The week of Nov. 1-7 is National Fig Week.
Figs seem to be one of those fruits folks love or hate, but that may be because they have never tasted fresh, ripe fig right off the tree, kissed by the warmth of the sun. Once you have had that delight, you will be ready to plant figs in your yard.
Figs are one of the easiest fruit trees to grow in our area. They do well in our alkaline soils, and can quickly grow into lovely, spreading shade trees. Trees produce fruit in as little as two to three years, and thrive and produce with little effort for the next hundred years or so. Figs do not need cross pollination, so a single tree can produce ample fruit for a household.
The trees have attractive smooth pale creamy-grey bark and large bright green leaves. They are deciduous, dropping their leaves in autumn, and thus make charming shade trees for summer heat, allowing the sun in to warm your home in winter. Depending on the variety, a mature fig tree can reach 25 to 40 feet tall and spread 25 to 60 feet wide. Lucky for those of us that live on smaller home lots, fig trees can very easily be pruned to a tidy, compact form, a tiny 6-by-6 feet even, although a larger canopy will produce more fruit. Figs can be espaliered, pruned and anchored to grow flat along a wall. Figs can also be grown as container plants, so if you are not yet in your "forever home," you can still grow your own fruit.
Care of a fig tree is easy. Prune it into its desired shape the first few years, then prune each April to maintain form. Fertilize with citrus fertilizer at Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Well, you will also have to water it.
For our general area, three best selling cultivars are good for both fresh and dried fruit: "Black Mission," "White Mission" and "Kadota." Lesser known cultivars include the fig great for drying, the "Conadria," and two for the cooler areas, such as Saddlebrooke: "Texas Everbearing" and the "King" series, including "Desert King."
Along with the landscape benefits of fig trees, the fig fruits have many benefits. When you enjoy figs, you help yourself to a taste of health. Figs are rich in complex carbohydrates, are a good source of dietary fiber plus a wealth of essential minerals such as potassium, iron and calcium. Indeed, a half-cup of fresh figs have as much calcium as a half-cup of milk. Dried figs are a no-fat, zero-cholesterol snack, and are deliciously portable, so they are readily available as calcium-rich snacks at home, work, play, or on the road.
Along with eating figs fresh or dried, you can bake with figs. Fig bars taste great, or, instead of applesauce, fig puree can be used to replace fat in baked cookies and cakes. This will naturally help hold in the moisture, keeping baked goods fresher longer.
So why not celebrate Fig Week by planting one of these lovely trees with nutritious and delicious fruit?
Jacqueline Soule is currently working on a book on the herbs of Father Kino and how to grow them today. The book is scheduled to be released as part of the commemorative events surrounding the 300-year anniversary of Padre Kino's passing. For information on the book or on classes I offer in the Tucson area, give me a call at 292-0504. Please leave a voice message.