Monday, October 13, 2008

Figs for Greater Kansas City?

Yes, you can grow figs outdoors in Greater Kansas City. Figs (Ficus carica) may have been mankind's first domesticated plant. They predate cereal grains by nearly 1,000 years and were grown well before olives, dates and grapes. Figs are large shrubs or small trees in zones 8 and warmer but make good "dieback" plants in places like Kansas City, or other colder zones with long, hot summers. Figs actually can produce two crops a season (one from the old wood of last season's growth and one from the new season's wood) but because of the dieback you lose the first "breba" crop in our zone.

Matt Bunch (Horticulturist, Heartland Harvest Garden) inspects the fruit of a fig growing in our nursery (you can see our official weather station behind). Next spring our collection of figs will be moved to the Heartland Harvest Garden for all to see and taste!
Matt and Caitlin Bailey (Gardener, Heartland Harvest Garden) picked some ripe figs today for display in this blog:

Just like apples and peaches, there are many varieties of figs! There may be as many as 800 varieties but some are obviously two names for the same plant. We selected varieties with good winter hardiness combined with fruit ripening in a shorter growing season. The 'Atreano' fig depicted is recommended for cool regions. It has light green skin and strawberry colored flesh. You can see the small bruise on the lower right side of this fig and that is why you rarely see fresh figs in supermarkets: they don't ship and they don't keep unless they are dried--losing their best flavor!

One of the best figs for cooler climates is 'Chicago' and Matt says it ripens quickly and consistently in our nursery. It was selected in Chicago so you know it is hardy!

This is the 'Lattarulla' or "Italian Honey" fig also well known for hardiness and adaptability to cooler summers.

The favorite fig of both Caitlin and Gardener Barbara Fetchenhier is 'Peter's Honey' depicted here. The fruit on the left is cut open so you can see that a fig is actually an inside-out flower inflorescence called a "syconium:" the center is made up of individual flowers only accessible to a specific wasp pollinator through a tiny hole at the base. All the figs we have are parthenocarpic figs, which set fruit without pollination so are sterile. Peter's Honey fig was brought by the late Peter Danna from Sicily to Portland, Oregon, where it has performed well.

Stella or 'Cordi' fig is also a favorite of Caitlin and Barbara (and myself!). It was brought to Portland, Oregon, by an Italian sailor and named for his wife. The large, sweet fruit is purplish red inside and ripens well in cooler climates. With two plants in a row from Portland you probably wonder where to get such plants: mailorder from One Green World

I have never been a fan of the flavor of Brown Turkey figs, even though it is the most widely grown fig in the UK or Greater Kansas City. To quote a recent article by Stephen Read in RHS's The Garden: "there are better-flavoured choices." 'Vern's Brown Turkey' is depicted here. One Green World's catalog states "to distinguish this variety from less reliable varieties" they named it after their garden writer friend Vern Nelson. It has done well in our nursery.

We are always glad to find local specialty plants and are amassing a very nice collection. This fig is in the "brown turkey" family but is Matt's favorite and close second with Caitlin and Barbara. It was given to us by Volunteer RD Wood. RD says he got it from "an old Italian guy in Independence" and that is all he will say. Barbara has named this fig "Really Delightful" in honor of RD and its great performance and flavor. Matt says the flavor is more tart with sweet (Matt favors flavors with more than sweet). I find it a delicious fig!

We have even more figs on trial and I could write a major article about them. I grew up in Iowa where the only fig I knew was in the cookie! When I moved to Baton Rouge to attend Graduate School at LSU I was introduced to figs. I had to ask how do you eat one! I have been a fig lover and grower ever since: growing them in containers after moving back to the Midwest as to not be without fresh figs in season.

Figs are also very nutritious: high in B vitamins. They have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits including: iron, calcium, phosphates, magnesium and manganese. They are higher in dietary fiber than any other common fruit: most of it peptic fiber that helps remove toxins from your system. It's always good to have something that tastes great and is good for you. Make sure to add figs to your list of edible landscaping subjects for 2009 or at least come for a taste next season at the Heartland Harvest Garden.


MosesOng said...

Hi, stumble across your blog while research fig for Kansas City. I'm in Olathe by the way. What fig variety would you recommend for canning (jam), drying, fresh eating? Is brown turkey and hardy chicago the only choice to grow outdoor in our area? Thanks!

MEGGY said...

I'm in desperate search of fresh figs. I live in Wichita and I'm wondering if you have recommendations of where I might order some in bulk.