About figs and the Ocracoke Fig Festival

Published 7:36 pm Thursday, August 15, 2019

In honor of the great fig, Ocracoke will be celebrating this weekend, Aug. 16­–17. This is the sixth-annual Ocracoke Fig Festival. To a plant nerd, it is great to hear about any plant, especially an edible, being celebrated. But, to a foodie, this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of event. Figs can be used in so many dishes and in so many different ways. They bring sweetness, color and intrigue whether fresh on the side with sunny-side-up eggs or in ice cream! Hyde County Family Consumer Science Extension Agent CatieJo Black will be at the festival with recipes and information about figs — be sure to find her!

Before we can have our fig cakes and eat it too, we need to grow them! Figs are one of the easiest fruits to grow in North Carolina. They have been in cultivation for thousands of years with approximately 470 varieties of common figs. In North Carolina, we only grow common figs because of pollination. The types grown in California for the prune industry require pollination by a special type of wasp that will not survive here. The common fig is a very interesting fruit because the fruit is a modified flower stem. All of the flower parts are on the inside of the fruit!

To grow figs, we first need to select a good site with well-drained, but moist soil. Soil should be tested to ensure pH of around 6.0 by submitting a samples to NCDA&CS. Sample kits are available at your local Extension Center. Figs are not as hardy as other plants and therefore will sustain cold damage if exposed to north winds during our winters. Southern-facing exposure is the best condition. It is good for plants to be located in an area that does not receive full morning sun until late morning. The most severe cold damage occurs when the morning sun hits the frozen plants. By allowing thawing before the sun hits the plants, we can mitigate cold damage. Plants need full sun to flourish (eight hours) but will do satisfactory in part-sun conditions.

Two of the most common varieties grown in our area are Brown Turkey and Celeste. Brown Turkey is light-brown to bronze in color with a medium fruit. They have decent flavor fresh but are really good for preserving. Brown Turkey tends to be a little less cold-hardy but produces a fair crop on new growth. So, if you are training to a bush or in a cold spot where winter dieback is an issue, Brown Turkey will work well for you. Celeste is the most cold-hardy fig we grow. The fruit is smaller and sweeter, making it a better choice to be eaten fresh. The pear-shaped fruit is light-brown to violet-bronze in color and boasts a pink pulp. Celeste is a very vigorous plant that will require pruning if put in a space restricted spot. There are several other varieties that can be grown, but these two are tried and true.

It is a good idea to source your plants from respected nurseries in the area in which they are to be grown. They can be either container grown or bare root. The alternative is to propagate your plants from a neighbor. To propagate you can take stem cuttings and root them in potting soil or you can just layer stems. Just covering a low hanging branch with soil will create a rooted plant that can be cut the following season and planted. Figs can be trained to either a tree or a bush through pruning. Training into a small tree produces abundant fruit and keeps it close to the ground for easy harvest.

If you would like more information on growing figs, contact your local Extension Center. Speak with the horticulture agent or an Extension Master Gardener volunteer. EMGVs become certified by learning about horticulture through the local agent and specialists from across the state. They are required to have 40 hours of classroom instruction and a 40-hour internship to complete their certification. Once certified, EMGVs give back to the community through information services, diagnosing plant problems and speaking bureaus. There is a training coming up in September — if you are interested, fill out the application and submit to the Washington extension center. You will be contacted for an interview and then invited to attend classes. More information can be found by visiting go.ncsu.edu/bocoemgv.

If you have a question to submit, please email Gene Fox at gene_fox@ncsu.edu. If you’re having trouble with growing in your home landscape, call the Extension office and speak to an Extension Master Gardener volunteer, Mondays and Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and noon at 252-946-0111. Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road.