Monday, June 20, 2011


Fig season is upon us and that is both a good thing and a bad thing.  The amount of each is proportional to the specific year and there have been several years when the scales have definitely tipped toward the negative.  This year so far (fingers crossed) is turning out to be heavy on the good.

Of course I often feel this way at the start of fig season.  Right now the main tree is LOADED with figs and just today I picked about four pounds.  It is highly likely that four or more pounds will ripen every day for the next few weeks.

Sounds great right?  The potential wrench in the works is what sweet little Mother Nature will throw at me this year.  She is not bashful about it at all.  So far this year we have had months upon months of no rain whatsoever.  This tree happens to be strategically placed at the edge of one of our main garden beds.  Its roots spread out into this bed and also into one of the newer beds we have created.  So we have been able to counter the drought which would reduce the fig crop with our daily waterings of the garden beds.  Score one for the good column.

Now the figs this year are out of this world sweet due to the aforementioned drought.  There is a delicate balance to what makes a desirable fig.  Not enough water and you have a puny fig that is likely to be aborted by the tree before it matures.  Too much water and you have these huge sized figs with practically no taste.  This year it is just right.  Score another one for the good column.

But what is that lurking on the horizon.  A forecast for rain?  A tropical storm potential, or at least that kind of rain?  This would be just horrible for the fig harvest as much as it would be incredibly good for the rest of the plant life.  Number one, rain would prevent me from harvesting the figs, which pretty much means the birds and squirrels will get them.  Second, the rain at this point in the harvest will swell the fruit and diminish the sweet, sweet crop we are currently getting.  Third - and this is a big one - there will be mud.  Not just "Oh, land sakes, my little old shoes have a bit of mud on them," but "Dear God, just how much more of this muck is going to stick to my shoes each step I take."  I have been dreading our first real rain because during our 'make the new garden beds' efforts we removed what must be about a metric ton of clay which we used to build up some of the pathways.

Dehydrated Mud

Our desire was to seed this clay with grass seed right before the next rain and then it would be all grassy and perfect.  No rain, so no seeding, so now that pathway is about four inches of this fine and powdery clay dust that the resident Border Collie has managed to create by churning it up about a million times a day.  Right at this moment it seems very benign.  The birds love to dust bathe in it and so does the Westie.  He can turn himself from a basically white dog into a gray and grizzled goat looking creature in the blink of an eye.  Add a little rain and this will become... well you know in art class when you got to mold things in clay.  You know how that when you wanted to smooth out the sides of your lopsided pot you just used water and it made this slick and slippery surface.  Imagine that but about forty feet by twenty feet and four inches deep.  We are talking something far more malevolent than mud here.  And with the heat - I am imagining it becoming a knee, ankle and back wrenching slurry of canine coating muck and then hardening into an impenetrable surface imprinted with multiple dog footprints as well as full body impact marks from my husband and I taking a header into its expanse.  So, let's just say if it rains a lot we are going to chalk this one into the 'bad' category.

Now as I said I have been harvesting an ever increasing amount of fig, but it must also be said that in order to do this and avoid heat stroke I have been getting up at dawn.  This too is a fine line between light enough to see what I am doing and oppressive humid life draining heat.  I also have the difficulty of negotiating a ladder while I am still muzzy with sleep.  We got a really great five foot step ladder last year which is perfect for this task in that it does not weight a ton, but it is not perfect in that for me to reach the highest figs I have to step up on step higher than my ladder comfort zone.  I like to feel ladder firmly on my shins near my knee, not riskily on my shin near my ankle.  I keep writing my obituary while I am up there - 'her quest for figs put an end to her'.

It does not help it that as soon as I am up that ladder, the Border Collie decides it is time to 'zoom around the garden'.  The ladder is new to her and I don't think she really respects it.  After all, nothing bad has ever happened yet in regards to the ladder.  During her zooms she charges ahead at full tilt and frequently rebounds off of fences, trees, garden supports and, to the irritation of the victim, the Westie.  She knocks into Lewey so forcefully that she rolls him over three or four times.  We fuss at her, but she is very resistant to our desires and even deliberately aims for him.  So there I am up the ladder doing the fig thing, hunting for the ripe ones and she begins a zoom.  She hasn't come close to me yet, but I still grab hold of the branches just in case - not that they could support me, but perhaps they could soften the impact.  "How did you break your back, ma'am?" the nurse will ask me as I am admitted to the emergency room.   But it hasn't happened yet - so far...

