Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Peter's Honey Fig: Great Hope or Great Hype?

I'm very specific about my figs. I tend to like dark figs better than green figs. I like sweet figs, but not sickeningly sweet figs. They also must have a "figgy" flavor. I want my figs to taste like figs, not like other things such as honey or jam.

After downing hundreds of black, purple, and brown figs over the years, I decided it was time to explore green and yellow figs. Peter's Honey was one of the first varieties that caught my attention online. Website descriptions included the words "productive", "long growing season", "amber", and "sweet". People growing the fig in different regions raved about its growth habit and flavor. I had to try it for myself to see if it matched the hype.

I purchased a 1-gallon potted plant three years ago and planted in the ground. It grew and grew and grew, and this year it was LOADED with well over 100 figs. I can state with 100% confidence that this variety lives up to its billing as a "productive" fig. Prolific is probably a more accurate term.

Peter's Honey fig tree branch loaded with fruit. Every new branch on the tree was covered with 15+ figs. 
I can also attest that this variety is not well suited for growers in cooler regions of the country. It took loads of heat and sun to ripen these figs. Again, Peter's Honey matched its online persona of a plant that needs a "long growing season". Southeastern Virginia is warm enough for a sufficient period of time to ripen almost any fig. So far Peter's Honey was 2-for-2 in my un-scientific trial.

What about the "amber" color? Look at the beautiful interior of this fig. It's definitely a rich amber color. Check!

Sweet amber interior of a Peter's Honey fig.
Now for the most important attribute in my book...flavor. How did it taste? Sweet as honey! Peter's Honey fig definitely lived up to its reputation and all the hype.

So we can all agree that this variety of fig is a smashing success for everybody's garden, right?! Not so fast. Yes, it's productive and colorful and sweet. But that's part of the problem. I now have a tree loaded with dozens of figs that taste like, well, sweet. That's it. No classic rich fig flavor at all. Just a ball of sugar. Definitely not my hope.

Some of you may be licking your chops at the thought of an abundance of sweet figs and are ready to order a Peter's Honey tree for your yard. If so, go for it! I'm the last guy to discourage somebody from growing a fig tree. On the other hand, I do have a few words of caution about Peter's Honey compared to the other fig varieties (Violette de Bordeaux, Negronne, Celeste, etc.) I grow in my yard:

1.  It has a sugary sweet taste but no fig flavor.
2.  It is the last fig to ripen.
3.  For the past 2 summers, each fruit has had unpleasingly thick skins.
4.  When near-ripe, the figs suffer badly in high humidity and rain, and they get moldy fairly easily.
5.  It was the variety most prone to attack by ants (but not by birds) this summer.

Remember that these gripes are based solely upon my experiences in my yard in southeastern Virginia. The flavor and growth habits of figs can change drastically from region to region.  Fig preferences also vary greatly from grower to grower. Many fig junkies seem quite pleased with their Peter's Honey figs, but not me. As with most things in the garden and life, I guess it all comes down to personal preference.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Everbearing Raspberries

Summer has come and gone, but the flavors of summer can still be enjoyed in early fall if you plant everbearing raspberries in your yard.

Kiwi Gold, Fall Gold, and Heritage Red raspberries harvested October 15.
I planted a short 20-foot row of Kiwi Gold, Fall Gold, and Heritage Red berries when I first started developing my backyard garden. It didn't take long for the first few berries to show up, but now that the canes have matured and grown for a few cycles I am harvesting more and more berries each day.

The name "everbearing" is a bit misleading because they typically provide two large crops of berries rather than a continuous harvest. Kiwi Gold and Fall Gold are exceptionally sweet, and the Heritage Red berries have a classic raspberry flavor. I personally prefer the gold varieties, my wife likes the red berries, and the dogs will eat all three varieties without hesitation.

Gold and red raspberries. The berry in the top right looks a bit over-ripe and mushy. That's what I get for harvesting when it was nearly dark outside.  
I definitely recommend all three varieties for the home garden in the mid-Atlantic. I'm sure other varieties are well-suited to this climate, but these three have delivered well in Newport News, Virginia. I have ten suggestions for growing raspberries based upon a my brief personal experience tending to my berry canes:

1.  Make sure your planting site has good sun exposure and drainage.
2.  Keep your planting site weed-free.
3.  Berry canes need support -- plant against a trellis, tie loosely to wires.
4.  Water well during dry spells.
5.  Feed your plants with rich, organic compost.
6.  Keep your canes mulched with a layer of wheat straw or other suitable mulch.
7.  Determine if you want a single large crop or two crops per year. This will dictate how and when the canes should be pruned.
8.  Dispose of pruned canes to prevent the spread of disease.
9.  Enjoy every single bite. Homegrown berries are superior to anything you can buy in the store.
10.  And don't forget to share the harvest! What goes around comes around...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ripe Fig

I received a few e-mails recently about ripe figs. Both e-mails concluded by saying basically the same thing: you always post about your fig trees, but you never show photos of ripe, sliced figs.

At first I was skeptical. I do always post about figs, and surely there had to be at least ONE picture of a ripe fig bursting with sugary goodness. So I went through each post. What were my findings? To date, I've posted about figs on 15 separate occasions (this one makes 16). Guess how many shots of harvested and sliced figs...ZERO! Fair enough, criticism and message received!

It took me no time at all to realize why this has happened. Much like fresh yellow/gold raspberries, perfectly ripe figs almost never reach the inside of my house let alone remain there long enough for a picture or two. They are too tasty and get devoured in an instant.

To remedy this problem, I marched out into my backyard about an hour ago with my trusty camera at my side. I looked for ripe figs amongst the thick foliage and quickly zeroed in on this cluster of dark figs.

Ripe and near ripe figs.
I took a second photo, but from a slightly different angle.

I decided to harvest the middle fig, and left the bottom and top figs in place. They still need a few more days to ripen. I then marched inside, fig and camera in hand. I rinsed off the fig at the sink, then placed it on a plate and took another photo.

Ripe and ready for a snack.
Next came the knife, and I made two quick cuts. Now without further ado, I present to you a ripe fig that I just harvested from one of my trees.

Ripe dark fig a few seconds before its demise.
Click on the photo for a close-up of the sugary sweet pulp that fills the interior of the fig. Amazing. Yes, it's only one fig. Yes, it's only two bites. But they are two bites that are worth a year's wait.