Choosing the Best Figs for Hawaii (FW07-034)

 

Final Report

 

Abstract:

Figs have been established in Hawaii since the mid-1800's,yet only two the approximately one thousand varieties in the world haveflourished. This project was able to test more than 50 varieties at variouselevations on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii and determined thatthere are many other varieties, each with differing growth and flavorcharacteristics, that offer growers, chefs and consumers a wide range ofchoices.

 

We and our project collaborators found that the variousvarieties of figs planted extend the growing season when pruned low tofacilitate harvesting. At some elevations with proper horticultural practicesfigs will produce year around. We also found that chefs and consumers desire tohave the fresh figs year around. Chefs learned the difference between“commercial ripe” (for use in savory culinary applications) and “tree ripe”(for used in sweeter dessert applications.) We were able determine, given therange of test plot locations, which types of figs did and did not require apollinating wasp not currently found in Hawaii.. The project will continue longafter the termination of project funding because we were able to demonstratethe profitability of fig production, the relative ease of growing andharvesting (labor reduction), and substantial demand for more fruit byconsumers, chefs and developers of value-added products.

 

Objectives from original proposal:

1.    Sample and rate for horticultural and culinary values figs atthe USDA germplasm repository in Davis, CA

2.    Obtain and plant suitable varieties in Hawai‘i at fourlocations: Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative, University of Hawai‘i ExperimentStation, Love Family Farms and GS Farms.

3.    Assess cultural practices, growth patterns, water requirementsand pest susceptibility of the various figs under differing elevations andenvironments

4.    Test various non-chemical approaches to repel birds and otherpests

5.    Determine which figs grow best and which are most desirableamong chefs

6.    Disseminate to growers information about varieties and theircultural needs

 

Results:

Choosing the Best Figs for Hawaii turned into a much moredetailed and exciting project than first anticipated for two primary reasons:(1) the desire on the part of other growers to participate and receive figscuttings and (2) people from around the world read about the project on www.hawaiifruit.net  and wanted to have their favorite figgrown in Hawaii. This international cadre of "fignatics" enabled usto work with some varieties that are not in the USDA clonal repository and inone case enabled us to offer an addition to the collection that wasaccepted.  This project willcontinue on its own with Hawaii growers who have received a wide variety of figvarieties from the project, the repository and other growers.

 

The project started by receiving figs from the USDArepository and other locations and planting these on a number of farms atvarious elevations. The first location at roughly 350 feet was at the KonaPacific Farmers Cooperative (KPFC). Most of the testing and recording ofresults and challenges occurred at this location, site of the previouslyWSARE-funded “12 Trees Project” (SW03-055). (This earlier project haddemonstrated that figs previously found in Hawaii grew very well and were amongthe most profitable for growers.)

 

There are 3 classifications of figs, two of which require apollinating wasp not found in Hawaii. The first challenge was that there are norecords for many fig varieties regarding which would produce edible figs. Figvarieties Archipel, Masui Dauphine, Carter, Osbourn Prolific, Black Mission,Conadria, Excel, Rattlesnake Island, UCR 187-25- Giant Amber, Marabout, WhiteGenoa, Early Violet, Santa Cruz Dark, White Texas, Ischia Black, Calimyrna,Flanders, Col de Dame and LSU Gold were planted at the KPFC site.  Once the figs started to produce wewere able to determine the characteristics of each variety. Figs were testedfor sugar content and each variety was photographed. This information is postedon http://www.hawaiifruit.net/index-figs.html

to enable other growers and members of the Hawaii TropicalFruit Growers Association to observe our testing procedures and results.

 

We determined that Marabout and Calimyrna were Smyrna typefigs and would not produce edible fruit at this location in Hawaii. These werecut back and grafted with Osbourn Prolific and Rattlesnake Island, which we foundto have the highest brix and were heavy producers. Figs at this elevationproduce year around with irrigation. (All trees received 10 minutes of waterper day at 1/4 gallon per hour from emitters in the early morning.) Harvestingis required every 2 or 3 days. Trees were fertilized quarterly with 6-6-6organic. (This irrigation and fertilization regime was used on the “12 TreesProject” Brown Turkey and White Kadota figs.) Harvested figs are sent to theculinary school and sold to chefs. Some varieties are used to develop valueadded projects including jam, fig jerky, stewed figs and sauces.

