Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Growing Figs in Central VA! FUN FUN!

I am on vacation and revisiting my very first post, over 5 years ago (YAY!) on my very favorite fruit!
Figs (Ficus carica)
When I moved to central Virginia 8 years ago, I was amazed by what can be grown in this zone. I found eucalyptus by the James River and both Northern and Southern Magnolias side by side in neighbors’ yards. One of my amazing finds was fig trees. I stumbled upon them one autumn at Monticello and, later, at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where, alas, they were removed when the Children’s’ Garden was renovated.

I first heard about the extreme measures northern gardeners take to keep figs trees alive in an issue of Organic Gardening magazine. From pruning and burying the trees to building little structures (fig houses) around the trees in the fall, Northern gardeners must have to love figs to try to grow them. After I got used to looking for the trees, I found one venerable fig tree in northern New Jersey. The elderly Italian gardeners in the house covered the tree each fall with thick layers of old carpeting and rope and each spring it budded anew.

Growing figs is much easier here in central Virginia than points north and the fruit is an excellent reward. I planted 3 Brown Turkey figs 5 years ago and am experimenting with two others, Petite Negri (planted in a large pot), a black fig, and a green honey fig variety. Three of the Brown Turkeys are planted near the house on a southern exposure. This is the best location to provide winter warmth and protection from desiccating breezes. For the first three years, I wrapped the figs in the fall with burlap and filled the burlap with that ubiquitous VA mulching material, pine straw. Other than watering the plants deeply through that first summer, this is all the care they needed. Last year, the figs again produced abundant fruit, but needed some heavy pruning to reduce the height to manageable levels. Figs can be heavily pruned and will come back the following spring, fruiting on new wood.

My figs have not been affected by any pests, other than the occasional bird or squirrel, unlike the organic peaches or apples I struggle to produce each year. Once their roots go deep, figs are sturdy, hardy plants with no particular diseases in this area of VA.

What to do with the all those figs? Well, the ones that are not eaten right off the plant (and one tree grows onto my porch, so I have fulfilled my dream of picking figs from a lawn chair on the front porch) I make into fig preserves and I dry many more in a dehydrator. These dried figs can be used, reconstituted with a bit of warm water, in biscotti, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread…or they can be eaten out of hand. If you pick slightly under ripe figs, let them ripen and darken on the counter overnight. If some white, milky sap gets on the fig when you pick it, make sure to wash this off as it can create a bitter taste in your mouth and a slight allergic reaction (so, never eat figs unripe). Each variety ripens to a different color, green, brown or deep brown/purple.

Figs contain a great deal of calcium, and have phosphorous, potassium, beta-carotene, vitamin C, fiber, flavanoids and polyphenols. They are a nutritional powerhouse!

An excellent source for figs is Edible Landscaping, 361 Spirit Ridge Road, Afton VA, http://www.eat-it.com/ , info@ediblelandscaping.com. They have a great collection of figs, including Brown Turkey, Hardy Chicago, Marseilles, Conadria, LSU Purple and others.  


Madeline said...

Many thanks for all of the information about planting and growing fig trees in this area, Judy.

Fresh figs are truly a gift from the Gods--saying they taste divine is an understatement.

I wish I had thought of planting one in our tiny, postage-stamp size townhouse yard when we first moved here to this neighborhood in 1989. I will research the possibility of planting one this fall. They are just too good!

I am looking forward to your next blog subject with eager anticipation, Judy!

May your blog bloom & flourish!


Judy Thomas said...

Thanks Madeline. It's not too late to plant a fig! Fall is a great time for planting!

Snowtography said...

Just found this post as I research fig growing here in Va. I'm in Mathews County. Have you posted about figs since this post? Thanks!

Judy Thomas said...

No, this was my first blog post ever and it was on figs. The index on the left side of the blog page should give some idea of what I have written on. Do you have a specific questions about figs? I'd be happy to share my experience.

bblackmoor said...

We would love to plant Hardy Chicago and Marseilles fig trees. Is this the right time of year to do it, or should we wait? If we should wait... when is a better time?

Judy Thomas said...

I planted my figs in spring and here is my reasoning: figs love heat, but need winter protection for the first few years. The goal is to protect their roots from winter freeze. Though our soil doesn't freeze deeply, you still need to watch them for a few seasons. So, in this case, planting in spring makes sense. Keep the well watered and they should do fine. A great source for figs and fig info is Edible Landscaping in Afton VA.

Benjamin Thornes said...

I am a huge fan of figs. I managed a 2 acre fig orchard in northern Virginia, which was producing up to 70 pounds of fruit a day! Micro-siting was the key. Now I am working on some near Charlottesville, mostly through propagation from the clippings off the original trees. I have had good success with that in the past and can't wait to see the results.

Judy Thomas said...

Hi Benjamin,
Thanks for the comment. F
igs are care free to grow, as you know, once they get established. And, yes, paying attention to the site is key. Good luck and let me know how your project progresses!