Roots 'n' Shoots: May 2014

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Fig: How to Grow – Fruit of the Month

Fig stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
2/5
Weekly check-ups
Water:
2-3/5
Every second day/bi-weekly
Sun:
4/5
Full sun, will tolerate some shade
Training:
2-5/5
Minimal to maintenance pruning
Fertilise/Feeding:
3-4/5
Monthly-fortnightly
Time to Harvest:
5/5
Forever, 5+ months
Frost Hardiness:
3/4
Very hardy once established, can’t cope black frost



Uses
Culinary

Most Problematic Nemesis:
Birds, overwatering, fruit fly

Container Plant:
Yes, needs roots restricted in the garden as well



Ficus carica
Flora von Deutschland ├ľsterreich und der Schweiz
1885
Kurt Stoberts Online Library

Quick intro

Figs are an ancient food source and were one of the first fruit trees cultivated along with the olive and grapevine. Known for its adaptability and high productivity whilst being easy to prune and maintain. This makes the fig tree a valuable addition to the edible garden and a rewarding long term investment. There is almost no limit to the use of figs; they can be eaten fresh, canned, dried made into an assortment of preserves. Foodies find them lovely with cheese. They can be roasted and added to coffee (Viennese coffee) for an interesting twist.

History

The fig has a dual-origin, one being in the Mediterranean basin (wild pips found at Neolithic sites, 7800-6600 BC) and the other being Western Asia & Asia minor. The fig has been cultivated in several regions since ancient times, Mesopotamia & Egypt since 2750 BC and Asia since 3000 BC. From there it traveled to England and the New World during the 1600s. It only reached California in the 1800s.

The fig is traditionally cultivated in subtropical and warm temperate regions, but several cold-resistance varieties are available. The major commercial producers of the fig are; Spain, Italy, Turkey, Middle Eastern Countries, Iran, Greece, Portugal, USA, North Africa and South Africa.

Science Stuff

The fig belongs to an eccentric family of fruit trees, Moraceae, which includes the Mulberry. The family produce latex (milky sap) to which some people are allergic and their fruiting characteristics are peculiar.


White fig
Ficus carica

There are four types of figs, all belonging to the Ficus genus.

1) Caprifig = requires pollination by a co-evolved fig wasp species
2) Smyrna figs = can be cross-pollinated by caprifigs (caprification)
3) San Pedro = an intermediate variety
4) Common fig = cultivated variety which contains only female flowers and doesn’t require pollination

The most widely cultivated fig is known as the common fig (Ficus carica) and produce figs through parthenocarpy (meaning no fertilisation is required and the fruit is technically sterile).

Growing Fig

Fig trees are deciduous becoming dormant in winter. Dormant trees are planted during winter in a sunny, well drained position. They can be grown in many soil types (expect extremely alkaline or acid soil) and they are mildly salt tolerant (grown near the coast). Although they are drought tolerant, fruit yields and quality benefits from regular watering and fertilisation. Fruit will drop from the tree during hot and dry conditions if it is not supplemented with water. It is important to choose a variety well suited to your local climate to ensure optimum growth and cropping.

White fig
Ficus carica

Figs can be grown either in the soil in the garden or in a container. Whichever methods you choose both require the restriction of the fig trees’ roots. The shallow roots are vigorous and will cause damage to buildings and underground pipes.

In the garden:

Large boxes are dug into the garden and lined non-toxic cement or bricks. The fig can be grown against a sturdy wall in cool climates to take advantage of the re-radiated heat for cropping. In warm climate it can be grown in an open site, where it is fertilised twice a year (once in spring and early autumn of the growing season) and watered deeply every fortnight. Mulching assists with retaining soil moisture, keeps down weeds and reduces nematodes.