 

The major challenge was bird damage. With the firstproduction we lost 30% to 50% from Mynah birds, White Eye birds and Cardinals.After stringing Mylar tape and a variety of bird deterrents from Japan we couldreduce the damage to 5% to 10% of the total production. We also tested baggingthe fruit, as outlined in a previously WSARE-funded (FW02-008) grant. The bagmanufacturer in Japan developed a special fig bag for us to use based on theresults of the 2002 tests. These bags further helped to reduce damage frombirds, the occasional fruit fly and airborne virus. The problem with the bagsis that the increased heat inside can cause premature ripening of figs so thetiming is critical when to use them. Another problem was that the Mynah birdsdecided that the bags were nice to use in their nests and they would often tearthe bags off the fruit and fly off with them.

 

The rapid growth of figs in Hawaii's environment requires avery active pruning regime.

Within the project’s timeframe all new trees had to bepruned at least once and most were pruned 3 to 4 times. The pruned sectionswere given to other growers to propagate additional trees.

 

One of the most important observations from this test isthat the figs grown at each location (including the figs tested at the clonalrepository in Davis) vary greatly in their individual horticultural andculinary characteristics. Therefore as many fig types as possible were given togrowers before we can make any definitive conclusions regarding which figsperformed best at the various elevations and within Hawaiian microclimates.Consequently it will take another 3 to 5 years for such conclusions due to thetime it takes to grow from a cutting to production, especially at higherelevations.

 

Each test site location and elevation had its ownparticulars. To date the KPFC elevation with the outlined system of irrigationand fertilization has been the most successful location. The second primarylocation for testing was at the University of Hawaii Experiment station inKainaliu. Although there was some resistance during the original application toincluding the experiment station, it was extremely important to insurecontinued availability of germplasm to growers. There was no guarantee that thecooperative or the individual growers (including Love Family Farms) would beable to supply fig cuttings beyond the length of the project. The Universitywas the logical choice to ensure continuity.

 

Figs planted at the university location, in addition tothose planted at KPFC include, Mike's Purple, UCR 184-15, Monstrueuse,Waimanalo, Deanna, Yellow Neches, Vernino, Native de Argentile, St Jean,Violette de Bordeaux, UCR 153-17 Bournabat, Gold Celeste, Panachee, LSC Purple,Black Madeira, Ischia White and Beall. Trees at the University site(approximately 1700 feet elevation and with the same irrigation and fertilizerpractice as at KPFC) grew considerably slower and had more upright and lessspreading growth patterns. Additional challenges at this location includedvolcanic emissions (VOG) and wild dogs that destroyed a number of newly plantedtrees. This was solved by placing used tires around some of the trees favoredby the dogs.  VOG is a problem formany growers with various crops in South Kona, Hawaii. Changing emitters tobubblers and sprays enabled the growth rate to increase on many of the youngtrees.

 

Many of the figs grown at both of these sites performedbetter than the parent trees and had a higher sugar content than the figsproduced in California (Brown Turkey, White Kadota, White Texas, Rattlesnake,Osbourn Prolific and Excel). Other figs do not perform as well or grow as fastas the Calif. parents. (Panachee, Yellow Neches, St Jean, Santa Cruz, BlackMadeira and Ischia White)

 

Lead Farm and Principal Collaborators:

Love Family Farms

This project was particularly popular in the communitybecause our ability to distribute cuttings from previously established figs aswell as additional cuttings from the USDA repository.  However, we were streched to meet demand for potted figs andtherefore much of the space that would have been planted for fig productioninitially had to be used as a nursery to supply this demand. Consequently plantingfor production at this site was delayed and will not produce for another year.

 

Pono Farm

At 750 elevation, Pono Farm planted a wide variety of thefigs mentioned above as well as other more recently received figs, includingGold Celeste and Randyl. The grower’s customers prefer the larger Brown Turkeyand LSU Gold, but sales are increasing for the Rattlesnake Island and WhiteTexas, both of which produce well. Black Mission, although having a perfecttaste when fully tree ripe, was too soft to sell commercially because theyoften split. These are used in value-added products for local sales at thefarmers market.

 

Chez Marquis Farm

At 2200 feet, this farm had the highest testing elevation.The grower had made extensive observations on his plantings, which can beviewed on the project web site http://www.hawaiifruit.net/index-figs.html  Fig plantings, in addition to the abovementioned varieties, include Sucrette, Verdal Longue, Vernino, Brunswick, andSan Pietro. The growth rate for some trees was significantly slower, whileother trees grew at a rapid pace but have not yet produced fruit.  Fruit from some trees are sold to alocal restaurant and at a farmers market. The grower has asked for additionalcuttings to try.

