Grow Your Own Figs

Are you a fig lover?

I find that figs are a Hot or Cold food. Those who love them really love them, and I am definitely a lover of figs.

I learned to love figs as a child growing up in Texas. My father grew them, and anything we could eat out of our own backyard was exciting, no matter how strange or unusual.

I might never have tried growing figs here in Pennsylvania (zone 6), but my father plants a tree nearly every time he visits one of his children. On his second visit to Maplehurst, he planted a fig known as ‘Chicago Hardy.’

That’s a good name for a fig if you garden in a place with cold winters.

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Here is what I’ve learned about growing figs from my ‘Chicago Hardy’ tree:

  • Mild winters give two crops: If your fig tree doesn’t die all the way back over winter, you can expect an early crop and a late one, too

 

  • Mulch might make a difference (or not): Several years I have tried covering my fig in a heavy blanket of chopped leaves. One year, I wrapped it in burlap. Both years, it still died back. Now I let nature takes its course.

 

  • Pull off those baby fruit as winter nears: Because my fig usually dies all the way back over the winter, I don’t see fruit ripen until very late in summer. If too many baby figs are left before I’ve had a harvest, I start pulling off the smallest fruits to give the rest a chance to ripen before the first freeze.

 

  • Eat them, quickly, sun-warmed and fresh: That’s the best, though I also love slicing them into salads or on homemade pizza with a little goat cheese.

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Here are a few more tips if you’d like to grow your own figs:

Did you know you can grow figs in containers?

So many beautiful varieties.

27 fig recipes from one of my favorite food websites.

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

A Different Kind of Bulb

Tulips are beautiful.

Daffodils are beautiful and resistant to pests.

But there’s another bulb I love to plant in fall and harvest in spring, and this one is delicious:

It’s garlic!

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I am always more motivated to grow flowers over food, but year after year I make an exception for garlic.

It’s just so easy. And while the grocery store offers regular garlic and (maybe) organic garlic, the seed catalogs offer so many different varieties. Reading these mouth-watering descriptions will give you a whole new appreciation for this flavorful food.

And few things are more satisfying than having your own inexpensive, organic garlic supply.

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Here are my best tips for growing and harvesting this delicious pantry staple:

 

  • For the freshest bulbs, order online. I love the varieties offered by Seed Savers (‘Elephant’ garlic is my favorite, but I try to order in spring or early summer as it sells out fast).

 

 

  • Garlic comes in hard-neck and soft-neck varieties. I prefer hard-neck because these types grow flowers called “scapes.” When the scapes grow tall in late spring, they can be cut and gathered and made into a delicious garlic scape pesto. Here’s a detailed article describing the differences between the two types. Here’s a recipe for garlic scape pesto (scapes can also usually be found for a brief time at farmer’s markets).

 

  • Harvest in summer when the foliage begins to yellow and die back. It’s best to use a garlic fork to pry the bulbs out, or else you risk cutting them with your spade.

 

  • Garlic needs to be dried before cutting off (or braiding) the stems and putting in storage. I dry mine on a wire or wooden rack on my covered porch. To dry, your garlic will need air circulation, shade, and protection from rain.

 

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

Celebrate: Herbs!

 

How do we celebrate the herbs that are growing in our gardens?

By using them, of course!

You would think we wouldn’t have to remind ourselves of this, but how often do I wait until a recipe asks for a particular herb before I think to harvest and use it? Too often, I’m afraid.

Here are some ideas and inspiration for new ways to use favorite herbs:

Iced tea: Here are some recipes for fun fruit + herbal iced teas

Make Your Own Herbal Vinegar

Flavored Salt: Like this Fragrant Tuscan Herb Salt

Herb Sugar is lovely sprinkled on fruit or used to edge the glass rim of a special drink

Sugar scrub: I found many recipes online but this Calendula version looks especially beneficial for skin

Make Your Own Herbal Sachet

Compound Butter: make your own herbal butter with these recipes

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.

