So figs?? These ain't no rare, tropical fruit! Yeah, I hear ya. But have you ever tasted a really good fig? No? Then shut up, sit back, and I'll tell you about some of them. LOL!
How did it start?
Figs are a fantastic fruit tree to be growing. Once established, they are are as nearly bullet-proof as a plant can get. They are pretty simple to care for once you get the basics down. Outside in full sun during the warmer months, then store in a cool, dark basement or an insulated garage for winter(for us Ohioans anyway). The fruit itself is fantastic and plentiful. Rich berry/jammy flavors. What's not to love?
My main focus is, has been, and always will be tropical fruit trees. This fig was a nice little side track and that is all I ever intended it to be.
There are many fig groups on Facebook. What The Fig is probably one of the most popular. Lots of good content, pictures, and some really knowledgeable growers are a part of this group. Youtube has tons of content as well. I stumbled upon a guy named Ross Raddi. This guy is super dedicated to figs and he certainly knows what he's doing. He has a great Youtube channel with lots of informational videos on fig growing. Definitely check him out.
So what did I learn from the Facebook groups, forums, Ross, and thru lots of other searching? Four fig varieties kept popping up as THE varieties to have. The descriptions of the flavors and how good they were was just too tempting to pass up. As nice as the figs from my Petite Negra plant taste, just how much better could these four varieties be? I had to grow them to find out just how good they really were.
Starting Figs from Cuttings
The easiest is by cuttings as you see in the above pic. Just a stick basically. There are many methods figgers use to start their cuttings and all probably work as well as the next. Everyone has their favorite method which works well for them. Throw them in a zip-lok bag with a damp paper towel. Toss them in a storage bin with some peat moss. Pop them into some soil in a container. I could go on. You see the point. I did say some varieties. There are some that can be a bit more problematic. They still root out, it's just that your percentage of success may not be as high or as reliable from year to year. But you learn and you adjust the methods.
I've identified the varieties I'd like to have. But uh...who to order from? Lots of sellers out there and not all of them reputable. I found that several good fig forums kept a list of sellers to avoid. I found two Ebay sellers and one on Figbid and did searches on their usernames. These guys were big time contributors to several fig forums, been selling for years, and had great reputations. There are a gazillion varieties of figs out there and probably nearly as many sellers. You know what? The cuttings you receive of that really expensive Ponte Tressa fig, could very well be cuttings from a plain old Brown Turkey fig. Want to see how much some of these fig cuttings are? Go out to Figbid.com and see for yourself. I've seen a single cutting of a specific variety go for well over $700. You don't want to spend this on a rare variety you've been dying to get only to find out later you got screwed.
I placed my orders in early 2019 for cuttings of the following four varieties: Black Madeira, Smith, Col de Dam Blanc, and I-258...or Italian 258. The cuttings were all a good size with many buds. One of the guys even sent me extra variety called Takoma Violet. This is very similar to my Petite Negra and ended up producing gobs of figs right off the bat.
You need to be very careful with watering due to how easy it is for the cuttings to rot if overly moist. Same with newly rooted cuttings. When it comes to watering in these early stages...less is more. Root rot is serious and very difficult to recover the plant from.
Ohio can be a pain. One never knows what will hit first. The first frost that will defoliate the trees or a first freeze that will kill the trees. Either way, it's time to bring them inside. If you were still waiting on figs to ripen, without the full sun and heat, they probably won't be at their best. I have a greenhouse and could bring them inside when they were in these smaller containers. They are all in 15 gallon containers now and there is just no room for them. Even in the greenhouse, I don't believe the figs ripened up that well.
This is pretty much it for the rest of the winter. The containers were damp when I brought them inside. I don't believe I've ever had to add water to them during their winter slumber.
The warm, sunny greenhouse will soon kick off a growth flush. The trick is getting them out there early enough and growing fast enough for the figs to start to develop and ripen before it gets cold again. Some of my new, high-end varieties take longer to ripen than my faithful Petite Negra fig. Ohio weather cannot be counted on. This year started out strong early on then late spring felt more like early winter. This is not good growing conditions for figs or tropical fruits.
Growing New Fig Trees
I always thought all of us in the rare, tropical fruit hobby were a little bit crazy and definitely gung-ho when it comes to collecting. But these fig people? Damn! Crazy just doesn't cut it. It's a whole new ballgame here and just about anything goes. Cuttings and small, newly started trees going for hundreds of dollars...for certain varieties of course. And bidding? It can become a frenzy. But it's all good. These people love figs. They love collecting and growing them. And the vast majority are great people who are quick to share their experience. You'll encounter folks growing hundreds of figs...from coast to coast.
So what makes figs so popular? I believe it is availability and for the most part...they are simple to grow in every part of the country/world. Sure, there are challenges in all locations, but most are readily overcome. There are over 800 varieties of figs and that number is probably growing. A huge number of these figs are available right here in the states. There are databases trying to list each of their descriptions, but this falls short. Seeing pics and videos of people growing them, their experiences, and their reactions, are what you want. So go search for forums and Facebook groups. See what grabs your attention. But heed this warning: Do not rush to purchase an $800 fig cutting or tree as your first attempt!
I've been rooting fig cuttings from my Petite Negra for years and selling locally. This is what I consider a "starter" variety. Just a normal, common fig. A good grower and fantastic producer. The figs taste wonderful. I understand that Ohio is not a tropical fruit center, but there are folks who love to grow stuff. The Petite Negra has always been a winner. I'm not out to become rich selling tropical fruit trees or figs, so I try to keep the prices reasonable. Now these new varieties I have? These will go to the true collectors.
