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Fig Trees

Penelope is retired but teaches English in Rome. She is a published feature writer, playwright and poet. She loves local Italian customs.

Our Fig Tree in June - After Cutting Back

Our Fig Tree

Our Fig Tree

Growing Figs

For thirty years, a wild and magnificent fig tree has been growing next to our farmhouse in Tuscany, sprawling its huge branches over our dilapidated, disused pigsty . Throughout the years I've learned a lot about it! As I have from other, local fig trees.

These are the good and also 'complicated' lessons that our fig trees have taught me:

  • Fig trees provide pounds and pounds of sweet fruit.
  • Fig trees offer shelter because their branches are so wide and so are their leaves which look like large green hands and they grow hugely tall.
  • Here in Tuscany you don't plant fig trees, they crop up and grow tall against south facing farm buildings - on their own.
  • Some people say you don't prune them, you simply cut them back. Others disagree.
  • The sap of the fig tree irritates the skin.
  • The fruits are a high source of calcium and dried figs are very rich in minerals such as fiber, copper, vitamin K.
  • The roots of fig trees are meddlesome, growing far and wide. They are capable of breaking up walls, and floors and can get into plumbing systems.
  • There are a few ways I'm mentioning here, which stop, or limit the damage! (If you keep on trying).

Ripening Fig Fruit and Fig Leaf on the Tree

Fig and leaf on the fig tree

Fig and leaf on the fig tree

When to Harvest Figs

Our farming neighbors told us the figs on our tree were "Settembrini" because they ripen in September. They tell us that before we moved here about thirty years ago they came to pick figs from this tree all through their childhood.

Some still come with their baskets to fill. There really is plenty for everyone. Each day, for more than a month the tree yields at least a few pounds of dark, maroon colored, sweet, plump figs.

The tree is approx two storeys high, or twenty five feet (which is about as tall as it can get) and until some branches were cut earlier in the year, the tree was about as wide.

It's impossible to pick the ripest fruits at the top of the tree, the closest to the burning hot sun, because there's no way up. We'd need a crane. We pick as far as we can get, though it is difficult. The tree is full of humming insects such as ants and wasps. After a while, they start sticking to you because the sun is very hot in late summer, reaching 45° Celsius with global warming (113° Fahrenheit), so you are sweaty. The ants run up and down your arms and legs and face - and try as you may to overcome how tickly they are, the sap is irritating your skin by now and the feeling in the tree is 'sticky'.

You pick on until you fill a basket, which doesn't really take all that much time.

Growing Fig Trees

We have never fertilized the soil around our fig tree. The roots however grow far (and wide and I'll tell you about those roots in a minute). They glean nourishment and water from where their roots travel to. Some of the roots have turned up outside our kitchen window!

I've always thought that the nourishment in the soil, left from when pigs lived in the sty has been enough to feed our tree for all these years. Or that because Adam quickly found a leaf to cover himself (back in the Garden of Eden days), fig trees were common sorts of Garden of Eden trees - no gardening required.

The facts are these:

  • Historical record has it that the fig tree was the first edible plant cultivated by man, one thousand years before wheat and rye crops were domesticated. So there is a link.
  • The first, ancient story-telling figs were found in a Neolithic Village in a Jordan Valley.
  • It's deep roots search out ground-water underground, among the rocks and ravines.
  • Ours is a wild growing, Common Fig (Ficus carica) tree which is very much at home in the well drained, deep fresh soil, which doesn't have to be particularly nutritious - as long as it has lots and lots of sun and masses of space, which it does.
  • Fig tree wood is no good to burn.
  • The tree provides animal (and human) shelter through the night but also during the day.
  • The fig tree also absorbs heat and cools the area around it.

Do you Prune Fig Trees?

Cut back trunk of a fig tree

Cut back trunk of a fig tree

How to Take Care of a Fig Tree

You don't prune the fig tree where we live.

