Do you have any idea how many ten quintillion is?

If you divided it among all the people of the planet, your personal allocation would be 1.6 billion. If your 1.6 billion were grains of rice, it would come to 55,000 pounds. Picture it: the number of grains of rice in 55,000 pounds for each man, woman, and child of us.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the number of insects on this planet.

This number is necessarily an estimate, an individual census being, up until now, cost-prohibitive. Today, though, and for the next couple of weeks, entomologists have an unprecedented opportunity to do a proper head count, because the world’s entire insect population has assembled all in one place!

That place, I’m sorry to report, is our fig tree.

Those of you following along at home may remember that, a little over a month ago, I had a bad case of fruit angst. Our tree was covered – covered! – with figs. Hard little green figs that refused – refused! – to ripen. Maybe it was all of you dedicated readers sending good wishes and ripen vibes through the ether, because soon afterward, Kevin noticed a fig beginning to soften and turn color. And then another.

At first, it was a trickle. One fig today, another tomorrow. Then a steady stream. Then, an onslaught! Figs, every single day! It was a small miracle.

I can’t say they’re the best figs ever. They don’t quite have the concentrated honeyed flavor of a really good fig. But they’re definitely good enough to enjoy – in quantity. We ate them straight off the tree. We dipped them in the honey our bees made for us this year. We poached them in Sambuca and served them over ice cream. We ate them off the tree again.

At first, they were all but insect-free. If we left one on the tree too long, it would split and attract yellow jackets, but we managed to pick most of them before that stage. But then the insect grapevine must have started buzzing, because the word got out.

My botanical expertise is limited enough for me to have harbored an idea that a fig tree, here on Cape Cod, would have relatively few pest problems because the local pests have never seen one. They’d take one look at it, scratch their little insect heads, and move on to something more familiar, like the raspberry bushes, squash vines, or the delicious wooden portions of our home.

Insects, though, turn out to be fast learners. I guess you don’t get to be ten quintillion strong by turning your back on perfectly good food just because it’s new (if any of you parents out there are looking for new ways to convince your toddlers to expand their gastronomic horizons, you might want to point this out).

As soon as they understood out how tasty and nutritious figs are, they figured out how to keep them all for themselves. Since figs don’t ripen once you pick them, we have to leave them on the tree until they’re just right. So, the insects let them ripen until just before they’re just right, and then move in. There were clearly too many figs for the local population to manage single-mandibly, so they put out a world-wide call for reinforcements.

But it’s an ill wind that blows no good, and our loss is science’s gain. One, two, three …

9 people are having a conversation about “Bugapalooza

  1. Try tying muslin around them or using some old hose to exclude the insects. You could do as one person does and grow each fruit in a bottle but that would be a crazy amount of work. You could also try a vegetable oil spray or one of the clay sprays. It may be too late to be worth bothering with this year but next year one of these ideas may prove helpful.

  2. And, next year, if all the measures suggested by CarolG are successful, figs sprinkled with brown sugar and grilled (broiled) for just a moment till the sugar melts…mmmmm

  3. Carol, I suspect you’re a much more committed gardener than I am. I can’t imagine tying muslin around all those figs, and then checking them all to see when they ripen! A vegetable oil spray sounds much more like my kind of thing, but it would be hard to get it off when you want to eat the figs, yes? If a clay spray (which I’m sorry to say I’ve never heard of) rinses off, perhaps that’s the way to go.

    Fran — That sounds delicious! I may have to brush a few ants off and give it a try.

    • You can try Gardens Alive (they are on the web) as they carry lovely sprays and stuff for organic gardening. The oil spray I referred to is vegetable oil mixed with dish soap and water and applied with a spray bottle or other device – you just rinse it off. I will confess I probably would not get around to tying little bags around the fruit but I thought I should suggest this as many folks I know have used it successfully.

  4. Tamar, a friend of mine (in more fig friendly country than Northern Illinois) and I came up with a plan for hers a few years back. She invested in a lot of those thin muslin bags you use to mull cider with a little drawstring around the top. She only popped them on when the figs were just about ripe so that they got full sun until the very end. Then she planned to wash the bags for next year.

    Come to think of it I may not have heard from her since…perhaps I ruined her figs?

    I know in Japan they put asian pear apples in individual bags to keep them blemish free and organic on the tree. How much DO you like figs?

  5. I’m curious – do you have your fig planted in the ground, or do you keep it in a pot and bring it in for the winter? We’re in Ohio and I have a fig I purchased a few years ago that so far I haven’t managed to kill, but it never produces any fruit! I was told that I needed to keep it in a pot and bring it indoors, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe that’s the wrong, especially if you’re able to get figs where you are!

  6. If it is just ants, limb up the tree and use Tanglefoot on the trunk.

    BTW, you could not possibly have all the insects in the world at your place because I have at least half of them here!

  7. Karen — I know that, no matter how good my intentions might be, I would never be able to deploy the muslin-bag strategy. I lack your friend’s fortitude. Sigh.

    Marie — Our tree is in the ground, and it seems to be happy there (although I know of people who keep fig trees in pots with good results). We have to wrap the tree every winter to protect it from having its roots frozen, and each spring we unwrap it with trepidation. So far, so good!

    Laura — Yes! We’re about at the end of the season here, but next year that’s what I’ll do. Maybe throw in a little diatomaceous earth for good measure! Brilliant.

  8. Hello, my name is Daniel. would you like to trade fig cuttings? if so please contact me at ediblelandscaping.sc@gmail.com I have a few different fig trees and would love to try your tasty looking figs one day. Figs root easily from cuttings and cuttings are easy to ship. I have red, black, yellow, brown, green, and white and would love to share some with you. Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you.

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