus was walking along and found a fig growing on the side of the road.  He “cursed” the fig because it had nothing but leaves and no fruit - but it wasn’t the fig’s fault!  According to the bible, it was “not the season for figs.” 

Tiger Panache

Fortunately for us, figs are not that hard to grow and are pretty reliable producing two crops a year.  In fact, we have the perfect climate for figs in California.  The first crop is on last year’s wood, which could be ruined by a severe frost - but don’t curse the tree!  The fig’s new growth produces an even larger crop of figs.  Because of the double crop, figs can produce from about June into the fall. 

Figs are not particular about soil, growing even in poor soil.  Give them room because they have an extensive root system and will often grow wider than tall. They do better in full sun and are drought tolerant, although regular watering will give the best production.  Heavy fertilizing with nitrogen is not needed and should be discouraged since it will just produce lots of growth at the expense of the figs. 

Figs are self-fertile and need very little winter chilling and can be grown on the coast as well as the hot interior of California.  Pruning is only needed to shape the tree and prevent crowding of branches.

Texas Giant

We used to sell figs trees bareroot in January with lousy success.  Often the trees would dry up or die way back.  We couldn’t guarantee fig trees.  Now most figs are grown in long “sleeves” or tall pots and sold to nurseries already rooted.  Nurseries can sell them like that or pot them up into a larger pot. 

One warning about fig trees!  Gophers absolutely love their roots.  Planting figs in gopher cages is a must.  Once the tree is large enough, it can withstand some chewing from gophers, although constant vigilance is necessary.  Birds love eating the soft fruits too. 

Figs can be eaten fresh, canned or dried.  Fresh figs should be very ripe.  Often the figs start drooping a bit on the tree when they are ripe.  Refrigerate them after picking.  Figs can be dried whole or cut in half. 

We have many examples of old figs in the Gold Country.  There are huge fig trees in the creek next to the “Lost City”, an old site that was started in the 1870’s and abandoned in 1896.  They may have been some of the original trees planted by the settlers. 

There are numerous varieties.  Black Mission is an old time favorite.  Black Jack is similar but a natural semi-dwarf tree.  Texas Blue Giant gets huge tasty fruit.  Brown Turkey, Flanders, Kadota, Janice Seedless Kadota, Peter’s Honey, and Panache “Tiger”, with striped fruit and blood-red fruit are some of the commonly available figs.

Figs are tasty, tough, reliable, drought tolerant and a link to the past.  Whatever you do, don’t curse them!  I find mild threats work just as well. 

 

 

 

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