Our Fig Tree in June - After Cutting Back
For thirty years, a wild and magnificent fig tree has been growing next to our farmhouse in Tuscany, sprawling its huge branches over our dilapidated, disused pigsty . Throughout the years I've learned a lot about it! As I have from other, local fig trees.
These are the good and also 'complicated' lessons that our fig trees have taught me:
- Fig trees provide pounds and pounds of sweet fruit.
- Fig trees offer shelter because their branches are so wide and so are their leaves which look like large green hands and they grow hugely tall.
- Here in Tuscany you don't plant fig trees, they crop up and grow tall against south facing farm buildings - on their own.
- Some people say you don't prune them, you simply cut them back. Others disagree.
- The sap of the fig tree irritates the skin.
- The fruits are a high source of calcium and dried figs are very rich in minerals such as fiber, copper, vitamin K.
- The roots of fig trees are meddlesome, growing far and wide. They are capable of breaking up walls, and floors and can get into plumbing systems.
- There are a few ways I'm mentioning here, which stop, or limit the damage! (If you keep on trying).
Ripening Fig Fruit and Fig Leaf on the Tree
When to Harvest Figs
Our farming neighbors told us the figs on our tree were "Settembrini" because they ripen in September. They tell us that before we moved here about thirty years ago they came to pick figs from this tree all through their childhood.
Some still come with their baskets to fill. There really is plenty for everyone. Each day, for more than a month the tree yields at least a few pounds of dark, maroon colored, sweet, plump figs.
The tree is approx two storeys high, or twenty five feet (which is about as tall as it can get) and until some branches were cut earlier in the year, the tree was about as wide.
It's impossible to pick the ripest fruits at the top of the tree, the closest to the burning hot sun, because there's no way up. We'd need a crane. We pick as far as we can get, though it is difficult. The tree is full of humming insects such as ants and wasps. After a while, they start sticking to you because the sun is very hot in late summer, reaching 45° Celsius with global warming (113° Fahrenheit), so you are sweaty. The ants run up and down your arms and legs and face - and try as you may to overcome how tickly they are, the sap is irritating your skin by now and the feeling in the tree is 'sticky'.
You pick on until you fill a basket, which doesn't really take all that much time.
Growing Fig Trees
We have never fertilized the soil around our fig tree. The roots however grow far (and wide and I'll tell you about those roots in a minute). They glean nourishment and water from where their roots travel to. Some of the roots have turned up outside our kitchen window!
I've always thought that the nourishment in the soil, left from when pigs lived in the sty has been enough to feed our tree for all these years. Or that because Adam quickly found a leaf to cover himself (back in the Garden of Eden days), fig trees were common sorts of Garden of Eden trees - no gardening required.
The facts are these:
- Historical record has it that the fig tree was the first edible plant cultivated by man, one thousand years before wheat and rye crops were domesticated. So there is a link.
- The first, ancient story-telling figs were found in a Neolithic Village in a Jordan Valley.
- It's deep roots search out ground-water underground, among the rocks and ravines.
- Ours is a wild growing, Common Fig (Ficus carica) tree which is very much at home in the well drained, deep fresh soil, which doesn't have to be particularly nutritious - as long as it has lots and lots of sun and masses of space, which it does.
- Fig tree wood is no good to burn.
- The tree provides animal (and human) shelter through the night but also during the day.
- The fig tree also absorbs heat and cools the area around it.
Do you Prune Fig Trees?
How to Take Care of a Fig Tree
You don't prune the fig tree where we live.
When the branches get too old and heavy, they need to be cut back in order to be able to get at the new branches and in order to produce bigger sweeter figs with younger branches.
One neighbor swears that if he pruned our tree we would have figs that would be twice the size of the ones we have, but we wont ask him to prove his point. He is probably right, but for as long as the tree is in no danger, I love looking at it - huge.
When the local farmers came to cut back the very old branches of our fig tree this year, they came with a fork lifting tractor. It is not a tree for small gardens. Be warned!
Cutting Back the Fig Tree
The Damage Caused by Fig Tree Roots
Two times in this life have I had to deal with the problems caused by the meddlesome roots of this splendid, shade making, fruit bearing, historically fascinating, wondrous fig tree.
Once we had to re-build a bathroom (and a garden) because the roots of an ancient fig tree (grown so big it ended up growing into the wall of a bathroom) had gotten into the plumbing, (under the floor). It had blocked the pipes and caused flooding. We had to employ the municipal crane and half a dozen men to get at the roots of the fig tree, heave them out of the ground and move them down the side of the hill - upon which an entire village had been built.
Fortunately the village was sympathetic since everyone knows how damaging a fig tree is - often the bane of many a local person's life!
More recently, in the farm house where our pet fig reigns over us today, our only wild tree, we have serious root problems everywhere within a hundred foot radius of the tree.
The walls of the out house (dis-used) is crumbling - ( please see the picture). The roots you see next to this out-house grow new fig shoots - every year.
Every year the walls crumble more. The damage has reached the plumbing of this primitive house, but dousing the area with diesel oil (five liters each month) puts us at Ten - All.
Ten for the tree and Ten for us. The battle is ongoing.
If the roots of your fig tree start sprouting in areas too close to home, get the diesel oil out. It is the ONLY way, even after the new shoots are hacked back to nothing each year.
What are the Problems that Fig Tree Roots Cause?Click thumbnail to view full-size
How to Eat Figs
You pick them and then you eat them, still warm off the tree. You try your best not to eat too many.
They make a lovely Summer lunch split in half and then spread over warm pizza bread - with a slice of prosciutto over all.
They are also very good served chilled with a dollop of good chocolate ice cream.
We will be trying to dry them to have delicious dried figs through the winter- again.
The ants enjoy this very much, as do the wasps. This is a battle we lose to them - Ten-Nil, each year.
Ten to the insects!
A Ripe Open Fig
Main Fig Producing Areas in the World
280,000 tonnes of figs in 2005
170,000 tonnes in 2005
Where our fig trees grow!
© 2012 Penelope Hart