Now, a definite bad column item are the birds and squirrels who consider this fig tree as theirs and how dare we try and harvest any of the figs.  My 'picking figs at dawn' has been very helpful in this regard.  Birds it turns out are lazy and won't get to the tree until the sun is well up.  The same thing applies for the squirrels.  This means I have the tree to myself, almost.  The almost are the bugs.  This morning there was this red and black bug hanging out near one of the figs.  He looked like he meant business, so I avoided him.  I have also been told that brown recluse spiders like to hang out in fig trees.  I have not seen any spiders and I would like to chalk this up to urban legend, but yeesh - what if it is true?  "How did you get that necrotic and infected spider bite, ma'am?" the nurse will ask me prior to prepping me for the amputation.

Go ahead.  Grab the fig.

Now just because the feathered and furred varmints are not in the tree when I am there does not mean their presence isn't felt.  Birds are not just lazy, they are wasteful. Each morning I find the ripest and most succulent figs stabbed open via a bird beak.  Just eat the whole thing - okay.  What is up with this 'put your beak into it' method.  And it is not like they come back to it either.  That fig is ruined as if some one has picked up a pastry from a buffet line, taken a bite out of it and then put it back on the tray.  Nobody else wants it now you wasteful avian pest.  And of course since that didn't satisfy them - how could it since they barely ate a molecule of it - they have to peck another one.  Now don't get me wrong.  I know the rules and the birds will get their share.  It's not like we net the tree to keep them completely out.  We actually like that our garden helps support the local wildlife.  My husband asks me each time I pick, "Did you leave some for the birds?"  Yeah, I sure did.  The ones they pecked already.  Stupid birds.

The squirrels are entirely different in their approach from the birds.  First of all they will eat the whole fig - no worries there. But they have an insatiable appetite and can seriously diminish a crop.  Although I would prefer they not visit our tree there is little we can do to keep them out.  Last year when we had taken down a tall hedge and before we had installed our ceder fence, the squirrels became very brazen.  Previously, the tall hedge and the large canopy of the fig tree practically merged, so it used to be no problem for the squirrels to easily move in and out of the tree.  Without the hedge they had to make an acrobatic transit down the power lines that run on the edge of our property.  However, when that seemed too much work they just hopped across the lawn and climbed the tree.

Now if there is one thing certain in this world it is that dogs naturally hate squirrels.  During the life of our Schnauzer Chewey, he made it his duty to police the fig tree each year.  The moment we opened the back door he would charge out to the fig tree and shout at the squirrels.  The squirrels would respond by abandoning ship and launching themselves out of the tree with vigor.  This sometimes resulted in near misses where Schnauzer nearly catches squirrel.  Oh how that Schnauzer wanted to catch the squirrel.  Later when the Westie was added to the mix and especially when the hedge was removed the near misses were sometimes merely a fraction of an inch.  We figured if the Schnauzer caught the squirrel it would likely get away with little damage, but if it were the Westie instead - dead squirrel.  Maybe the Westie might sustain a little damage, but - dead squirrel.  They have as yet to catch one though.

Some of the squirrels took to taunting the dogs from the power lines and sometimes from the top of  the fig tree.  Their little 'chu chu chu' taunts would drive the dogs into high pitched barking fury.  Some of those squirrels are still around.  One especially has been casing the joint this year.  He travels the high wire of the back electric lines and sometimes perches on the utility pole.  He is very concerned this year and has every right to be because of the addition of the Border Collie.  Trudy hates the squirrels.   She hates them so hard that she launches herself up the eight foot ceder fence as high as possible and based on the paw prints she is traveling a good six or seven feet upward.  She also launches herself up the six foot back chain link fence which thank God has a healthy amount of vines towering over its top or she would go sailing over it.  She is so fast and so determined that the 'will the dogs ever get a squirrel' question may be answered this year.

Evidence of Trudy's rebounding practice

So, as we tally it all up, in the plus column we have heaps and gobs of great tasting figs.  In the negative column we have the crack of dawn fig picking, scary bug encounters, wasteful birds, and dogs driven to athletic mayhem by irritating squirrels.  If we don't get the torrential floods they are predicting with the accompanying mud then I say this is definitely, all things considered, a better than average fig year.

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