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I do love my figs. As a child, we had two varieties – Brown Turkey and Black Mission. I preferred the Brown Turkey for its size and sweetness, but the fuzzy skin irritated my mouth after eating a dozen or so, so I pryed them open and snarfed up the flesh from the inside, tossing the empty skin down under the tree to become composted nutrition that precisely matched what had been in the fruit.
I loved munching my way through the garden – figs, tomatoes, berries, apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, feijoas, persimmons, cucumbers and even beans and squash. Carrots and beets needed a bit more attention since they needed to be washed first. Talk about freshly harvested and enjoying not-even-five-minute-old deliciousness!
My Dad, with all his mechanical wizardry, had devised all sorts of blue jay deterrents, from buzzers to revolving stakes with pie-tins hanging, a veritable repurposed menagerie, two or three types each summer as they all worked for maybe 3 weeks before the birds “learned” that there was nothing else keeping them from their snacking.
When I returned home and took over the garden, birds were no longer the problem, but squirrels were – especially when I discovered that one neighbor was putting out nuts to attract them! I tried everything on the market, including inflatable owls and those big-eye balloons, but stopped short of fox urine and motion-started water sprays.
One year, I tied white-plastic grocery bags around small groups of fruit, figuring that if the critters couldn’t see the developing fruit and their changing color, they wouldn’t forage. That worked for one time around.
Finally, I used bird netting. For a couple of years when the trees were small, I tried to cover each entire tree with one net. Of course, this was terribly awkward trying to get the netting over the whole tree without snagging on individual branches, so it left many openings for the critters to sneak in. And removing the netting after a couple of months (from early ripening to final harvest) was a real problem because the branches and foliage had grown into and through the netting.
Ripping was the only way to get the netting off of the trees. So I ended up with bits and pieces of the netting, some in large sections. But, this ended up being a inspired boon to my next approach.
By this time, my pruning had resulted in several distinct branching groups on each tree, which matched perfectly with the larger pieces of netting to corral the fruit and be anchored with a some twist-ties at the bases of the branches that the squirrels couldn’t simple unravel.
For access to the fruit for harvest, I chose a section on the downside of a group of branches – literally in mid-air – and ripped a hole barely large enough for my fist grasping one fruit. I figured that this harvest-hole placement wouldn’t allow access by squirrels from a nearby branch because their weight would drag them away from the hole. It worked!
The end-of-harvest removal of the netting is still somewhat laborious because the branches and leaves have indeed grown into the netting. But, for figs this isn’t a big issue since I do my after-harvest summer pruning at the same time that I’m removing the netting.
I’ve been using this method for three years now, and relishing every single fig and peach and nectarine and persimmon as I choose precisely when to harvest each and every one. Yay!
And my collection of fig varieties now includes, besides rooted cuttings from that old Black Mission, Peter's Honey and three green-skinned varieties from my father-in-law with greenish-white flesh, red flesh, and honey-colored flesh. This month, I'll also plant two more - Conadria and Celeste - that I rooted from cuttings I got at last February's California Rare Fruit Grower's Pasadena chapter scion exchange. Yum!