History of Fig
The fig tree, long a symbol of Western culture, may also be one of the earliest domesticated plants in the world. In an article in the June 2, 2006 issue of Science magazine, a research team led by Mordechai Kislev at Bar-Ilan University in Israel reports evidence for parthenocarpic figs from six sites in the greater Mediterranean Sea region dated between 11,700 and 10,500 years ago. This evidence of domestication at the Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA 8300-7300 BC) sites of Gilgal, Jericho, Netiv Hagdud and Gesher in the Jordan Valley and Mureybit in the Euphrates Valley, occurs at roughly the same time as rice domestication in Asia, but fully five thousand years earlier than millet or wheat or any other seed plant in the middle east.
Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. Harvest the fruit gently to avoid bruising. Fresh figs do not keep well and can be stored in the refrigerator for only 2 - 3 days. Some fig varieties are delicious when dried. They take 4 - 5 days to dry in the sun and 10 -12 hours in a dehydrator. Dried figs can be stored for six to eight months.
Young fig trees should be watered regularly until fully established. In dry western climates, water mature trees deeply at least every one or two weeks. Desert gardeners may have to water more frequently. Mulch the soil around the trees to conserve moisture. If a tree is not getting enough water, the leaves will turn yellow and drop. Also, drought-stressed trees will not produce fruit and are more susceptible to nematode damage. Recently planted trees are particularly susceptible to water deficits, often runt out, and die.
Fig trees are productive with or without heavy pruning. It is essential only during the initial years. Trees should be trained according to use of fruit, such as a low crown for fresh-market figs. Since the crop is borne on terminals of previous year's wood, once the tree form is established, avoid heavy winter pruning, which causes loss of the following year's crop.
It is better to prune immediately after the main crop is harvested, or with late-ripening cultivars, summer prune half the branches and prune the remainder the following summer. If radical pruning is done, whitewash the entire tree.
Regular fertilizing of figs is usually necessary only for potted trees or when they are grown on sands. Excess nitrogen encourages rank growth at the expense of fruit production, and the fruit that is produced often ripens improperly, if at all.
As a general rule, fertilize fig trees if the branches grew less than a foot the previous year. Apply a total of 1/2 - 1 pound of actual nitrogen, divided into three or four applications beginning in late winter or early spring and ending in July.
Ants are great pollinators. Because the flower of the fig tree, attracts ants through the small opening in the end of the fruit. The ants go in search of the sweetness offered, picking up pollen on their feet. This is brought to the next fruit.
The flower is not visible, as it blooms inside the fruit. The small orifice visible on the middle of the fruit is a narrow passage, which allows a very specialized wasp, the fig wasp, to enter the fruit and pollinate the flower, where after the fruit grows seeds.
Figs plants are easy to propagate through several methods. Propagation using seeds is not the preferred method, since vegetative methods exist that are quicker and more reliable.
The trade caravan routes of old spread figs far and wide, although possibly not as far and wide as the bird population of the world has managed to do over the centuries, with their propensity for eating the seeds through one end and popping them out of the other end with a little dose of fertilizer to ensure their survival in a new place.
The Egyptians, being preoccupied with their digestion, had a habit of fasting. The fig having mild laxative properties appealed to them as food which was delicious as well as good for them. Figs are rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Vitamin C and the B group vitamins are also present in small quantities. They are also high in fibre. Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. A 40 gram (1/4 cup) serving provides 244 mg of potassium (7% of the DV), 53 mg of calcium (6% of the DV) and 1.2 mg of iron (6% of the DV). Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free.
The health benefits of figs include promoting healthy bowel function due to the high levels of fibre. Figs are amongst the most highly alkaline foods, making them useful in balancing the pH of the body.
Figs are high in natural and simple sugars, minerals and fibre. They contain good levels of potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese. Dried figs contain an impressive 250mg of calcium per 100g, compared to whole milk with only 118mg.
Figs are among the tastiest and most versatile of fruits, happy in company with honey, sugar, thin prosciutto, sweet spices such as ginger, cinnamon and cloves and the sharpness of lemon and orange.