Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Half a fig is better than no fig at all

For every negative in this garden there’s a positive.

I’ve finally accepted that the only area suitable for vegetables in the back yard is a slim strip at the side of the house, barely a metre wide and about four metres long. That’s also where the heat exchanger for the air conditioning lives, which doesn’t offer ideal growing conditions.


Planting directly into the soil isn’t possible because there isn’t any. A thin layer of compacted sand and gravel sits on top of the concrete slab foundations.

But let’s look on the bright side. There’s enough space to squeeze in a few pots and still let the dog through (and the air conditioning engineer), so pots will have to do. I plant what we use most – salad ingredients.

Last year those pots produced a respectable crop of tomatoes and the cucumbers failed. This year the tomatoes died before they’d even set flower and the cucumbers can’t stop. I’ve harvested at least 18 from a single pot. They’re gradually succumbing to fungal disease yet the two plants are still gamely producing flowers.


I had high hopes for the espaliered fig this year, which is also tucked down that slim corridor. It produced 8 or 9 perfect figs in its first year, fattening undisturbed on the plant until they were ripe enough to pick.

The fig tree grew. It spread. It flourished. All of which took it too close to the air conditioning unit. Late winter blasts of cold air were replaced by an early summer roasting whenever we turned the air on, and the heat exchanger successfully transformed that slim corridor into a wind tunnel set to furnace. I noticed the damage and dragged the plant away, but not before it had lost a few leaves and young fruit.

This year birds noticed we had a fig tree, and I noticed the birds had noticed. I netted it. Aha! The remaining figs were mine. The tree gradually crept closer to the air conditioning unit so a couple of weeks ago I took the net off and shifted the pot. I got distracted, forgot to put the net back and we went away for the weekend.


All was not lost. The birds left a single unripe fig on the tree and I’ve been guarding it jealously ever since, breakfast bowl in hand, Greek yogurt at the ready.

When that fat fig blushed purple I reached for my bowl. I was too late. An army of ants had got there before me.


Still, half a fig is better than no fig at all, and it tasted delicious.

Then in the post, a surprise delivery of a pot of fig jam. I’ll tell you what was extraordinary about that next week…






13 comments on “Half a fig is better than no fig at all

  1. Eliza Waters
    February 19, 2016

    Oh, the injustice of it all! Nature – 1, Deb – zip!


  2. Jane Elworthy
    February 19, 2016

    Hi Deb. Figs so remind me of Broken Hill where they grow abundantly. But not now. Not with the condition of the water seeing the Darling is dry and the salt is rising. Skin conditions abound. Is there any way you can write about this travesty, this selling of the Darling to the cotton farms? Your words reach far and wide. We need to mobilise. Many thanks and blessings.


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      February 19, 2016

      Oh Jane you are so right, cotton farming is an absolute travesty when it takes so much water out of the Darling. We are driving up to Broken Hill for two weeks over Easter so I’ll make sure I find out as much as I can and post about what’s happening while I’m there.


  3. Mala Burt
    February 19, 2016

    You have a very challenging garden site. Would it be any help to raise the pots so they get more sun. Put them on concrete blocks or something. The fig story is just depressing. I’ll see whether my remaining fig survived our bizarre winter. Terribly cold one day and the next 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      February 20, 2016

      Hi Mala. It’s funny but my dismay over the garden never lasts long, thank goodness! I’ve accepted the challenge and planted shade loving liriope yesterday. Vegetables will simply have to come from the farmer’s market until we one day move to somewhere with more outdoor space. one day! Have you wrapped your fig or is it too big for that?


      • Mala Burt
        February 20, 2016

        It’;s not too big as it just didn’t grow much last year after transplanting (first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap). I am a consummately lazy gardener. If the fig can’t survive without being wrapped, I don’t want it taking up space in may garden. I am, however, willing to fight the squirrels for figs if we get any this year. Will keep you posted and send photos.


  4. debhuntwasinbrokenhill
    February 21, 2016

    Yes please send a photo of you fighting a squirrel. Can’t wait.


  5. monsoonwendy
    February 22, 2016

    Ate figs and blueberries from the market yesterday Deb and thought of you! This morning I saw Mia who concurred with Jane that Broken Hill is pretty desperate now. People are hand feeding kangaroos! Oh I hope some rain arrives soon….and that you enjoy more figs from your own tree next year!


  6. debhuntwasinbrokenhill
    February 23, 2016

    Visited Skirbs on the south coast on Sunday. She’s got a beautiful fig tree in her back garden and its leaves have suffered in the same way mine have, so maybe it was nothing to do with the air conditioning unit at all! If only rain could be coaxed to head inland, it would be so welcome.


  7. candidkay
    February 25, 2016

    MMM . . . . fig jam. There is a wine bar near me that serves a cabernet-infused fig jam. It is phenomenal on a spicy cracker with a zesty cheese. In case you need ideas . . .


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This entry was posted on February 18, 2016 by .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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