Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fig Season is here!

Well the long awaited Fig season has arrived! It's a bit a of wild scene out there once the fruit start getting ripe and real battle between Man and Bird. For about 2 months leading up to ripening the local birds in the know will pop by to tentatively peck the Figs to check how far away they are from being, as we say around here - "Jam". "Jam" is what we refer to when you get a Fig at its peak, juicy ripeness. There is nothing worse than a dry, seedy Fig picked before its prime. But left too long to hang, you risk coming back to a Fig ravaged by the Birds.
Since ancient times Figs have been cultivated by man. They were one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans and are well known throughout the world. Fossilised Figs dating to about 9400BC were found in an early Neolithic village in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho.

The unusual fruit grows on a deciduous subtropical tree. Although we think of them as a Mediterranean tree, they are actually native to Western Asia. There are several types of fig available in NZ but worldwide, there are thousands of cultivars that have been developed as human migration brought the fig to many places outside its natural range. Figs have grown successfully in home orchards & backyards since early European settlers first brought them to New Zealand. Figs are deciduous and grow to become very large trees - making them fairly difficult for most suburban gardens where regular pruning & maintenance will be needed.
With an age-old reputation as a sustaining and nourishing food, figs are friendly to the digestive system in either fresh or dried form. This is because they contain an enzyme called ficin that helps the digestive process by soothing your gut. They are also mildly laxative. Dried figs are a rich source of fibre, iron, potassium and calcium, making them a useful food for people with high blood pressure. Weight for weight, a fig contains more fibre than most other fruits or vegetables, so they're great for your bowels and your cholesterol levels. They're also high in polyphenol antioxidants, which can make them a valuable food for cancer prevention. Figs are odd trees - they don't produce flowers - the blossom is inside the fruit, and it's these blossoms with their little seeds that produce the crunchy texture. 

There are two fruiting types of varieties with Figs. One has two crops of figs produced each year the other just one. The first or breba crop develops in the spring on last year's shoot growth (Jan-Feb). The main fig crop (April-May) develops on the current year's shoot growth and ripens in the late summer or autumn. The main crop is generally superior in quantity and quality, but some cultivars can produce good breba crops. Fruit will need picking daily to ensure top quality and to minimise spoilage and bird attacks. The fruit don't age well once picked and will need to be eaten within a few days of picking.

To produce high quality fruit, fig trees will need maintenance and care after planting. By nature the root systems are very inquisitive so be conscious of the proximity of plumbing and services if planting them in the ground. Once planted, trees should produce fruit in 2 years. Then once settled in, they are a seemingly unstoppable tree. They will reach good harvest volumes in 5-7 years. Trees should go on producing for years to come. Some plantings in California are 100 years old and still producing excellent volumes of fruit.
They need a sheltered, north facing position which catches the sun all day. Put them in shade and will they use all their energy finding sun and none producing fruit. They should be planted on flat or gently sloping ground so they are easy to pick and tend.
They prefer soil to be free draining and will not cope with being waterlogged.
Whilst the trees are relatively drought resistant, fruit will not ripen to its prime if the trees aren't watered. If your area dries out, it is advisable to invest in an irrigation system which will supply water during the growing season. This will ensure your fruit is juicy and grows to optimum size.
The main pest you will find with your Fig will be Birds. You will need some protection from birds who will damage the fruit on the trees. Unless if like me you like to share with them & enjoy watching all the Waxeyes & Tui's & other birds enjoying them also. For us, our tree is so old & large there is enough for everyone:)  Figs aren't as prone to disease as some other fruit crops making them a good candidate for organic growers.


The fig tree is fast growing and requires pruning to keep it at a manageable height. Pruning also helps to limit shading the fruit, which will delay ripening. I have heard of people trimming off the leaves to help ripen the fruit quicker. Although the tree does start dropping leaves about mid March to help this process. I have seen an orchard which espaliered the trees, set up like a vineyard with wires strung between posts. This would be costlier to set up but would help ensure the fruit was always at an accessible height, making picking less labour intensive in the long run.


Fig Paste

Figs, skins removed & pureed.

Equal amount of Jam Sugar.

​or 2 cups Caster Sugar & 4¼ TBS Powdered Pectin.

1. Combine the Fig puree & Sugar in a large saucepan & place over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
2. Turn up heat & bring to boil. Stirring regularly boil for 4 mins.
3. At this point you can pour into jars as Jam or dry out into Fig Paste.
2. Grease the base & sides of 6 ramekins & divide the paste evenly among the ramekins. 
3. Place in fan-forced oven with only the fan working in a very low oven (90°C) for several hours to dry out.You could use a traditional method for drying the paste in the sunshine or in an airing cupboard
3. Remove from the ramekins & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Backyard Lavender Farm continued.....


As you may have read here, in August we planted out a large portion of our back lawn with Lavender. Such a great decision and this summer we have really reaped the rewards of our odourous endeavour. It has been beautiful wading through the long stems of flowers with wafts of lavender pervading through the summer air. The greatest part of the Lavender Farm has to be all the Bees we have been attracting into the garden. They seem to be really enjoying the flowers and the backyard is literally abuzz with life. Not only is their presence lovely for us to enjoy but whilst here they will hopefully nip around all the surrounding fruit trees to assist with pollination of the flowers helping in fruit set of the trees.

In the centre of the Lavender we have installed a terrecotta water Bird Bath which has also seen a lot of action from the local birdlife. We have at times had up to 10 birds on a one time all jostling for a dip on a hot day. Even the bees (and wasps unfortunately) have been sitting at the water's edge for a drink after buzzing amongst the Lavender. Good times.

Throughout the summer we have been intermittently harvesting bunches of flower stems and have saved the buds for use in various ways. My wife, Jennifer, has been experimenting with making her own soaps with Lavender buds, Shea butter, Essential oils and various other concoctions.
In the future i am hoping to look into distilling our Lavender into our own essential oil which would be amazing. I could either buy a still which are about $500 like these which seems a large investment or else i may ask around at a few Lavender farms around Auckland to see if i could process a batch though one of them.
This leads me on to our latest expansion. So we purchased another 35 Grosso plants from our supplier "Pocket Mouse" on trademe and have extended out the other third of the previous lawn to make the whole back lawn now all rows of Lavender. This time i laid the black weed mat down first and pinned it down into place. Next i measured out with string, straight lines and placed out the Lavenders to match the existing plants' layout. I then cut holes in the mat and planted the little Lavs in mounds with a porous potting mix to help with drainage. Now they are in, they look really good and by next year they shouldn't be too far behind the others. I just now need to source some more wood chips to mulch over the top of the mat and around the plants to match the other side. This also helps to stop weeds popping through and aids water retention during summer.
Anyway i hope this could inspire some of you to make your own waste of space of a lawn into a productive, re-energised and more organic, natural space.