When the branches get too old and heavy, they need to be cut back in order to be able to get at the new branches and in order to produce bigger sweeter figs with younger branches.

One neighbor swears that if he pruned our tree we would have figs that would be twice the size of the ones we have, but we wont ask him to prove his point. He is probably right, but for as long as the tree is in no danger, I love looking at it - huge.

When the local farmers came to cut back the very old branches of our fig tree this year, they came with a fork lifting tractor. It is not a tree for small gardens. Be warned!

Cutting Back the Fig Tree

Cutting back the fig tree

Cutting back the fig tree

The Damage Caused by Fig Tree Roots

Two times in this life have I had to deal with the problems caused by the meddlesome roots of this splendid, shade making, fruit bearing, historically fascinating, wondrous fig tree.

Once we had to re-build a bathroom (and a garden) because the roots of an ancient fig tree (grown so big it ended up growing into the wall of a bathroom) had gotten into the plumbing, (under the floor). It had blocked the pipes and caused flooding. We had to employ the municipal crane and half a dozen men to get at the roots of the fig tree, heave them out of the ground and move them down the side of the hill - upon which an entire village had been built.

Fortunately the village was sympathetic since everyone knows how damaging a fig tree is - often the bane of many a local person's life!

More recently, in the farm house where our pet fig reigns over us today, our only wild tree, we have serious root problems everywhere within a hundred foot radius of the tree.

The walls of the out house (dis-used) is crumbling - ( please see the picture). The roots you see next to this out-house grow new fig shoots - every year.

Every year the walls crumble more. The damage has reached the plumbing of this primitive house, but dousing the area with diesel oil (five liters each month) puts us at Ten - All.

Ten for the tree and Ten for us. The battle is ongoing.

Advice:

If the roots of your fig tree start sprouting in areas too close to home, get the diesel oil out. It is the ONLY way, even after the new shoots are hacked back to nothing each year.

How to Eat Figs

You pick them and then you eat them, still warm off the tree. You try your best not to eat too many.

They make a lovely Summer lunch split in half and then spread over warm pizza bread - with a slice of prosciutto over all.

They are also very good served chilled with a dollop of good chocolate ice cream.

We will be trying to dry them to have delicious dried figs through the winter- again.

The ants enjoy this very much, as do the wasps. This is a battle we lose to them - Ten-Nil, each year.

Ten to the insects!

A Ripe Open Fig

A ripe open fig

A ripe open fig

Main Fig Producing Areas in the World

© 2012 Penelope Hart

Comments

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on June 21, 2014:

Nice comment! Thanks. Enjoy your harvest!

Marcus on June 19, 2014:

I have 8 small fig trees in my garden in SE Georgia. Most people grow them as big bushes here. If they get too tall winter will nip the tops anyway. I should be getting some figs by early July. But I must say, I'm a bit jealous of your big beautiful fig tree. God bless.

Marcus

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on November 30, 2012:

WD316 It's the only tree that this old house had when we took it many years ago. We love it so much, we haven't planted other trees. A couple of olive trees have grown wild here and we love them very much too, but the fig tree is the iconic tree. It's our huge love.

Peggy W . You really need to stop cutting it! The branches we took off last year grew again (after years of not touching it) in a small way, but the fruits on those new branches were smaller and insipid. The figs on those old gnarly branches are sweeter than you could ever imagine.

Many thanks for your votes, comments and for sharing.

It is greatly appreciated.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 29, 2012:

Really enjoyed looking at your large and magnificent fig tree. We have one in our backyard but as others who have already commented, they seem to grow much smaller over here. We have not had much luck with it bearing fruit as it is growing under the neighbors large canopy of oak trees. However, I have been cutting it back each year and someone told me that the fruit only grows on the older established branches...so not cutting them back this year. Will see what happens next year. My mother-in-law used to have a fig tree in her backyard in San Antonio. It was more bush like in its growth pattern but bore wonderful tasting fruit. Many up votes and sharing.

