Fig Trees – the Twofer Tree (Fruit and Fauna)
Did you know that the fig tree is the third tree mentioned in the Bible? Right after the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course Adam and Eve, the original preppers – used the fig leaf to cover themselves. You will probably already have other means by which to clothe yourself but no matter how you are dressed, if you live in USDA zone 7 or further south, the humble fig should be at the top of your list for trees to plant.
Figs are quite simply one of the simplest fruits to grow. In fact the primary pruning concern with them is the treatment of the numerous suckers (shoots coming out at the base of the trunk) during the growing season. This is easily accomplished by taking a sharp shovel and cutting straight down into the soil between the sucker and the trunk. When you do this chances are you will get some root along with the sucker. Transplant these suckers in a sunny spot (the fig’s main requirement) any time of year but be sure to keep them evenly moist during the summer.
Another way to propagate figs is air rooting.
You can do this the easy way or the easier way:
The easy way is to take a plastic soda or water bottle. Cut off the bottom about two inches from the bottom (you can use it for a lid later) and then cut up the side of the bottle so that it can be wrapped around a young branch. You will need tin snips to make a vertical cut through the top of the bottle where the cap screws on. Now cut up the side of the “lid” and cut a circle about 1 inch in diameter in the bottom of the bottle. You may need tin snips again if this is fairly thick. Choose a branch that is not much thicker than a pencil. Now you can place the bottle around the branch (be sure to trim off any leaves) with the top of the bottle pointing down or towards the trunk. Plug up any space between the branch and the bottle opening so that the dirt you are about to put in will not spill out. We usually use some pieces of rags for this. You can also place a clothes pin at the bottom to keep the bottle from sliding down the branch. Pack in some good moist soil around the branch. This is where the roots will go when they sprout. Close up the vertical cut you made with some tape. We prefer clear box packing tape. Place your lid on the top and wrap the whole thing in some tin foil or other material to block sunlight.
Roots should start to form in a few weeks. The new tree will be nourished from the roots of the main tree but be sure to add some water through the top of the bottle to help the roots develop. When you can see plenty of roots through the plastic, cut the branch below the opening of the bottle and gently remove the plastic bottle (good thing you cut it up the side, eh? – just peel it back and away). Tip: Leave the bottle on the branch until just before you are ready to plant it so that the roots do not dry out.
Trim off the top of the new tree so that the young roots are not over-stressed supporting a lot of leaves (you only want to leave a few leaves, no more than 6). Now you can plant the tree in a sunny location or in a bucket for transplanting later. Be sure to water it very well. You should get fruit the next year.
Now the easier way is to take those suckers that grow out of the base of the tree and bend them down so that at least 3 inches of the sucker is in contact with the bare soil. You can weight the branch down with a brick placed perpendicular to the sucker. In about a week the sucker will begin growing vertically again while establishing its own roots where it is in contact with the soil. As with air rooting, when you are ready to plant the new tree, cut it off the main tree and give it a nice new home.
Neither of these methods requires rooting hormones, grafting tools or much of anything else. Just be patient, and if anything, provide some good compost enhanced soil for your new tree.
For prepper purposes you are going to want to plant several trees. Plant different varieties if possible. Choose a cultivar that is well suited for your local climate. The best way to do this is to simply ask the owner of a successful tree if you can have some of his suckers. This is how we got our first trees in Virginia Beach 15 years ago. Since then we have propagated over a hundred trees for friends and neighbors.
The reason that you want to plant several trees is that every critter in town loves figs. Yep, this is why fig trees are a twofer. In our location we have had possums, raccoons, rats, squirrels and foxes in our tree. Yes the gray foxes actually climb into the tree. Deer will browse as high as they can. If you have bear in your area they will be frequent visitors. So plant enough trees so that you will still have a crop after feeding the local ecosystem.
Speaking of the local ecosystem, an acquaintance of mine planted 20 trees he got from us for the express purpose of bringing in wild life, especially deer and turkey. He placed the trees strategically near his tree stands and has harvested plenty of deer that are drawn to the figs. Who says you can’t hunt a baited field?
In warmer zones you will get two crops each year. In cooler areas you can expect one crop in the fall. Yield depends on a lot of things but the main factor as mentioned before is how much predation the trees experience from the local fauna. When the figs begin to ripen check the trees daily as the crop comes in somewhat staggered. The fig is ready when the opening at the bottom of the fig secretes a drop of clear fluid, the neck bends and the fruit is soft to the touch. A couple of bites of an unripe fig will also teach you how to determine when they are ready!
If you want to pinch your fig trees you can shape them and promote more fruit. Snapping off the top of the plant will cause it to send out more branches and/or more fruit. The site will ooze white sap for a couple of hours but will heal up quickly, especially in the sunlight. Snapping off a lateral branch will have the same effect on the branch (more branches and/or fruit back along the branch to the trunk). Pinching or pruning the fig tree can keep the figs in easy reach (for you and the critters). You should pinch the tree early in the season so any fruit that form have enough time to ripen before the first frost.
Figs are best consumed fresh but do make an excellent choice for dehydration either in an oven, or if the humidity in your area is low enough out in the sun. Other options include canning because the high sugar content of ripe figs does not require the addition of sugar. Just be sure to follow general canning hygiene rules.
Keep on Prepping!