Figs are one of the most delicious sweet fruits, but they’re pretty difficult to find at your local supermarket, and when you do, they usually cost a fortune.
They’re native to an area stretching from Northern India to Turkey — stolen tablets from the now Southern Iraq, dating back to 2500BC, record the use of figs.
The fruit is not that difficult to grow but produces the best crops in a warm, Mediterranean-type, relatively dry climate — so plant in a sheltered position with full sun, preferably on warmer north to north-east facing slopes.
Trees are frost tender until mature, and require protection from winter’s colder temperatures.
Although figs can tolerate dry conditions they need plenty of water during the growing season to produce large, succulent fruit, and young trees should be watered regularly until established. In drier areas, mature trees will require to be watered every two weeks — you’ll know if your trees need more water as leaves will begin to turn yellow.
Figs won’t tolerate waterlogged soil, and ideally should be planted in well-aerated and well-drained soils. These deciduous trees are extremely vigorous and perform well in deep soils — heavy clay soils are great for figs as these don’t stimulate too much growth.
If your soil is too high in nitrogen (figs love compost) they will grow and grow, but not produce good crops. In fact, trees can grow quite large and need pruning to prevent shading of fruit, which delays ripening.
Figs adapt well to being grown in pots, however they’ll need watering daily during summer and re-potting with fresh soil every three years. You’ll also need to keep the plant pruned to a manageable size.
Your tree will produce two crops during the fruit season. The first of these grows on old wood, so it’s important not to prune trees back severely – the second crop will grow on new growth.
Be sure not to pick your fruit before it has ripened — figs won’t ripen once they’re removed from the tree. When fully ripe the fruit will be slightly soft and start to bend from the neck — picked fruit will keep for 2–3 days in your fridge.
Figs are rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre and minerals, including potassium, copper, magnesium and calcium — it’s reported that half a cup of figs has the equivalent amount of calcium as half a cup of milk.
Black Beauty is a good fig to try — vigorous and producing lots of fruit — the tasty, juicy flesh is a rich, dark colour.
Adriatic is also prolific, bearing bright green, medium to large fruit with a yellow tinge — the sweet flesh is strawberry-red in colour.
An early season variety to try is Genoa, which produces medium sized fruit with green to white skin. The flesh is yellow-amber in colour and is sweetly good either fresh or dried.