Extra twine around stake to prevent fig damage due to friction

In large pots:

Figs in large containers will require more regular watering and feeding. Mine is grown in a pot and I found that it responds well to a feed every two weeks with ½ strength liquid fertiliser during the growing season and once a month feed (1/2 strength liquid feed). I give it water every two days; I fill the pot with water until the saucer is full and only re-water once the saucer is dry. Figs in pot will grow slower, be smaller and produce less than those grown in the garden.

Figs crop twice a year. The first crop (berba) is early in the season (spring) and a few small fruits are borne on old wood (last season’s growth). The second crop (main) is produced on new wood (this season’s growth) during summer and the fruits are larger and of higher quality. It is common practice to remove the berba crop to redirect the nutrient towards the main. Simply rub off any mini-figs that form during spring, if you have late frosts, the frost will remove them for you. The tree is frost hardy once it becomes established (1-2 years), but the fruits aren’t. Fig trees take 1-2 years after planting to crop and will continue cropping for 50+ years. The first 15 years are the most productive after which the crops will become lighter. The trees can be 2-10 meters tall with a wide natural spread.

Small figs
Ficus carica
Pests and disease

Fig trees are fairly resilient, but can suffer from mosaic virus, nematodes, scale and stem borers. Beetles and fruit flies can enter through wide-eye (ostiole) varieties where a weeping eye is indication of infection. Small-eye varieties are preferable in areas with fruit fly/beetle problems.

Mine hasn’t has much problems with pest or disease, but I have a major problem of keeping the birds from eating my figs. I have devised a fruit frost-fleece shield that has been successful at hiding my fruits, see my Bird Control post.

Fig bird protection

Other Fig Tips

Figs do well with pruning and are very forgiving of pruning mistakes. They can also be pruned back hard when old trees require rejuvenation. I would recommend not pruning young trees, especially pot-bound trees, for the first 5-10 years. Also pruning only needs to be for size control and the three Ds (dead, damaged or diseased). This means that a fig tree can be pruned to fit in any sized garden.

Figs can be left in a free-open form or pruned to espaliers/fans along walls to increase the amount of produce for space occupied. Fans/espaliers against wall in cold climates are especially beneficial. Allow the fig to develop several side shoots to increase the amount of fruits carried.

Figs aren’t too fond of humidity and fruits will split from too much watering/rain.

Split fig - too much rain

Cold climate (frosts less than 120 days apart) growers might have a different method of fig growing and harvesting. Figs are cold resistance once established, some varieties can survive temperatures as low as -11oC (12oF) and can be frozen to the ground. They are pruned to two main branches and are low of the ground (1 meter) and cropping in alternated between the two. The crop produced ‘this’ year will only ripen in the next and is overwintered on the tree by thatching it with bracken or fleece.

Dormancy can break during winter hot spells, which can lead to damage when cold conditions return.

Harvesting & Storing

Figs are ripe once they are fully coloured, slightly soft, bend at the neck and some varieties’ ostiole will open/split when ripe. Figs will only ripen on the tree; immature fruits will not ripen indoors. Ripe figs are very perishable and need to be eaten within 2-3 days after harvesting.

Unripe fig (left), nearly ripe fig (right)
Ripe fig














Dried fruits are an excellent preserving alternative and can keep for 6-8 months. Figs can be dried in the sun at no extra cost to you, else they make wonderful jams. Fresh figs have a 10% sugar content whereas dried figs have a 50% sugar content which assists with preservation of the fruit.

Propagation

Figs are easily propagated by taking cuttings of branches (20 cm) that are one year old. These are treated with the appropriate rooting hormone and potted up. They can be planted out the next winter by which they would have developed strong roots.

Something interesting

First I would like to bring your attention to the fig’s peculiar fruits, which are not true fruits at all. Figs are actually a flesh inside-out cluster of flowers known as a synconium. The interfloserence (flowering structures) are modified to infrutesence, where female only flowers are contained within the fruit. These swell without pollination or fertilisation in a process known as parthenocarpy which results in seedless fruit.