 

Gerry & Nancy's Farm

This farm at 1450-foot elevation found that Violette deBordeaux and White Texas Everbearing have been the best producers. The growthof other varieties has exceeded the growth rate at other locations, perhapsbecause they are biodynamic and use copious amounts of mulch. This wasespecially true for Native de Argentile, UCR 153-27 Ischia Black and Panachee.They also reported an unusual variability with White Kadota, which has been thestandard baring tree in Hawaii.

 

GS Farm

Trees planted at this 1000-foot elevation farm were notunder irrigation and have not produced. The growth rate is much slower thanother farms with similar elevations, perhaps due to extensive underground lavaformations.

 

Sweet Spirit Farm

Garden of Earthly Delights

Happy Honu Farm

Charlie Brown Farm

Each of these farms received 30 varieties from the USDA andother sources. Some of the trees are producing with fruit being consumed orsold at local farmers markets. There was no requirement for these growers toreport their progress, but they have all expressed their pleasure with results,are planning to continue fig cultivation and have requested additional trees.

 

 

 

Recommendations and Conclusions:

Based on our experience and on the reports from growers wecan make the following recommendations.

 

Recommended:

Key:    •Good producers for all elevations.

            ••Limited production but high quality fig-- further testing indicated.

 

Common Figs

 

o      BlackMission            

o      RattlesnakeIsland      

o      BrownTurkey            

o      WhiteKadota             

o      UCR187-25              

o      Excel                           •

o      LSUGold                  

o      OsbournProlific        

o      Flanders                      •

o      WhiteTexas               

o      EarlyViolet                

o      Violettede Bordeaux  

o      IschiaBlack                 ••

o      Colde Dame               ••

o      Conadria                      ••

o      Beall                            ••

o      WhiteGenoa               ••

o      Archipel                      ••

o      MasuiDolphin            ••

o      SantaCruz Dark          ••

 

Not Recommended

San Pedro Type: Produces some fruit but extremely limited.

o      GiantAmber

Smyrna Type: No edible production but vigorous root systemwith rapid growth. Figs with medium production quantities have been grafted tothese rootstocks to see if the quantity or growth pattern changes.

 

o      Marabout

o      Calimyrna

o      Zidi

o      Carter

 

Too early to recommend:

These figs are still under test and cannot be recommended atthis point:

o      Panachee

o      Bournabat

o      UCR153-17

o      St.Jean

o      Barnissotte

o      YellowNeches

o      Vernino

o      Nativede Argentile

o      Monstrueuse

o      UCR184-15

o      Sucrette                      

o      Waimanalo

 

This project enabled us to gather a large amount of datauseful to growers in the entire state as well as in the Kona district. Althoughthe project is officially over, it will continue with growers beginning to talkabout cooperative marketing, branding and value-added product development.  Demand for fresh figs continues tooutpace the production and at times the growers involved are sold out months inadvance. Sales thus far have been limited to this island but will be expandedwhen production picks up with the additional varieties and new plants that havenot yet produced.

 

Culinary uses:

Most of the production to date has been sold to islandrestaurants or used at the culinary school. Chefs affiliated with the AmericanCulinary Federation Kona Kohala Chapter have adopted fig use on a regular basisboth as a fresh fruit on buffet lines and for kitchen use in sauces ordesserts. Some chefs have requested sweeter (tree ripe) fruit for dessert useor more savory (commercial ripe) for use in sauces and other cookedrecipes.  The chefs have taken intoconsideration the difference in the numerous varieties dividing them into twomajor groups with a number of sub categories. The two fig groups, honey andberry, are further broken down by fruit size, seed size and general tastecharacteristics. Chefs have expressed a desire for continued evaluation ofdifferent varieties as they become available. At this writing their favoritesare still the large, sweeter Brown Turkey and Excel for cooking. Increasedquantities of Osbourn, LSU Gold, Archipel and Early Violet have been requestedfor specific recipes they plan.

 

Pricing:

Currently figs are sold for 75Ę each. Some smaller varietieslike Early Violet are 2 for 75Ę. Chefs have requested that in the future thefigs should be priced by the pound. This is currently under consideration andpresents the future challenge of developing a cost of production for verydifferent sized fruit that require the same horticultural expenses andpractices.

