My father, Michele, was born in a small town in Italy called Bitetto, about 20 miles from Bari. He eventually bought a house in Canarsie, Brooklyn, that had a plot of land where he could do some gardening. He loved gardening and planted a lot of vegetables and flowers. Some plants were unique—like fava beans and two-foot string beans (delicious with spaghetti). He took great pride in growing fig trees. He planted four trees that produced abundant figs.
In 1953, my parents, my sister, and brother-in-law moved to Bay Shore, Long Island. My father took one of his favorite fig trees to plant in his garden in Long Island—and in all the years he lived there, he had a big production of figs.
In 1956, my sister and brother-in-law moved in a newly built home next door to my parents, and they planted a branch of my father’s fig tree in their new garden—and that fig tree produced a lot of figs.
In 1958, my family and I moved in a new house next to my sister’s and brother-in-law, Angelo. I made sure I planted a branch of my father’s fig tree in my garden in the first year. I wanted to make sure my first tree will produce a lot of figs, [so] I used “Miracle Grow” soil and made sure I covered my tree adequately for the winter season. When I uncovered the tree in the spring, I found a very healthy-looking tree.
During the summer, the tree was producing good-looking leaves, and I was looking forward to see figs forming during late July.
But to my disappointment, my tree produced the most beautiful leaves and no figs.
I talk to Angelo about the situation and he advised to feed it with a lot of water and see what happens next year—the tree may need more than one year to mature.
For the next two years—beautiful leaves—no figs.
In the Sunday papers there’s a column called “Garden Detective” where people write-in plant problems and seeking solutions.
One person wrote that they had the same problem as mine, beautiful leaves—no figs. The Garden Detective wrote that the soil probably has too much nitrogen and to make sure it contains more phosoreum and potash.
I followed her recommendation and the following year, I had the same beautiful leaves but this time there were four figs. These four figs never matured.
The next few years with the same program I got the same results. I was very disappointed because my wife and daughter loved figs. It was good that Angelo produced a lot of figs.
A couple years later Angelo didn’t cover his fig tree for the winter because of some family commitments and it died. Angelo then took a branch of my fig-less tree, planted in a large container that he could roll in- and out of his garage so that he wouldn’t have to cover his fig tree for the winter.
When Angelo rolled out his fig tree in the spring, it was healthy, and in the summer he had figs.
That fall I decided to try the same procedure. I took a branch from the same tree that Angelo had taken—put in a container—and rolled in the garage. In the spring, when I rolled my tree out, I was astonished—it died.
Michele’s fig tree started in 1928 in Canarsie, Brooklyn and trees started from that tree grows in:
Sea Girt, N.J.
But not in my backyard.
–Michael Ferrante (Michele Jr.)
29 June 2018
Transcribed by Lauren LaFauci, his granddaughter, who adds that her grandfather is a master gardener in all other non-figgy realms, especially tomatoes, which she ate, warm and sun-ripened, by the basket-full all the summers of her childhood.
For information on covering and uncovering fig trees seasonally, see these two articles by the “Garden Detective” Jessica Damiano, a gardening advice columnist for Newsday, a Long Island, NY, based newspaper.
Featured Image: Ficus carica. Image courtesy of Neuchâtel Herbarium, University of Neuchâtel [CC BY-SA 3.0].