Growing Figs in the Pacific Northwest

When we think of figs, we think hot climates…tropical…Seattle.

Wait.  What?

Yeah, figs will TOTALLY grow in the Pacific Northwest!  There are a few kinds that do really well- for a list of types, and descriptions, Raintree Nurseries is a really excellent local resource.  Figs do well in pots or in the ground- obviously, with more room to grow, they’ll get bigger and yield better harvests.

These two figs came from my mom’s trees- they’re roughly 15 years old now.  The tree that bears the green figs- we believe it’s a desert king- is a really consistent fruiter.  Pick the fruit when it is positively dripping down- the figs grow straight and hard, until they ripen and turn soft the the stem softens enough to allow the heavy fruit to dangle.  You might even see a bead of moisture at the thick bottom end.  Figs are funny things- they have to be pollinated by a certain kind of wasp, and the flower is on the inside, or rather, the flower is the fruit.  I think.

The tree that bears the dark fig is not as heavy a fruiter or as reliable, but the fruit is so delicious it earns its space we think.  Much sweeter than the green figs, with a more concentrated flavor. I snagged the only ripe one on the tree on this particular picking day- lucky me!  Looking at the Raintree catalog, I’d guess this is a Nordland fig- originally from Switzerland and hardy to 10 degrees.  (The trees, I believe, were a gift to my mother from my grandmother- if anyone is still certain of the types, I don’t know about it!  They were highly recommended as appropriate for the area by the nursery, and that was enough for Grandma 🙂

I think it’s because these were some of the first fruit of the season, so they’ve been growing the longest, but some of the desert king figs were enormous! The desert king figs are green on the outside, with a pink interior. I can see why figs are so hard to come by at the store- to pick them at their peak of ripeness, they’re almost mushy and should be eaten with a day or two AT MOST, but really they’re best within an hour or two I think. Or the next morning with muffins, that’s pretty great as well 🙂

This next fig is mine.  I’ve waited three years for this fig.  A good friend (who I barely even knew at the time) offered this specimen to us when she discovered we’d be traveling in the area.  It was in a pot, and need to room to grow.   We were just moving into a house with a real yard.  Perfect!  Oh that poor tree.  The first year it was put in a hole not much larger than the original pot in tough clay soil.  It lost all its leaves.  The second year, it leafed out…and lost all its leaves again.  This year it leafed out, and we dug it up intending to dig a bigger hole that same afternoon.  Then we remembered why the hole was so small in the first place (you kind of need heavy machinery to get through all the clay and baseball-sized rocks) and dumped the tree in the biggest pot I could find.  And look!  It likes it there!  It grew a fig!  We actually pulled the fig off a few days after these pictures were taken- the stem wasn’t nearly as soft as on my mom’s ‘desert king’ tree but the fruit was rather soft, and showed signs of splitting.

Oh my good gracious, was the fruit ever good! It was amber-colored, and so sweet. Looking at Raintree again, I’d guess Lattarula. Here’s hoping to a bigger harvest (and bigger hole in the ground!!) next year!

Once figs are established in good ground, they are virtually maintenance free.  You can prune them, when young, into a “vase shape” for ease of harvesting.  They are drought resistant though, and from what I understand can have quite the greedy root system so I wouldn’t plant anything nearby that relies on lots of water, because chances are the fig will take everything it can get.

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Budgeting 101: Planning for Large Expenses

Alright!  In part one we talked about tracking your expenses.  You know exactly what you’re bringing home, you know exactly what you’re spending- there might have been a few surprises along the way, but you have a framework to work from.

The next step is to write down any known, large, “lump” expenses you’ll have in the coming year, and when they’ll happen.  Examples:

  • Property tax payments
  • Income tax payments (quarterly, if applicable)
  • Medical bills for known procedures (births, surgeries, etc.)
  • Lump insurance payments (life, car, house, rental, etc.)
  • Tuition
  • Deferred payments (If you purchased something on credit and deferred payments)

You have two choices when it comes to budgeting for these expenses: lump or amortize.  Ooh, big words, but it’s easy!

If you are setting up your budget in mint.com, or on a spreadsheet, you can either plug these amounts in the month they’ll be due (lump sum) OR you can set aside small amounts every month to save up for them (amortize).  Mint will allow you to do either.  The money will still be in your bank account (or you could transfer it to an attached savings account monthly) but it will be COMPLETELY OFF LIMITS TO YOU.  Consider it spent and gone from the moment you set it aside.

One more lump sum to consider budgeting for is a new car.  My husband’s grandfather purchased a new car every 5 years, and would keep each car for 10 years.  During that 10 year life of the car, he would set aside an amount every month to purchase a new one, and part of his calculations was based on miles driven.  The IRS assumes that cars cost $0.50 per mile to drive, and that’s not far off the truth.  Driving is far more expensive than gas alone- wear and tear on the car, maintenance needed, parts, etc.  Please factor these numbers in your calculations when planning a trip, for example, before deciding that driving would be cheaper than flying.  Depending on the number of people you’re traveling with, flying (or some other transportation) might be cheaper!  Of course, if you’re able to find a good deal on a rental car for cheaper than you could drive your own AND cheaper than other transportations, AND there’s no mileage restrictions?  Have fun!  (Can you tell I dream of renting a minivan and taking off with the family?)

Consider budgeting $0.50 per mile driven in a month to pay for upcoming maintenance, and then an amount additional to that if it’s time to save up for a new car.

Whew!  OK, to recap:

  • Track your income and expenses religiously, and don’t you dare fudge or rationalize.
  • Write down all known large expenses coming up, and decide if you’ll budget for those as lump sums or set aside a small amount every month.
  • Cars aren’t cheap.