Backyard Micro-Orchard (Figs)

img_20170219_091119_917.jpgLast month my fruit obsessed mind was full of ideas for all things green to come. I’m talking winter seed sowing, installing and increasing the height on our temporary mini-greenhouse, the installation of at least two more raised beds, a solid try at a chop & flip aquaponics system, and the addition of a few varieties of fruiting bushes and trees. The latter of my hopes dreams and aspirations is what today’s post is about. I had had no success searching rather frantically for my favorite yogurt addition [Lemon & Thyme Fig Jam] on this particular day in January. I found myself inspecting one location and then re-checking another location after I had sent my kids to survey it. After some time enveloped in this fruitless endeavor it became clear that my/our efforts would yield zero results. I decided instead that it was probably overdue for me to research the star of my floral and citrus filled confection craving, (the humble fig) as there was no way in heck I was going to find them to make a fresh batch locally in Minnesota.

It isn’t that I had not planned for this iminent day because in the spring of last year I had a discussion to this fact with a family member who purchased a variety called the Chicago Hardy Fig for our home. Even though this purchase was a consolation prize more than anything due to the antics of a very overzealous customer who beat every single one of us prospective growers to the cherry and plum trees we had intended on purchasing from a local plant sale. This antic put a swift end to the part and parcel of a Backyard *Micro-Orchard experiment. After the initial shock fellow growers and I had, we got a pep talk from the on-site volunteers of said sale and I think most of us were able to switch gears to find other stunning edibles whether they were on our list or not. Some of which I am personally looking forward to which include: honeyberries, currants, ligonberries, and as I digressed, the Chicago Hardy fig.

My initial feelings about this plant are that it was an ok grower for two year old stock. Not too slow to grow but not making great strides either. Yet, by summers end it had the most intricate and beautiful crown of foliage than our other backyard plants. We didn’t get any fruit what so ever but it added some interest to a pretty mediocre backyard canvas. I should say that the day to day responsibility for its care wasn’t mine solely so I hadn’t really researched care beyond H20. That was the case, up until an admiring guest started asking so many questions my head spun. Questions about when we’ll get fruit, pruning, and our winter weather maintenance strategies. My “What Was That Willis”? face was on full display and pretty much summed up the collective experience in our yard with this plant species. After my short stint of huh? passed, I was motivated to take over the care of the plant as there were clearly more steps we were missing. I did this mostly because I can’t stand waste and most especially because this was an expensive plant to buy at that particular maturity.

First steps I took included finding out care procedures then joining a local group called the Northern Fig Growers on FB. Imagine my sigh of relief after I found that not only was this touted as being the perfect variety of fig for our zone, there were other varieties that may be successful here as well. Once I could breathe a little easier armed with a little knowledge to move forward, I then took steps to mitigate wind damage that could stunt or kill the plant by adding insulation including mulch.

Fast forward from last fall and a now sleeping CHF to the start of 2017 and I found myself digging into more Fig Growers research. Some of which led to pretty interesting facts about figs being not only very sweet fruits eaten since forever, but them having a ton of sacred symbolism beyond just fertility and abundance. One quote I found that is derived from a post at wwwiz.com says “The ancient Hebrews looked upon the fig tree as a symbol of peace and plenty. Mohammed’s followers called it the “Tree of Heaven.” The old Romans sacrificed the milky sap of the wild fig tree to Juno, and some central African tribes built huts for the spirits of their ancestors in the shape of the sacred fig trees.” ~ Tarla Fallgatter

Quotes like this get me jazzed about the significance of culinary history and the awe-inspiring connections we still hold today through our diets stemming from our ancestors. I find I am constantly challenging myself to get answers to questions that are not often asked. Such as, what sorts of foods can grow under a large canopy in an Oak Savannah? Do or Did they need Full/Partial/ or Shade conditions? Eventually I’d like to explore more native fruit varieties in the America’s specifically. I want to know how they were used, are still used, or are they not used today? and why or why not?

Before I get too far into what’s an increasingly popular area of education (ethnobotany and the like) I am focusing my efforts on our tiny micro-orchard that is growing both in and outside of doors. This includes over half a dozen Brown Turkey Figs that I’m growing from cuttings. I’ve been asked why I have so many, which is to account for any duds in the bunch. Some could rot, some could mold, or they could receive damage in some other form. For now they are a pretty vibrant green with strong stems leafing out. A couple are even forming their own tiny fruit which speaks to their health. *I will remove them so each plant can focus on the forming of their root systems.

wp-1487635619215.jpgwp-1487635570725.jpgThe other reason I purchased so many cuttings is in the event this bizarre winter stunts or kills the CHF I have replacements. All of the pampering in the world can’t account for mother nature’s change of mind. What started out normal with snow, and cold, and wind is now today 60 degrees and raining with warmer weather on its way later this week. The agrarian lifestyle is a lifetime pursuit and one that none can fully master all of. Everyday I learn something new, and everyday I welcome feedback from the more experienced. I am not one to pretend I have all of the answers so I welcome questions that I may receive from those with the least or no experience. This fuels my desire to learn and to think of ways to adapt my approach to growing. With that said, please share your experience with growing figs or other fruit species on a micro-level.
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*Micro-Orchard from my perspective being the addition of edible perennial plant species to a municipal lot/acreage or those pieces of land with a tiny footprint.

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