Fig synconium anatomy
Wild relatives on the other hand need a little help to crop and produce fertile seed. Figs have a millions-of-years old relationship with specialised fig wasps. These wasps have co-evolved with figs to only pollinate figs and without each other they will surely perish. The infructesence is pollinated when a fertilised female wasp, Blastophaga psenes, enters the fig through the ostiole. Ostiole size is related to the size of the female wasp, which is quite the squeeze to get through breaking off her wings and results in the female not being able to get out again. She lays her eggs in the under-developed flowers and by walking over several (male and female flowers); she effectively pollinates the fig. Egg-containing flowers swell and form ‘galls’ containing the developing wasps. Wingless males hatch before females and fertilise the females whilst they are inside their galls. Males then chew holes through the fig wall and die. Mature fertilised females then leave through these tunnels, collecting pollen on their bodies along the way and fly out in search of a new fig host. This means that severe inbreeding occurs in fig wasp populations, but they still remain viable and thrive, which has puzzled geneticists for years making them popular subjects of study. >


Examples of the Fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes and fig wasp galls


My Fig

I have a White Genoa: It bares green medium-sized fruits with excellent flavour and is suited to Mediterranean and subtropical climates. It doesn’t like heavy rainfall and as such fruits split under these conditions. I haven’t pruned it as it is still very small, but it is coming along nicely. In its first year of cropping it produced a whole crop of 3 figs J, the next year we got 13. Hopefully I can work this up to a good bunch, enough for drying and jam! Yum!

The Brown Turkey variety is a superior one for most gardens (especially South Africa and Australia), but the Cape Brown/White are also very suitable for South Africa. Additional recommended varieties for SA include; Adam, Black Velvet, Preston Prolific, Sugar and Adriatic.

Cool climate varieties would include Marseille and Negronne, which can be grown as fans or espaliers against sunny walls.

Brown fig
Ficus caria

For Fig tree suppliers in Roodepoort, see my Nurseries &Stockist page.

For fig pruning in to fans and espaliers (as well as pruning of other fruit trees) I recommend the following book: The Ultimate Practical Guide to Pruning and Training - How to Prune and Train Trees... by Richard Bird




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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! ­čść
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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Bird Control: Visual deterents - An Update (Part 2)

Feral pigeon
Bird control, is similar to pest control, where you want to minimise damaged to your crops preferably through non-harmful (not in the case of pests! J) and environmentally friendly. You can purchase many of these bird deterrents, but hardly any of them are wallet-friendly, therefore I have opted for making my own or acquire ones with minimal cost. I posted one of my DIY bird deterrent devices a while back, which was based on reflective surfaces and bird’s visual spectrum. It really works! The only problem is that it needs sunlight to work, this means that when it is overcast or raining the pigeon thieves have free range over the chicken pellets and the black-eyed bulbuls perform aerial assaults on the figs and raspberries!!! To my utmost horror!

This is basically what it looks like in the chicken coop,
on & in the chicken feeder and on the surrounding walls!!!
When they are disturbed you get this huge 'fluttering' noise
and millions of them take to the sky!!!

It is the most terrible thing you ever did witness!!!

My biggest problem is with the pigeons & chicken pellets and the bulbuls with the fruits. I find the pigeons to be a bigger nuisance as they can clean out the chicken feeder several times a day leaving none for the chickens – this means the chicken are hungry and I am wasting pellets and money on pigeon thieves! These pigeons, known as city doves or street pigeons, are referred to as ‘feral pigeons’ (Columba livia), which were domesticated from Rock doves. They readily interbreed with other pigeons and have spread across most of the globe. Many people also called them ‘flying rats’ because of their pest value and bird deterrents are constantly implemented in urban – and agricultural settings to scare them away.

Geographical distribution of the Feral pigeon,
Columba livia

I set out on a few experiments to see whether I can get a back-up deterrent for when the sun don’t shine. I looked up a few alternatives online and found the following candidates:

1) Bird nets, spikes and wires… Now this isn’t going to work, it’s not like I can line the chicken feeder with these and the bird will swoop over them in the garden… I am not fond of netting over plants as this causes damage, such as braking of branches and fruits (I found this to be very true with frost fleece, especially so when it gets wet!).