It's now October 2020. Here are the cuttings I took from my fig trees when I pruned them back to store for the winter. They are labeled and the top portion is wrapped in parafilm. I like this method, but it is time consuming and is a pain in the ass. Not an activity for those with carpal tunnel! Again...there are many methods of starting cuttings and I'm not going to go into all of them. This is my preferred method.
The pics above are from mid December. Most are pushing some new growth and roots are noticeable on some. These are the Smith, Black Madeira, Col de Dam Blanc, and I-258. I didn't have room for the Petite Negra and Takoma Violet cuttings so they are out in the greenhouse.
As I mentioned earlier, rooting figs are generally pretty simple. They just seem built to throw out roots. Some varieties can be a little more challenging than others. Keep in mind that all figs had been prepared exactly the same and started in the exact same conditions. I had great success at rooting the Petite Negra(28 of 28), Takoma Violet(18 of 20), and Black Madeira(29 of 29). The rest were not as kind to me. Smith(10 of 14). I-258(11 of 16). Col de Dam Blanc(10 of 19). This sucked...especially since the I-258 was by far the most sought after.
Over watering is my biggest suspect here. I thought I was being very careful at this. Given the number of figs I was caring for, I watered all of them at once. It could have been that the fig I checked to see if it was getting dried out may have been a little more advanced and taking up more water more quickly than others. The trays are not level at all and dip towards the middle. Some of these figs could have been staying more wet than the ones on the outside. Watering all of these figs while not trying to make a freaking lake in the tray is a pain in the ass. Next time, I will have to check each fig and judge whether it needs water or not. It's better a little dry, than too wet for sure.
That was the plan for the figs. The Petite Negra cuttings have always been a big hit locally. The newer varieties were going to be priced quite a bit higher given their popularity and buyer demand. I knew before I started that there would not be much interest from local buyers unless they definitely knew their thing about figs.
I try to be very fair in my pricing. I also try and prepare very nice sized cuttings. I look at various sources and see what the going rates are. Figbid is a good standard to see what prices people are willing to pay for these four varieties. In most cases, these figs were being purchased for $100 or more...and again, in most cases, the figs were much smaller than mine...trunk diameter and height. These people were bidding for a fig. Mine would be a fixed price of $50 each. I thought that was fair for both me and the buyer. A lot of people must have thought so too. Even some locals got into the game.
I also sell as first come, first get and I try to pick out the largest/nicest plant available for the person. The majority are all pretty equal, but one may have more nodes pushing or something that catches my eye and that will be the one I pick. When getting down to the last ones, these may be smaller than the earlier ones or less developed. I will adjust the price of these accordingly. I look at it and ask myself if I would be happy receiving this plant for the amount I paid.
I post the figs for sale in Facebook's Marketplace for the local sales. I will also offer up the trees on What The Fig, Texas Fig Growers, and Texas Fruiting Plant Growers Facebook groups. A big shout out to the folks in Texas! This is a group of people really dedicated to growing tropical fruits and figs. Good bunch too. A huge shout out to Ed Self and Theme Linh. You guys are the best!
$50 for a small tree can be expensive for some. What's nice is that most of the folks I interact with on the above groups know exactly what they are looking for. I really do not recommend one of these figs as your first fig and it really concerns me when this happens. I run into this more often with local sales. I try like hell to give them as much info and tips as possible. I even encourage everyone to contact me if they have issues....just don't wait until the plant is completely defoliated to do so! I really do want everyone to succeed and enjoy their new trees.
So I take precautions. I spend a little more time and effort on the packing hoping to make the box more sturdy and crush-proof. My first couple packages went out USPS earlier this year and it was stressful. All were several days over their estimated delivery dates while a few had no scans at all leaving us in the dark on where the packages were and when and if they would even be delivered. How the assholes who run USPS are okay with this kind of service is beyond me. So no more!
I opened a UPS account and the I've been very happy with their service. With my account and using their Simple Rate plan, the cost of shipping is about the same as Priority mail with USPS. I shipped 30+ packages with UPS this year and every single package was delivered by their scheduled delivery date or before...2-3 days. And it was very simple for me to pay online and print out the labels. All I had to do was walk into a UPS outlet and drop off the packages.
Now...that is not to say there were not some issues. Ohio was having a very mild winter at the time and the temps were fine for shipping figs. Most of the packages were going to areas in Texas where they were experiencing good temps. There were some areas/states not so lucky. I tried to keep an eye on the temps for that area and time frame, but all I'm looking at are predictions. If a truck gets to a location early and the package sits on the truck over night with temps below freezing, the figs could have some issues. The people who order the trees are given tracking numbers. They need to make sure someone is home to get the package out of the heat or cold. Most folks had no issue paying for their trees and waiting for a good week of weather for me to ship. This is a win-win for us both.
Then there is the care that must go into this new tree. This all comes down to the individual's level of experience and the environment the fig will be kept in. Watering is still the biggest issue as far as I'm concerned. If the fig is outdoors and the temps are very warm, this probably isn't a big deal. So err on the side of caution and just be careful to not over water.
Figs are awesome plants for just about anyone to grow. The fig community is made up of a lot of wonderful folks. Most are willing and eager to share their knowledge. The plants are impressive and beautiful. The fruit is plentiful and delicious. Everyone should have some kind of fruit tree growing at home. A fig is certainly worthy of consideration. Zombieland rule #32.