Whoever coined the phrase, “I don’t give a fig,” wasn’t from around here.
I’m thinking it was someone from Greece, or maybe Provence. Someplace where figs grow in abundance, and the language spoken is mellifluous enough to make “I don’t give a fig” sound much better than it does in English.
If you ever hear me say, “I don’t give a fig,” it’s because I think whatever the issue is at hand may be very important indeed, but still not up to the level at which I would give a fig.
Three years ago, in an uncharacteristic willingness to delay gratification, I planted a fig tree. Actually, Kevin and I planted the fig tree together, but the willingness to delay gratification is uncharacteristic only in me. Kevin is a very patient man.
It’s a brown turkey fig, and I’m still not sure whether it’s named that because it bears a resemblance to a brown turkey or because it’s a brown version of some other fig that comes from Turkey. If you know, please tell me.
Anyway, brown turkey figs are a hardy variety, and they are reputed to grow as far north as Agricultural Zone 5. I’ve never been sure whether we’re in Zone 7A, which the official USDA map seems to indicate, or in Zone 6B, which some experienced local gardeners contend, but I figured either of those is warmer than Zone 5, so we could grow this fig tree.
When we brought it home, it didn’t look promising. It was two sticks, each about three feet tall, with a few buds on it. It was nothing like the fig tree of my imagination, laden with figs the size of golf balls and leaves the like the ones in those classical paintings depicting the moment Adam and Eve decided they needed underpants after all. But we watered it regularly, wrapped it up in winter in a snowsuit of burlap and straw, and it grew and thrived.
Last year, we harvested about a dozen figs, and I thought it was a bumper crop. This year, when the leaves first started to come out, the tree got about twenty little figs on it, and I was very excited. We might even double last year’s harvest! Then, one by one, the little green figs shriveled and fell off the tree. I was heartbroken.
But then a funny thing happened. The tree started throwing branches and leaves out every which way. In a matter of just a few weeks, it practically doubled in size. And then it set a second crop of figs. There’s one in almost every junction where leaf meets branch – 150, at least. Maybe more.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about growing food, it’s not to count on a harvest until it’s safe and sound in the kitchen. We all know the story of the perfect tomato/strawberry/pepper/apple crop that looked beautiful up until the day before, and then was completely consumed by some varmint/insect/livestock/neighbor literally overnight.
We’re taking no chances. Today we put up a bamboo scaffold and encased the tree in clam netting. Clam netting is a lot like bird netting (except that it’s not to keep the clams out), and we hope it will deter not just wild birds, but also chipmunks, squirrels, and marauding chickens. I know it won’t keep out a raccoon or opossum, but I’m hoping raccoons and opossums from Zone 7 (or 6B) are unfamiliar with figs and don’t know to try to break in.
I’m figuring we’re a week or two away from First Fig, and I’ll be keeping careful watch. If I get a decent crop, I will hoard them jealously and barter only for something very, very good. And I’ll never use that stupid expression again. Unless I go to Provence, and can say it in French.