Figs

August 28 2013 garden 021Figs are on my mind.

This is the time of year when our fig trees ripen their fruit.

August 28 2013 garden 020

Last summer our fig trees were loaded.  A friend and I picked repeatedly, and had a steady supply of fruit for over a month.

(There is a recipe for Fig Pickles at the end of the post.)

This year I’ve picked here and there since July, but haven’t gotten more than a handful at a time.

August 28 2013 garden 031Today I got lucky.

The variety growing here when we moved in stays green right up until the moment of ripeness, when the fruit swells and turns a yellowish green.

July 24 2013 garden photos 012The inside is pink to red, depending on ripeness.  This isn’t a super sweet fig, but is delicious broiled with a little shaving of salty cheese on top. I favor a Tuscano cheese, but anything in the Parmesan family of cheeses is delicious.

This fig came home in a 1 gallon pot last summer.

This fig came home in a 1 gallon pot last summer.  Its figs are brown.  It started the season with small green figs, but lost them along the way.

I’ve read that figs which stay green when ripe have an added protection from hungry animals who might take them as they ripen.   Birds only peck at the figs I’ve left on the bush way too long so they split open.  BUT, the deer have been molesting the fig trees this year, grazing leaves and ripping stems and branches.

July 5 garden at sunset 025

This fig tree grew so much in spring that its branches toppled over, changing the shape of the entire plant. New branches have sprouted along the now horizontal fallen branches. It grew quickly with the abundant rain, and was knocked over by the windstorms in June.

I gave pieces of one of these broken branches to some gardening friends, who rooted them successfully, and now have small trees.

The tall, heavy branches, fallen over in early summer, are sprouting new vertical growth.  This beautiful tree just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The tall, heavy branches, fallen over in early summer, are sprouting new vertical growth. This beautiful tree just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Visiting a fig loving friend yesterday evening, I commented on her ripe figs.  We looked more closely.  Her small bush, covered in ripening figs only days ago, had only two little figs still attached.  We found the gaps where squirrels had gotten in through her netting.

A well protected fig in my friends garden, still was robbed by a squirrel who found an opening in the netting.

A well protected fig in my friends garden, still was robbed by a squirrel who found an opening in the netting.

We both feel  that our gardening efforts this year are chiefly for the benefit of hungry squirrels and deer.  What a disappointment after an entire season of protecting and nurturing her new fig, planted only last fall, to find the fruit stolen.  I’ve begun to wonder whether netting simply draws the squirrels attention, and signals something really good must be kept inside the enclosure…

August 28 2013 garden 034

We have just received two new “SIlver Lyre” fig trees from Plant Delights.  This is a newly offered variety of Afghan Fig.  I like the beautiful, lacy silver-toned leaves.  These are advertised to grow quickly to a 20′ shrub, and I plan to plant them in the newly sunny area of our forest where the oak trees fell this spring.

An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to pot up.

An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to pot up.

They will quickly provide a bit of privacy from the street, but will never grow tall enough to create a hazard.  In fact, they are supposed to be very sturdy in wind.  I hope to one day harvest a few figs from them… If I can manage to keep the squirrels away.

Rick Austin, in his book, Secret Garden of Survival, describes a method of planting a “guild” of plants around a new fruit tree.  Some of the plants bring up nutrients from the soil, some are good companion plants for the tree, and some plants protect the newly planted tree from critters.  Not brave enough to plant an apple or persimmon, which I KNOW our squirrels would strip, I plan to try his method when planting these figs later in the fall.

Garlic Chives

Garlic Chives

I’ll surround the new figs with daffodil bulbs to create a wall of poisonous bulbs and roots against the voles, garlic or garlic chives to slow down the deer, and perhaps some Comfrey to enrich the soil and create that extra wall of distraction for the deer.  They never touch my Comfrey or garlic chives, both of which attract bees and butterflies.

Comfrey, a perennial herb with tremendous healing properties, is an excellent herb for improving the soil.  Its long tap root brings up nutrients from deep in the Earth.  Its leaves are an excellent addition to compost to build fertility.

Comfrey, a perennial herb with tremendous healing properties, is an excellent herb for improving the soil. Its long tap root brings up nutrients from deep in the Earth. Its leaves are an excellent addition to compost to build fertility.

These little trees will go into pots tomorrow to let them grow a bit beefier before I plant them out in the garden, after the first frost, probably in December.  The growers at Plant Delights had tremendous growth in their first year with “Silver Lyre”, and I will hope for the same results so these new trees fill out quickly.  They will grow quite wide, as figs do, so the guilds will extend several feet out from their trunks.  This will be an interesting process to watch unfold in the forest garden.August 21, 2013 close up garden 010

All photos by Woodland Gnome

Here is my favorite “Pickled Fig” recipe developed last autumn.  I made several batches, tweaking the recipe each time.  I’m hoping there is a large enough harvest to make them again in a few weeks!

Pickled Figs

6 c. sugar

1 cup boiling water

¾ c. white Sangria

½ c. red wine vinegar

1 TB ground cinnamon

1 TB ground allspice

1 Tsp. ground cloves

4 medium lemons, washed

6-8 chili peppers, green or red

20-30 ripe figs

(Boil a kettle of water for preparing the figs.  Have on hand about 3/4 c. of baking soda to sprinkle on the figs before they are cooked.)