Brian Dooling from Connecticut on November 29, 2012:

What a beautiful tree it truly is a gem! Great article, a perfect mix of your experience with practical information. I never knew fig trees had such aggressive root systems. Even with all the problems of insects and the roots I bet the beauty of the tree, the lack of care needed and the fruit itself is way worth it! You have a beautiful property enjoy your figs! Voted up and shared!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on November 29, 2012:

As long as the fig tree has a lot if protection and is planted far from house walls and south facing it could be great. Wish your grandchildren tons if figs!

Thank you for your comments which are so appreciated.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on November 29, 2012:

What an interesting hub. I'd love to have a fig tree and have done a bit of research on them as far as growing them here. I was happy to find out that it is possible only in the winter they have to be protected from the frost of course. It is a shame that such a gorgeous tree can do such damage.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on October 20, 2012:

Thanks for votes and kind comments TycoonSam.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on October 20, 2012:

Wonder what that movie was that you talked about in your comment? Thanks for thumbs up and sharing and comment. Appreciated. Glad you liked the video!

Mike Pugh from New York City on October 18, 2012:

I learned a great deal about Fig trees, and the funny thing is I watched a cool movie that kind of was similar to your cool story here about how the tree poses a problem for housing structures as a whole, and in dealing with the under surfaces of the ground.

Your hub here is very interesting, totally useful in every way, and I only wish to some day be able to own some land, where I can even plant some trees of my very own someday.

Oh and I love eating Fig's as well, they are so yummy!

Thanks for sharing such a beautiful hub, and for sharing with me on FB, as well as on hubpages in my hub too, nice job!

Thumbs up and getting shared oh yeah! (Your intro video was truly awesome as well, almost forget to mention it)

garden 101 on October 06, 2012:

Nice tree you have there. I will love to have some cuttings.

TycoonSam from Washington, MI on September 17, 2012:

Fabulous Hub and what an amazing fig tree! Thank you for sharing.

Voted up and interesting.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 23, 2012:

We just can't get enough of them either. Such a rich fruit.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 23, 2012:

Your fig preserve sounds like a very good idea. I think I'll make some too. Thanks for the idea!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 23, 2012:

What a story. Too bad you lost the big one but maybe a blessing in disguise. Happy fig eating!!

RTalloni on August 23, 2012:

Your fig tree is magnificent! The figs must be simply amazing.

When we bought this home a large fig tree was growing on a garage wall. Wanting more of the same tree we air layered around 20 branches each year for a couple of years. Many of those attempts were successful and we gave several to friends and even sold a few, retaining about a dozen. Those dozen are still small, but how glad we are to have them because a late spring freeze killed the large tree a few years ago. Sad to see it go, but it really was too close to the garage wall.

We sit right on the line to have tropical summers yet snowy (sometimes) winters for a dormant season. Though not usually as hot as back home (Florida) our Carolina summers are always hot, hot, hot, meaning that this week we are enjoying fresh figs--lovely!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on August 23, 2012:

The fig groves are mostly near the coast, about an hour from here. The trees tower over me and like you mentioned, you can't begin to reach the figs up at the top. It always seems like such a waste, but the birds and bugs sure do enjoy them! I don't know if the roots cause a lot of destruction, but I'm sure they probably do. I thought it was interesting that the fig trees just grow wild in Tuscany. Figs are one of my favorites! I get so excited when the first harvest arrives.

Catherine Dean from Milledgeville, Georgia on August 23, 2012:

Very cool video! I put several pounds of fig preserves from my mom's tree this summer. Her tree has grown very large in five short years. Thanks for sharing all this information and especially the video from your farmhouse. I voted up, tweeted and pinned.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 23, 2012:

Do your fig trees also grow so huge? Do people in Peru have the same problems? I'm sure you do but figs are worth it aren't they?

