Monday, October 5, 2009

My container-grown fig tree

My interest in fig trees began a few years ago when someone sent me an old copy of Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. It is an eccentric collection of hippie back-to-the-land lore, with the life story of the author sprinkled amongst the entries. Carla wrote enthusiastically about planting figs in pots, especially in northern climates. When the cold hits, you can bring the pot into the cellar for the winter. In my Internet research, I also read the magic words for any garden experiment: "easy to maintain as long as you don't over-water". Yes, yes... any plant that thrives on my hatred of the hose is welcome in my plot.

I selected the kadota fig, as it was billed as sweet when eaten fresh and also dries and cans well. Several sites also mentioned that the bright green color of the ripe fruit makes "them invisible to birds". I am not sure if that's true, but given that the birds made away with most of my grapes last year, I was willing to test the theory.

The tree did great in the pot, placed in a paved sunny corner of my front yard. My harvest was nil this year. I'm not sure if it was due to the first year of growing or the cool "summer" weather in Chicago, but even though the tree grew about 25 figs, none of them ripened before the October cold hit. My son still liked pulling them off the tree and watching the milk white sap ooze out. Another problem may have been that I planted the tree in too large of a pot -- apparently with figs, this encourages leaf rather than fruit growth. Per instructions on various garden websites, I have stopped watering all together and am waiting for the tree to go dormant and drop its leaves. Then I will move it into the unheated area of my cellar and wrap it in an old blanket. Hopefully next year we will have a big enough crop to make some homemade fig newtons!

In honor of my baby tree, I did pick up some organic dried kadota figs at the market and I canned them in a brandy-laced simple syrup with a recipe from Eugenia Bone. They are seasoning now, and I plan on sampling the product at Thanksgiving. If they turn out well, I will post the recipe.

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