 

Other uses:

During months with heavy production figs have been offeredto local grocery stores, which have also expressed the desire to be able tosell them year around in greater quantities. We have also received many requestsfrom vendors and restaurants on other islands.

 

Impact on Hawaii Agriculture:

There are a number of advantages to growing figs as part ofan overall farm plan. Figs are extremely drought tolerant, have no need forlarge quantities of inputs, are easy to propagate and produce in a very shortperiod of time compared to other tropical fruit. Figs do not require specialsoils and can grow at virtually any elevation and in any of Hawaii'smicroclimates. Sales from our farm have been profitable and we've been able toassist project collaborators and other growers with their sales.  Most people are familiar with figs inpackaged cookies and other products, so there is little consumer educationrequired. However, customers are intrigued by the wide variety of figsdisplayed along with our fig poster produced at the beginning of the project: http://www.hawaiifruit.net/figposterproofWEB.jpg

 

Producer Adoption and Reactions:

Growers also like working with fig trees as they easilyespalier and can be trained to grow in virtually any space. Figs have nowbecome a permanent part of agriculture in this part of Hawaii because of thisproject. Figs provide significant additional income to farmers who produce themfor commercial purposes. Other growers have added this fruit to their diet,enabling them to be more self-sufficient and sustainable.

 

Love Family Farms continues to receive requests for figs,which we have been giving freely to other growers from the active pruningprogram at the test locations. Some cuttings are potted and grown out for sale at farmers markets.  Members of Hawaii Tropical FruitGrowers (HTFG) have discussed the fig project at numerous meetings, which hasadded to the desire for plants. Residents who visit the farmers market topurchase figs or fig products have also asked to buy their own plants. Figtrees are sold by a number of vendors at the market now where none were soldprior to the project.

 

Recommendations for WSARE

1. Projects involving fruit trees need to have the optionfor longer funding periods. The time to production for figs is relatively fast,usually from cutting to first fruit within one year. However, many tropicalfruit trees require a much longer period of time before they can be tested forproper horticultural practices, production costs and marketing feasibility.Because of this project’s success, growers will continue providing productionfeedback and may develop cooperative marketing. However, this is the exceptionrather than the rule in Hawaii. WSARE should accept longer projects withoutincreased funding.

 

2. The initial evaluation I received for this projectexpressed some resistance to using the University Experiment Station site.Better growers continuously search for new fruit varieties to grow commerciallyand the University is an important component in this research and developmenteffort. Strong university experiment farms that provide germ plasm to localgrowers helps to build strong sustainable agricultural communities. Farms andfarmers come and go here and farming cooperatives have failed with increasedprivate competition, but the Land Grant University endures as the oneinstitution that reliably supports local farmers.

 

Outreach:

1. At the onset of this project, Dr. Ed Stover, the formercurator of the USDA fig collection in Davis. came to the island and addressedmembers of HTFG on growing the numerous varieties of figs. The public was alsoinvited to his talk. Dr. Stover also facilitated obtaining many of thevarieties tested by the project. An additional 3 meetings of the West Hawaii chapter also addressed thefig project. Monthly updates are given at each regular meeting.  The project website, http://www.hawaiifruit.net/index-figs.html

was also promoted in meeting announcements.  Also at the beginning of the project Iproduced the poster of 123 varieties of figs, which is visible at many farmersmarkets and stores around the state. This poster directs people to the web sitefor more information. Towards the end of the project, Dr. Stover returned toHawaii to address the 18th Annual Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Conference andshared his research on figs.

 

2. In Sept. 2008, the WSARE communications specialistprepared a poster on this project along with flyers to distribute to growersattending three conferences: the WSARE Hawaiian sub-regional conference, TheAmerican Culinary Federation "Partnerships for Sustainable Local Food Production"conference and the Hawaii fruit growers conference.

 

3. Figs planted at the KPFC “12 Trees Project” site are opento the public for viewing. Members of agriculture related groups have visitedthe site frequently and we continue to have bi-monthly workdays where memberscan receive cuttings from the figs. I expect the "Choosing the Best Figsfor Hawaii" project will continue indefinitely because farmers enjoygrowing figs and are increasingly interested in profitable commercial fig productionwhile chefs and groceries desire to add this fruit to their mix and areincreasingly prepared to purchase figs at their fair market value.