OUTDOOR FIGS FOR SCOTLAND
I planted a young fig tree on my allotment plot over ten years ago. I first tasted a fresh fig about 50 years ago when I visited a farmer up north who had a bush in his greenhouse. It was delicious and I never forgot that moment, but it was years later before I decided to buy a fig and try it outdoors. My horticultural training in early youth, told me
they were not hardy in Scotland and needed
winter protection, but today we have climate change and if Scotland gets a wee
bit more of this global warming my fig should be just fine. Last year was a
rotten year up north. The sun in summer rarely appeared, but we got plenty
rain, yet my fig tree gave me
well over one hundred figs. This year we have all
had a bit of global warming so I think my crop will be even better. I picked my
first fig at end of July and so far I have had over fifty. Fortunately they
crop over a long period so it is easy to eat them fresh, but when gluts happen
they are easy to freeze for future use.
|John picks a few figs|
|One days harvest of figs|
Figs have been grown or collected for food for thousands of years. Sub fossil figs (over 9000BC) were found in a Neolithic village in the Jordan Valley. They were also grown by the ancient Greeks as well as the Romans for food. Human migration has resulted in them now being grown throughout the Temperate World. They are a major crop in California which has a Mediterranean
climate. Continental countries with hot
climates can harvest four crops each year, but in UK we only get two crops that
overlap. The early crop is from small buds that successfully overwinter, then
later more figs are produced from currant seasons shoots. In hot countries the
fig is pollinated by a wasp which often stays behind in the fig but in our
country our figs are self pollinating so no wasps to worry about. Figs
originated in the Middle East and western Asia but have now naturalised
throughout Asia and North America. It thrives in hot dry climates where its
roots can grow deep into the soil to find water. Our hot dry summer this year
is just what it really enjoys.
|Early summer fig potential|
We need to use this knowledge to grow it successfully in UK and more so in Scotland with our damper climate in normal years. Left on its own without pruning it will grow into a small tree up to thirty
feet tall, making harvesting a nightmare. In our
climate on good soils it loves to grow vigorously, so we need to control vigour
so it can concentrate its energy into fruit production.
|Developing fig fruits|
|Ripe figs in August|
It is best to restrict growth by planting it in a prepared fig pit. Up north it is best to choose a south facing wall or fence to plant against and train it as a fan of sorts. Dig out a trench two feet deep, two feet wide and three feet long. Line the sides of this pit with slabs. Fork up the bottom to assist drainage. Backfill the pit with broken bricks again to help drainage just leaving about nine inches for top soil, but enriching the top soil with compost to create a rich medium. Add some fertiliser to get it started and as most plants come in pots you can plant at any time. Keep it weeded, watered and fed for the first year till it settles down. A two year old plant should give a few figs in the second year increasing to about twenty the following year, and getting better each year as it grows larger. Prune in winter to keep the height down for ease of picking, pruning off week shoots, cutting strong upright shoots by half and removing those that grow out of the fan shape.
There are numerous varieties available, but for us up north Brown Turkey is the most reliable.
So far I have not seen any pests or diseases on the figs, so this crop will be very organic.
Wee jobs to do this week
Many shrubs and heathers can be propagated by taking semi ripe cuttings from end of summer to early autumn. Use shoots about four inches long for most shrubs and two inches for heathers. Trim the shoot below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves, except heathers where they are left on to aid drainage and aeration. Insert about one to two inches apart in a shallow pot with a 50/50 mixture of compost and sharp sand or grit. Water in and cover with a polythene bag to retain a moist atmosphere. Keep in a cool spot away from direct sunshine for the next three months. Plants should be well rooted by next spring.END