Favorites for Edible Landscaping

 

In suburbia, especially, we grow mostly lawn grass. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some suggestions for a beautiful and edible landscape around your home:

  • Blueberry Bushes: Nicely shaped shrubs with delicious berries in summer and lovely autumn color. Consider these if you have acidic soil.
  • Espaliered fruit trees: With careful (but not complicated) pruning, you can have a living screen or fence that also gives you apples or nectarines. These space-saving trees can give as much fruit as a traditional fruit tree.
  • Black raspberries: Not to be confused with blackberries, black raspberries are dark like blackberries but have the shape and texture of raspberries. They have a deep, rich raspberry flavor and are my favorite summer fruit for jam. They are also tolerant of shade, unlike many other edible plants.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries of all types make a great ground cover plant. June-bearing strawberries won’t stay where you put them over the years (they send out runners and like to “travel” around a garden), but everbearing types will stay put. Tiny and intensely sweet, alpine strawberries make beautiful edging plants and also work well in containers.
  • Herbs: Herbs are beautiful, fragrant, and delicious. DO NOT plant mint in the ground because it will take over. Save that one for containers. In my garden at Maplehurst, chives have beautiful pink flowers in early summer, and sage is a vigorous, perennial herb that spreads itself around. In warmer climates, rosemary can grow to shrub-like proportions.
  • Elderberry: These grow wild in my part of Pennsylvania, but they also make a beautiful, spreading shrub around my home. Do some research in order to choose an edible variety and then make your own fizzy elderflower “champagne” or immune-boosting elderberry syrup.
  • Asparagus: Planted in the right place, this long-lasting perennial would make a beautiful feathery-green privacy screen.
  • Lettuces and other greens: These are beautiful edible plants in a rich array of colors. Choose “cut and come again” varieties of lettuce or greens like kale and colorful Swiss Chard in order to harvest without leaving bare patches in your landscape.

One last note: with edible landscaping it is especially important to consider your soil. If you live in an urban area and / or have an old home, you must assume that the ground could have high levels of lead. Containers or deep raised beds are good solutions.

Choosing Edibles When Space Is Limited


Of course, in some sense, space is always limited, whether you measure your garden in number of pots or number of acres. We all have choices to make about how we will allocate our growing space.

For those in need of edible plant ideas for their containers, I recommend edible flowers like dwarf nasturtiums and tiny, always-fruiting strawberries like the alpine strawberry ‘Mignonette.’ That one is easy to grow in window boxes or as a ground cover in a larger garden.

But what every gardener needs is a value system that helps them make the hard choices about what to grow year after year.

At Maplehurst, I’ve learned over time which edible crops hit the bullseye of delicious, easy to grow, and either expensive or impossible-to-find in the supermarket. Here are those that make my list year after year:

 

  • Fingerling potatoes: Easy, prolific, and absolutely delicious. Fingerlings can be expensive, but fill a single raised bed with them, and you will almost take them for granted for a month or more each summer. I love growing the ‘La Ratte’ variety from Seed Savers.
  • Ground Cherries: Sweet cherry-like fruits that you can grow from seed in one season? Yes, please! Ground cherries grow in a papery husk and taste like a cross between a cherry, a tomato, and a pineapple. They make the most beautiful and delicious jam. I grow them in a raised bed covered in black plastic, which makes the papery husks much easier to collect when they fall off, ripe, from the plant. ‘Aunt Molly’s’ is a great variety.
  • Leeks: There’s nothing like potato leek soup, but leeks can get pricy at the store.
  • Asparagus: If you have a spot for it, a perennial food crop like asparagus is well worth planting. The plants are long-lasting, and the flavor of fresh-picked can’t be beat.
  • Japanese sweet potatoes: I was introduced to these nutty-tasting sweet potatoes with white flesh by a friend who lived in Japan for many years. They are more nutritious than plain white potatoes, but the pale color fools my kids into eating them. I like ‘Murasaki.’
  • Thornless blackberries: Easy to grow, easy to harvest, and delicious straight from the canes or baked into a cobbler. We grow ‘Chester Thornless.’

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