Wednesday, 17 December 2008

the fig tree

I had never seen a fig tree or eaten a fig before I moved to Melbourne.  Apparently as recently as 50 years ago they were more common than apples, because everyone had one in their back yard and people ate more home-grown food.  But figs don't store well and you can't ship them across the country like you can with apples, so as back yards got smaller and veggie patches were replaced with supermarkets, figs fell off the menu.

Which is a shame, as they grow incredibly well in Melbourne.  They're a Mediterranean tree so they don't mind cool, wet winters and thrive on hot, dry summers. 

Our home is blessed with an old, huge, established fig tree.  Our house was sub-divided from the house at the front of the lot ten years ago, but this tree is so big it must have been part of the old back yard, I'm guessing at least 20 years old.  I'm told that possums and birds love to steal figs before they're ripe, so I decided to be safe and buy a bird net to protect them.

It didn't really work.

Even with a 2.4 metre ladder and a huge swatch of bird net, after 30 minutes work this is all Tom and I could manage.  But the top, back, and lower bits weren't covered at all.  The only thing it caught was Percival when it slipped down a bit - he tried to run out from under the tree and wound up in the net.  Within a few days it fell off.

So it looks like the birds will get first pick.

I learned something interesting about figs.  They actually make two crops in one year.  During the winter when they have no leaves, they develop little fig buds on last year's new wood.  This early crop is called the breba crop.  In colder areas, frost usually kills this crop, but I've got a good-sized breba crop on my tree.

In the spring, the tree puts out new leaves and new growth.  On this growth, another, heavier crop of fig buds appear.  These figs ripen in the autumn and make up the main crop.

Here's a photo of the fruiting end of a fig branch.  The larger fruits are the breba crop, and you can see a few nubs of the main crop as well.  The bronzy colour will slowly turn dark purply-brown as the figs ripen.

As you can see, my breba crop is almost ripe!  Some of them are downright huge, too.  This one hardly fits in my hand.

For some reason some of them are looking "club-footed" and I don't know why.  I'll have to ask over on the Ozgrow forum and see if someone can tell me.

I just hope I like the taste of figs.  I've only had a fresh fig once, last year when a work colleague brought some in.  To be honest I wasn't impressed with the taste (though it was a lot better than dried figs which I detest).  But at the time I wasn't very into many fruits at all.  But since I've been eating less sugar and more fruits, I've developed a taste for fruit I used to think I "didn't like".  Hopefully figs will be one I rediscover.  And if not, Tom's mother has informed me that she will happily eat them for me!

That's one nice thing about figs, because they're rare to find in stores, it's easy to share them with people who don't have their own tree.