The Benefits of Fig Tree Caprification (Pollination) & Why ALL of us Should Attempt Hand Pollination
Recently I was sent 10 or so varieties of figs to taste that were grown in California. These were from wild seedling trees and the figs were caprified. They came from a friend, David Burke at thefighunter.shop - David and his family searches all over California for wild seedlings. Right now they're up to somewhere in the 1800s of specific locations of figs they've found and documented in a handy GPS app, called OnX Hunt. After finding literally over 5000 wild fig trees, they've named some and even found some worth introduction! Specifically the Corazon de la Bahia is a really nice find that I got to experience.
Not only were the figs out of this world good, but I couldn't believe how well they were packed. A topic perhaps for another day, but they were shipped overnight and placed in shredded cardboard with cold packs. They arrived as if I picked them right off the tree myself.
Below you can find the video of the tasting itself and how I came to realize that I need to caprify my figs.
Onto my reasoning for caprification:
Pollinated figs are just on a whole different level in terms of flavor. I don't know how this hasn't been expressed so clearly before. Prior publications from the experts have always mentioned how caprification can increase size and quality, but I've never read anything that stressed how dramatic that difference in quality can be. In fact, I've tried caprified figs before. From my friend Doug (Bluemalibu) who was the grower who found Thermalito, Exquisito and now Angelito. But I always thought his figs were so spectacular because of his hot and dry climate. Don't get me wrong, that's a huge deal, but I would argue that due to the drought we experienced this season, some of my figs that I ripened here would absolutely rival the quality of something grown in a very hot/dry place. The much bigger difference is caprification. I'm 8 years into growing figs and I feel duped. Once you grow your own food, the inevitable realization is how sad our food system is in the US. And the next disgusting thought is how prior to that moment, we've been deprived of good food our entire lives. I feel the same way about figs. Caprification makes me feel like I've been deprived.
Additionally, David and his family was nice enough to send me those amazing figs in the video and after talking to a number of well respected growers in California, it's finally dawned on me how important this is. One friend in California is thinking about moving to Tennessee and when he and his family does, he'll be hand pollinating his own figs without the help of the fig wasp (Blastophaga Psenes). He says that it's THAT important.
The principles of hand pollination are pretty simple. Anyone can do this. It's actually much easier than lets say air layering, which by most standards is a very easy way of propagating fig trees. Very simply all we have to do is grow a caprifig. I do however want to mention that I am growing a caprifig here called Bogomilovo and this year I ripened about 40 profichi from that tree. All of which had 0 pollen, so I'm a bit confused still as to the caprifig requirements. I was told that all caprifigs should have pollen that you can extract when the figs are ripe, you then put the pollen into a plastic bag and place that bag into the fridge for storage. When it's time to use the pollen, you combine it with water and add it to a syringe. You then inject some of the water/pollen solution into the eye of the fig. There's a bit more details that need clarification, but that's the simple version. If done correctly, there's no need for the fig wasp. This is important because the fig wasp cannot survive temperatures below 12F. Colonizing the fig wasp is not easy and Mother nature is not a guarantee, while extracting the pollen yourself, is.
Now pollination of figs does come with some downsides. As my friend Rafael has stressed, it increases the size and should therefore increase splitting. That's our worst nightmare in humid places. Additionally, not every fig is going to have a huge boost in flavor from pollination. Every variety is different. Going a bit deeper, I then start to wonder about the figs I've grown in the past that perform well here, but aren't up to the standards of flavor that others are. If pollinated, could they become something really tasty?