Our fig tree last summer - pre-pruned.
Yesterday, two men came to the house. After a phone call for translation (my Portuguese was about as good as their English!), I learned that the owners of the house we rent had sent these two men to prune the fig tree. Learning how to prune the fig tree was actually on my list of things to do... along with literally a few hundred other things! The tree was quite large and "leggy" in appearance with long, skinny branches and not many leaves except at the tips. I knew the tree needed to be pruned back, but I had no idea how to do it, so I was excited to see how it was done.
The fig tree post-pruning.
The pile of pruned branches.
There were five or six piles of branches left in the yard after the pruning was complete. This morning my boys and I, okay it was mostly me, moved all the branches onto the patio area. This was for a few reasons. I wanted to have a clear area to work. I wanted a place for wood to dry out, and that patio gets a lot of full sun. It gets hot in the summer since it is all white and walled in. Also, the patio was really close to the piles, so a close location minimized the work.
The (mostly) cut and trimmed pile of branches.
I ended up cutting up all the branches in to smaller lengths for kindling and firewood. There are many places in the world (Spain and Portugal included) where people think burning fig wood is hazardous; they think it releases deadly toxic fumes. However, this is not true. In Turkey, for instance, skewers are often made of fig wood to give a unique flavor to the meats. As it turns out, fig wood is used for smoking meats in some of the finest restaurants in the U.S. A New York Times article states that, "At Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, the chef, Chris Beischer, uses the wood to roast lobsters and make pizza. Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., uses it for smoking meats. Oliveto, also in Berkeley, burns it for spit-roasting."
This whole process got me thinking about a few things...
- First - trees produces a LOT of biomass. The fig tree looks like it got a trim, but it was not radical. We are left with a lot of cut branches... from just one small tree. The wood from trimmings and wind damage and die back from even a small forest garden will produce a lot of wood, likely all a small homestead will need. I can't wait to get mine started!
- Second - this just reinforced Permaculture Principle Six: Produce No Waste. I can't help but think of growing up in the suburbs of South Florida. There would be so much "yard waste" picked up by the garbage trucks each week that, at a minimum, could be used for compost or chipping, but ended up in a landfill. Ughh!
- Third - Experience is so important. I had never seen a fig tree pruned before in my life. Now that I have, I feel confident I could do it myself next time. Time will tell if this project was done correctly, but I will always have this as a reference point to go back to, either to repeat or to refine.
- Fourth - It is important to challenge tradition. Don't do it just for the sake of doing it, but do so when you have reason to doubt. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul writing to the Thessalonians to "test all things; hold on to what is good." The context was a bit different, but I have applied this to my life in general, and it holds true. The local knowledge here says not to use this fig wood. I didn't heed or ignore that tradition blindly. I questioned it. I researched it... quite a bit, because I don't want to put my family or myself at risk, and I am now choosing to ignore it and not waste a valuable resource.
- Fifth - Cutting this many branches was a lot of work, but it felt good to be working outside! It felt great to be working with branches and wood. It felt good to know that this work was going to be directly used for a purpose for my family. Many people in the modern world do not get to experience this anymore. It is just one of many things our modern culture has lost and needs desperately to gain again.
- Sixth - It has been too long since I have smoked some meat. Now I have some good motivation to get smoking!