Fig-uring it all out

I am a complete fig novice. I’ve never grown one, and never eaten one (well, hardly ever). Now being the proud keeper of two large fig trees, with ripening figs on at least one of them, I need to figure out how to look after them and what to do with the fruit.

One tree in particular has a number of fruits which are noticeably ripening. I say this because they have become much larger, and yellower, than most of the other green fruits.

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So I found a recipe for fig and red onion chutney (which a friend makes, and sounds delicious), sourced some jam jars, bought the rest of the ingredients… and woke up to find that something had been eating my ripe figs!

I think the culprits are Jays, as I saw one flapping around in the tree one evening.

Anyway, while checking that I still had the dozen or so ripe figs I needed, I noticed that there is a distinct pattern to the ripe figs, and the still-green smaller figs. The ripe ones, much larger and yellower, are all just below the clusters of leaves on the ends of each branch, while the smaller green ones are above or within these clusters of leaves. A bit of research confirmed that what I have is a ‘breba’ crop of figs. The pattern can be seen in all the photographs below:

Breba and maincrop figs

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Breba figs are an early crop of figs which form on the previous year’s wood (hence being below the new growth and leaves). Not all fig trees produce a breba crop, and brebas are very susceptible to spring frosts. They are sometimes considered inferior in sweetness and taste – a fig-owning friend tasting mine certainly said they were less sweet than their usual figs, and I must admit I didn’t find them particularly sweet or flavoursome.

Fortunately, there are also a lot of maincrop figs still to come, which grow on this season’s growth (hence being above/amongst the leaves), and which should ripen any time between August and October.

Maincrop figs - not yet ripe

With the brebas, I wasn’t even sure how to tell when they are truly ‘ripe’. It seems that different varieties of fig are different colours when ripe: ‘Brown Turkey’, for example, being brown. Mine are yellow, and some are already dropping, so, I thought, they must be ripe. However, it seems to be more about the way they hang – when the stalks droop and gravity gets the better of the figs, they are ripe:

Figs not yet ripe

Not yet ripe

Fig - nearly ripe

Almost ripe but not quite

Figs - ripe


I was also getting worried about the drips I have seen coming out of the bottom of some of the ripe figs:

Dripping fig

I thought it meant some sort of insect had burrowed in and was eating them from the inside. But it seems all is not lost (yet) – this is just the nectar leaking out of a beautifully-ripe fig… but also an indication that if you don’t get in there and pick them ‘tout de suit’, the birds are likely to come and do the job for you!


2 thoughts on “Fig-uring it all out

  1. Enjoyed all the detail in this. I got some fruit from my fig tree in Devon a few years ago and never learnt this much about it. Now I have a different fig tree north of the Trent which, true to the saying, doesn’t look likely to produce any. Super photos again.


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