1.  Measure the sugar into a dutch oven,  add 1 c. of water, and turn on medium heat.

2.  Wash and trim the figs. Place in a large ceramic bowl.  Sprinkle them with baking soda, and cover with boiling water.  Allow to soak for 10-12 minutes.

3.  Wash and thinly slice the lemons. Halve or quarter the slices, catching the juice.  Julienne the end pieces, which are mostly peel.   Add fruit and juice to the sugar mixture, along with the spices, Sangria, vinegar, and washed peppers.

4.  Rinse the figs in cool water, peel off any discolored skin, and slice the figs in halves or quarters as they are added to the sugar, lemon, and spice mix.

5.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes; allowing the syrup to thicken and the lemons to become translucent.

6.  Allow the mixture to sit, covered, for 12 to 24 hours.

7.  Reheat to boiling and can in glass jars.

More information on figs:

http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection

http://www.spadespatula.com/2012/04/10/fig-varieties-common-fig-sounds-boring-but-isnt/

http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/08/27/6-types-figs-try-right-now

Permaculture on Forest Garden

MBWA

Monarda and conefowers

Monarda and Purple Coneflowers are at their peak in late June. Butterfly bushes in the background have just begun to bloom.

Management by Walking Around is a way of life in many businesses and professions.  During all of those years teaching, I walked around and around my classroom many times each day, armed with a pen and notepad, listening, and observing my students.  I answered a question here, wrote a quick note for someone else, checked homework, and kept an eye on notebooks and computer screens.  Walking around allowed me to interact quietly and personally with each child, to offer quick praise as well as quick re-direction as problems arose.

The same approach keeps me in touch with my garden.  Things change so quickly, especially when it’s hot.  The garden is never the same one day to the next, and every perambulation brings surprises.  This week the Rose of Sharon shrubs began blooming for the summer.  Each day another bush or two burst into bloom with its special color and form of blossom.

Rose of Sharon feeding a bumble bee

Rose of Sharon feeding a bumble bee

I usually wore a jacket, when teaching, with ample pockets for pens, paperclips, hall passes, Jolly Ranchers, and a notepad.  Now I have a gardening vest, actually a Bean fishing vest, covered in pockets of all shapes and sizes.  I always carry clippers, and twist ties or twine.  My pockets also hold a handful of Moonflower seeds harvested in late winter, a few stones for pushing into vole holes, and of course my cell phone. I carry a long skinny trowel with a cutting edge which can accomplish a million small chores, from a quick transplant or division to filling in a hole.

Monarda and conefowers

Both red and purple Monarda grow happily together on a sunny bank.

Even a quick trip out to water a few pots shows me that more attention is needed here and there.  A heavy stem of coneflowers needs to be staked.  Roses need to be cut back where yesterday’s bloom has lost its petals.  A vole tunnel needs to be stomped down flat, and the hole filled with gravel.  Ten minutes quickly stretch into an hour or more, and time passes unheeded as I’m absorbed in the unfolding life around me.

I saw two golden and red skinks this late this afternoon as I watered the basil.  They expected me to keep going around the house, and I surprised them by turning around before they could skitter away.  How they have grown since they first appeared weeks ago.  They happily live close to the house where they can sun themselves and always find a drink of water. I mostly hear them running behind pots or under vines.  Today I was honored that they didn’t run from me.

Walking around, daily, shows me problems when they are small, and can be remedied with just a little effort.  I can cut back the spent blooms of annuals, pull a few blades of grass taking hold in a bed, tie up new growth on a Clematis vine, prune a lantana branch away from a rose, pinch back the growth of Chrysanthemums and Coleus to make them grow bushy.  My tour yesterday showed me that deer had hosted a party in my garden the night before and made a buffet from a hydrangea and even a Persian Shield, which I thought they were supposed to ignore.  Time to spray again with Plant Skydd, and move those pots to a safer location.

Persian Shield, the day before the deer munched it.

Persian Shield, the day before the deer munched it.

Miss a few days of the daily walk, and things can definitely get out of control.  A fast growing Zinnia can fall across a path and begin growing horizontally.  A new family of voles can move in and tunnel up a whole patch of ground where they think they can’t be seen.  A fungus can infest the leaves of a rose, and a pot left sitting in rain water can steam in the summer sun and cook the plant inside.  A garden needs to feel the gardener’s touch every day.

There is research I recently read which shows that plants actually respond to our attention.  They know when they are being admired, and react with fear (according to the scientist who hooked up sensors to a plant’s leaves to measure this) when they are about to be cut back.  Just like us, they enjoy attention and respond to admiration by growing faster and stronger.  A walk of appreciation, where you notice the blooms and new growth on the plants in your garden; where you see each plant as an individual and tend to its needs; makes a difference in their growth and health.

Coleus need regular pinching to remove their bloom stalks.  Once they bloom, leaf production suffers.

Coleus need regular pinching to remove their bloom stalks. Once they bloom, leaf production suffers.

So the need to water in the cool of the morning is usually enough to tear me away from my coffee and morning news programs to suit up and head out into the garden.  Once outside, watering leads to weeding. Flowers and vegetables are harvested while it’s cool. Supports are adjusted, flowers are sniffed, butterflies watched, photos snapped.  On very special days, our hummingbirds will fly over to play in the spray of my hose. One small chore leads to another, and in no time at all I realize the sun has gotten very hot, and it’s on towards noon.  Management by walking around brings me out each day to appreciate, assist, and learn something new about life in our forest garden.

Rose of Sharon

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