Nice to have your comment here.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on August 23, 2012:

I really enjoyed this hub...your writing style is so pleasant. In Southern Peru, fig season is November-January and I so look forward to it every year! From your photo, we have the same variety of figs here. What interesting information about the history of fig trees and how they grow in Tuscany. Makes me feel like hopping on a flight to Italy right now! Voted up and shared. Your video is great, as well.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 23, 2012:

It's an evocative tree. It immediately conj ours up memories or images of 'other' places, 'other times'! appreciate your vote Crystal Tatum.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on August 22, 2012:

One of my great childhood memories is of picking figs and eating them fresh off the fig tree in my aunt and uncle's backyard. Your fig tree is beautiful - and 25 feet, wow! Thanks for this great and informative hub. Voted up.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 21, 2012:

Poor container fig- bet the leaves are handsome. . We know how lucky we are to have these delicious fruits and the battle with the roots are worth it. Great full for your button pressing votes.

Tony Mead from Yorkshire on August 21, 2012:

goodlady

an interteresting look at your fig tree and what a character it seems to be. It certainly dwarfs mine which grows outside my sturdio in a container, it hardly bears any fruit let alone any edible figs.

The picture of the ripe open fig looks so delicious, I've never seen one look like that, in fact I've only ever seen the dried ones from the deli.

nice hub voted up and the buttons too+++

with respect

Tony

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 20, 2012:

Maybe a lemon tree then or an olive tree? Thanks for comment.

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on August 20, 2012:

Really enjoyed reading your hub. I've always thought it would be cool to have a fruit tree in my yard, although given the propensity for fig trees to grow, I'm not sure it would be suitable for us. In any case, I enjoyed reading all the good info you had in your hub.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 20, 2012:

Hope your Mother has some figs right now then. SO yummy. Thanks.

Claudia Mitchell on August 20, 2012:

Unfortunately it's too cool here to grow fig trees, but when I can get fresh figs I love them. My mother would be drooling if she saw this hub as she claims figs to be a fruit of the gods. Beautiful hub!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 20, 2012:

chef-de-jour let's hope you have a lot of space for your wee fig, or else I read you can make a cement hole for it underground (though that won't stop the roots much)! Thank you for your vote.

AliciaC. Always so nice to hear from you and I'm glad you enjoyed reading my Hub on one of your favorite fruits. how figs not be a favorite? We love them so much and never tire!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 20, 2012:

This is a very interesting hub, GoodLady. It was fascinating to learn about the background of one of my favorite fruits! The photos and video are lovely, too.

Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on August 20, 2012:

Great hub - I've got a wee fig in a tub at the moment which will need replanting very soon - your information is very useful. And yes some of the old figs in Italy Spain France are beautiful, producing their magnificent fruits year after year, soaking up all that sun.

Voted up.

Natasha from Hawaii on August 20, 2012:

Most of the ones I've seen are more like shrubs than true trees. I've seen one that grew tall enough to hang over a standard 6 foot fence. Maybe there are bigger ones around and I just haven't noticed them, but the ones I see on a regular basis are fairly small.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 20, 2012:

Where is your parent's fig tree? Is it here in Italy? So pleased you got a taste vicariously. Many thank you'd for votes - appreciated.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 20, 2012:

Greatly appreciate your vote formosangirl!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on August 20, 2012:

Hi! It's just such an amazing tree? How high do yours grow Natashahl? Thanks for comments!!!

Natasha from Hawaii on August 20, 2012:

Wow. This tree is way larger than the ones I'm used to in the American South. I've never seen such a huge fig tree! I also did know fig cultivation went back so far in history. Thanks for all the info and the fantastic pictures/video.

formosangirl from Los Angeles on August 20, 2012:

Goodlady, I have never seen a fig tree so big. I enjoy your hub and video. Voted Up and Beautiful.

Robie Benve from Ohio on August 20, 2012:

Oh Goodlady, you made me miss my parent's fig trees even more than I usually do! I love your hub and your video, and my mouth was watering from the first line, then I got to the picture of the ripe open fig and I could almost taste it. Thanks for sharing, voted up and awesome. :)