This has been a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time. But due to a slow progression in this experiment, lack of actual results, the loss of some of my original photos of this project’s inception, and my habit of starting something and then setting it on the back burner for a while, an aritcle about growing figs in Minnesota has been well over three years in the making.
Back a handful of years ago when I was really starting to get into growing perennials, permaculture, and basic plant propagation, I came across a video of a guy somewhere in New England who was propagating and growing his own figs. I watched that video, and subsequently, many more about folks who had fallen in love with growing fig trees. My interest was piqued!
It seemed like an interesting project. Even though the prospect of growing a plant in Minnesota that originated somewhere in the Middle East seemed like a fools errand, I easily located fig cuttings through the North American Scion Exchange and the experiment began.
I learned rather quickly, that there were an awful lot of people like myself growing figs in all sorts of different climates, and many of these folks take it pretty seriously. Northern climate greenhouses dedicated to this Mediterranean delicacy, and collectors who seek out rare and exciting varieties from throughout the world. Just like apples (or any other fruit for that matter), the folks growing figs do it out of love and a sense of horticultural adventure with a dedication that I find inspiring.
I am not going to go through and show you step by step on how to root fig cutting or the best way to over winter a fig in a cold climate. There are already plenty of other folks out there doing these things with much greater success and with more knowledge than I have to learn from. But what I am going to do is share my excitement, my small victory, and the short story behind my adventure of figs thus far!
While my love affair first started because of youtube videos and those first few fig cutting I received in the mail, it wasn’t until my short stint working at a Trader Joe’s that I got my first taste of a “fresh” fig. They were small little things, picked before they were ripe and shipped thousands of miles to end up in the produce section. I knew these were less than perfect specimens, but once ripened on the counter they were still good and I could catch a glimpse of what a truly delicious fig must taste like.
Fast forward to this summer. At the end of June, I was lucky enough to participate in a family vacation to the North eastern part of Italy. The small town of Polesella where we spent the majority of our time, is located in the Po river valley, and is the main fruit growing region of the country. Adrianno, one of the family friends we went to visit, has a backyard orchard the likes I have never seen. Apples, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines, persimmons, grapes, currants, gooseberries, and yes, figs all had a home in his backyard paradise.
And it just so happened that the time of year that we found ourselves in this northern, mediterranean region was peak fig season! It seemed that almost all yards had a fig tree (along with gardens and other fruit and nut trees). We were spoiled for 9 days with some of the best food I have ever eaten, and my curiosity with figs bloomed into an exotic passion.
There is no way I can quite explain how good those figs in Italy were, but I will just say that there is nothing quite like them. I know I will never be able to grow figs like that here in Minnesota, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try, right?!
So as this summer progressed, I realized there was a good chance I may get a small handful of figs from my half a dozen small fig trees. While most of them have aborted and dropped off before they fully ripened, I finally grew a fig to near perfect ripeness! It was great! It was small, but it was a real fig, from a tree I started from a cutting oh so long ago. And the taste? While not quite the figs from Italy, it was juicy and sweet, and contained all the curves and mysteries that seduces a new lover!
As of this writing it looks like we may get three more figs from our trees. While I am smitten by figs, I truly know very little about what they need to thrive when grown in containers in a northern climate. The information is out there, so really it is just setting aside time and energy and focusing on some of the finer details about what figs really like.
But I can say one thing, figs are one of my motivations for building a four season greenhouse. If the day ever comes that I find myself with a badass bio – shelter, a fig tree or two will find a home on the interior north side. Until then, I will keep growing, propagating, and experimenting with figs in the expectation that climate change may be slowly making these northern climes more hospitable to these wonderful trees.
So there it is, my love story with figs. It is an incomplete story, and one that I hope to add many pages, and maybe even chapters too. Luckily we live in an age that is overflowing with information. So what follows are some of the more interesting things I have come across concerning figs. First, anyone who gets bitten by this fruit and has a question, check out the forum, Figs For Fun. It is a great resource for the amatuer and expert grower alike. There are comprehensive variety lists, discussions on all aspects of figs, and most likely you will be able to find plenty of folks who will be willing to help you get started for very little money.
Another source that I found helpful was on episode #89 of The Agricultural Innovations Podcast. While a bit of it was a little esoteric for my liking, the main body of the interview was very informative and helpful. This podcast has a lot of other stuff to offer as well, so check out The Agricultural Innovations podcast for more brain food!
And I will finish with a video my friend Little John made of his adventures foraging figs in southern California. So if you are one of the lucky ones to live somewhere that figs grow without the freezing temps of the north, please enjoy them and know that there are others of us out there who are a bit jealous of what you have! If you find yourself in a climate like mine, know that it is not completely impossible to enjoy this exotic fruit, you just have to work a lot harder to realize a harvest. Peace and Cheers…