Rock Dove spikes
2)  Sound deterrents, predatory birds and chemicals… Sound deterrents will likely scare the chickens as well, so "No" to that, I don’t want to keep falcons any time soon and chemical are definitely out of the picture!

3) Visual deterrents… So we are back here, other than more reflective devices, I can place stationary figure or outlines of natural predators around the garden and maybe even on the coop roof where the chicken won’t see them… So here are a few things that I tried:

A) Scarecrow: I made a scarecrow for the chicken coop to warn off would-be thieves, but it is only a temporary scare device as the pigeons become used to it. This means moving it around each day and re-dressing it, which is too much effort. So that idea has been scratched off the list.

My sad abandoned scarecrow...
probably an example of how not to do a scarecrow...
I think I can hear the pigeons laughing...

B) Rubber snakes: These can be purchased at the toy store. Although, I find that the birds ‘know’ how close they can get to the snakes without being in the hypothetical striking range. I had one on guard at the fig tree, another on the burglar bars at the tomatoes and one on the wall next to the raspberries. The tomatoes where left alone, but the figs and raspberries were still fair game! If I put the snake into the fig tree, they merely eat the figs on the opposite side! So my snake test wasn’t very successful…

My 'red' snake...

C) Flapping owl-thing: I found this at local craft market (Garden World). It is a plastic figurine of an owl with big oogly eyes on a pole and flaps its wings when the wind blows. It is marginally effective, because the birds were still picking off the raspberries when I had about a meter away staring at the raspberries. I put it right in the raspberry pot and that seemed to keep them off of that raspberry plant, but I have three raspberries and only one owl-thing. The cats were convinced that it was edible for a while and I had to show them several times that it is a ‘dead’ figure! J

Owl deterrent
It is a garden ornament, hence why it is in better condition

D) Fruit Shield: This started out as brown paper bags over some of the peaches. The idea was to mask or hide the fruits from the birds, but the paper bags are difficult to secure to the fruits and you can’t readily check up on them to see whether they are good to harvest. Then we decided to cut out pieces of the frost fleece and only cover the raspberries and figs instead of the whole plant (which causes damage). This worked fairly well, as the fleece hid the fruits from preying eyes and even helped them to ripen! The frost fleece lasts about 1-2 months and then completely disintegrates because of the weather exposure, so always keep a pack on hand.

Brown paper bags over peaches


Fig fruit shield
Now you see them, now you don't!


The conclusion of the experimentation is that:

1) For sunny days:

Reflective CDs work the best, but only when sunlight hits them. Another bonus is that the CDs keep deterring the birds without any additional input from my side, maybe they need a bit of a fix-up after a year of working in the wind, rain and sun J (some tiles fall off and some peel). They work for both the vegetable garden and chicken coop!

I have seen many versions of the reflective visual deterrents, such as red reflective tape, iridescent hanging ornaments, pieces of strung up foil and even blown-up wine bladders!

2) Cloudy/rainy days:

Cover fruits with cut-out pieces of frost fleece to protect them when it is cloudy or raining. They will need to be replaced once a month if cloudy weather persists due to disintegration. Again these don’t need extra input after installation and they allow easy access to check on ripening fruits. It can easily be applied to fruit clusters (raspberry) or a few individual fruits like the figs/peaches, but it might be a mission to cover and check each and every tomato!


All in all, the fruit shields worked well for keeping the birds away from the raspberries and the figs, but I still haven’t found a cloudy-day deterrent for the chicken coop… I will try a few more ideas throughout the year and report again on what I have found.


Large Pigeon Trap

LOL! J
Won't it be funny if I put one of these
badboys in the garden!! I just don't know
what you would do with them all once you
caught them...

Related post





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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! ­čść
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