I love figs. Fresh ones, preserved ones, and especially dried ones. I’ve been a fan since childhood. The Celeste variety is supposed to be a weed around here; there were fig packing plants in this area in the early 20th century. The city of Pearland, our neighbors, could have been better named Figland for all the figs. So this fig thing is supposed to work out well for me.
In 2006 I planted two fig trees that I bought from a local Pearland family. They had been propagated from cuttings. I saw with my own eyes the glorious and giant tree from which my fig came from. It was laden with summer fruit and at least 20 feet tall. My trees, however, were cursed. I think someone with divine clout must have walked by and made an object lesson of my tree (Mark 11:12-14).
In 2008, hurricane Ike made short work of my poor trees, destroying one and bending the other toward the ground permanently. So after that memorable summer, I had one handicapped fig tree left. And for years, that tree struggled and didn’t grow much.
It took many years, but it finally occurred to me my little Celeste was competing with the lawn and losing. What I realized was that my soil isn’t very good; its dense and has lots of clay. So the good stuff is restricted to the upper 1 to 3 inches, the topsoil. Anything that grows here must get its water and nutrients from that thin top layer, and little figgy was losing to the grass. When the lawn and the tiny fig tree are competing for water in a thin layer of topsoil, the lawn is going to win.
So here’s what I did. I ringed the tree with stone blocks. about 3 feet in diameter. I filled it in with good soil and mulched it heavily. And in no time, especially the next year, my fig tree took off and grew like I had always hoped it would. It is now taller than me by a hair, and this spring’s growth is looking promising. I’ve had to cut it back and prune.
Now I get figs! Not much yet, but a few. I am eagerly awaiting an actual harvest.
As if that one tree was not enough (and it wasn’t), I wanted more. In 2014, when I ordered my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I noticed they also sold fig trees. You can still buy the same trio today. These were three varieties in bare-root form, ready to plant. I ordered them and received three wonderful varieties: Ischia, Celeste, and Olympian. I planted them all in containers and for the last three years they have been good company on my back patio. They have shown up in so many of my BBQ pictures on my Instagram feed and in general become a fixture in my back yard. I already had a Celeste, but you can never have enough plants. If you do, gift the extras to someone.
Today, my young son and I finally selected the winner of the trio and planted it in the back yard. I learned last time, as you have read, to give it its own space and to knock out any competition the fig tree would face. My son and I ringed the little tree with bricks, filled in all around with good soil, and its ready to take off! All I need now is to mulch that soil.
I hope these Ischia figs will be all they are supposed to be. My struggling Celeste from a decade ago should eventually get its act together, though it is said these trees only live 15 years or shortly more.
But in the mean time, I need figs! I have ordered (as of April 2017) another variety from Baker Creek, the historic White Marseilles. This will bring a fourth variety to my home, and hopefully it will be a decent producer. I’m rather eager for a good crop, one of these days.
I’ll report on our fig trees as events occur.