Perennial Food in the High Tunnel: Planting Figs

Homestead

Here in the Ozarks of Missouri we’re on the USDA zone map as 6b. Who knows, we may be zone 7a soon! These zones depict climate trends like the date of first and last frost and mean temperatures throughout the year.

When choosing perennial plants to grow, one looks at these trends to see if a plant will thrive within a given climate. With High Tunnels (especially if they’re heated or double walled), we have the opportunity to bend these zones a bit and extend the season or encourage the growth of plants that usually wouldn’t thrive here.

One such plant that is a common one for High Tunnels, Greenhouses and Microclimates is the Fig.

Common figs belong to Moracea family which also includes mulberries and Osage orange.

They are part of the very large Ficus genus which includes thousands of species that grow all around the warmer parts of the world. Figs have been cultivated for thousands of years and have captivated human interest with their scrumptious fruits and lush foliage.

Figs have low water and nutritional requirement, are not bothered by many (or any) pests and love heat so they are a great choice for our high tunnel. Many of the edible figs are hardy to zone 7 and above, meaning they won’t reliably bear fruit in our climate.

On our homestead, we’ve decided to allot the fig ample room within our High Tunnel to encourage fruiting. Usually figs “die back” each year (their roots are still alive, but all above ground growth dies. When this happens, we lose a lot of fruiting opportunities as the plant has to spend its energy producing vegetative growth as well. However, in a High Tunnel the fig doesn’t die back and we get to start with a larger plant each season.

To prepare the soil, we first dug and removed rocks. We then grew a spring cover crop of oats and amended with ashes and lime. We harvested the oats at the milky stage for a delightful nervine tonic and then cut the straw down to stubble to cover the bed- a great mulch layer! We will add some kelp and a little manure before laying on the mulch even more heavily.

We are choosing to focus on perennials in the high tunnel for a few reasons.

First, we want to grow something we otherwise couldn’t, not just get a jump start on heat-loving annuals. Secondly, pests can easily build up in an artificial environment such as a high tunnel, particularly if similar crops are grown year after year. Figs are not susceptible to the most common garden pest. Lastly, we also didn’t want a lot of maintenance and upkeep with the high tunnel so figs it is!

The Romans grew figs in pits to constrict the roots and encourage fruiting over foliage.

These were rock or concrete pits or trenches roughly 2 feet cubed. This bodes well for us because our soils are shallow and we have plenty of rocks, not to mention low fertility. We will boost Phosphorus and Potassium as we are low in these minerals but take it easy on Nitrogen to avoid excessive leaf growth.

We’re excited to take our perennial vision to the high tunnel and are looking forward to a delicious variety of figs in years to come.

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