Waiting for figs to ripen can take quite a bit of patience depending on the variety you have. Some varieties of figs can take two months for a fig to ripen after its initial development. Violette de Bourdeaux is a variety that is notorious for taking a long time to ripen, but the wait is well worth it!
In this blog I wanted to provide a few tell tale signs that your figs are perfectly ripe and ready to harvest. I'll also provide some tips for harvesting depending on your plans for those delicious figs. If you're needing to store them for a few days, you may want to harvest differently than if you're just eating them fresh off the tree.
You Can't Go By Fig Color!
Unlike other "fruits," the color of a fig is not always a good sign that it's ready to harvest. This is because there are so many different varieties that ripen at different colors. Some figs completely change colors as they ripen while others don't.
A light berry fig like Conadria will start green and will be green when it's ripe. A honey fig variety like LSU Gold will be pale green initially and then yellow when ripe. A dark berry fig variety like Salem Dark will be green initially and have a dark purple exterior when the figs are ripe.
As you can see, the exterior color of the fig is a poor indication of ripeness. Once you grow a specific fig variety for several years, you'll notice the color change or lack of color change in that variety as the figs ripen. But there isn't a one-size-fits-all ripeness color change code for figs.
You Can't Go By Fig Size!
The size of the fig is also not a good indication of when it is at peak ripeness. Fig varieties vary greatly in size. Some fig varieties will produce ripe figs that are the size of a large marble, whereas others will produce ripe figs that are almost as big as a baseball. Each variety will also "size-up" differently as it matures.
GE Neri is a variety that provides a perfect example to explain here. These figs will look like any other medium-sized fig for several weeks while ripening on the tree. But 4-6 weeks after fig formation, these figs will get significantly larger. They'll quickly go from a medium-sized fig to an extra-large fig as they change color and rapidly enlarge.
Fig size can also vary greatly depending on your watering schedule. If your fig trees aren't on an irrigation system and you're experiencing a drought, all your figs could be relatively small. But if your trees are on irrigation or you're experiencing, heavy rainfall, your figs will be significantly larger.
Fig Ripeness Sign #1: The Droop
The first good sign that a fig is at peak ripeness is the "droop." If you've never grown figs, this one is a little hard to explain. But you'll know it when you see it.
When a fig first develops on the tree, the fruit will usually sit perpendicular to the nearby limb and the "stalk" of the fig will be straight. But as the fig reaches peak ripeness, the stalk will begin to bend and the fig itself will start to "droop."
Fig Ripeness Sign #2: Texture
One of the great things about figs is that the entire "fruit" can be eaten. It's not like an orange or grapefruit that needs to be peeled. When a fig reaches peak ripeness, the skin will become soft and easy to chew.
This is an easy test to perform just by gently feeling the exterior of the figs on your tree(s). If the exterior of the fig feels firm, it's not ready to harvest. But if the skin feels soft when gently squeezing it, it's ready!
Fig Ripeness Sign #3: Cracking
This doesn't happen for every single variety we have in our orchard, but it does with a majority of them. You'll especially notice it on the dark-skinned figs like Salem Dark, LSU Tiger, LSU Purple, Brown Turkey, and others. It usually happens after the fig starts to droop and the texture becomes softer.
As the fig expands, the tissue on the exterior of the fig will start to crack as the fig expands. You might even notice some of the delicious fig juices starting to drip from those cracks. If you see a fig starting to crack, you should harvest it immediately and enjoy it! They usually don't last long on the tree after they start cracking.
The Dangerous Game
Waiting on a fig to become perfectly ripe can be a dangerous game. Birds, squirrels, and other animals tend to love figs just as much as we do. And sometimes, they'll get those delicious figs before you can!
Some fig growers will cover their ripening figs with mesh bags called "organza bags." These clear mesh bags protect the figs from being eaten by animals while they're ripening. This is a great solution if you have just a few trees, but is not very practical for many trees in a larger orchard.
Personally, I like to harvest my figs right before they're at peak ripeness. I find that they have a little better texture at that point. I know I'm probably in the minority on this, but a cracking, oozing fig tends to taste a little soggy. I'll usually harvest mine once they start drooping and the skin is soft, but before they start cracking.
Harvesting right before peak ripeness is also helpful if you're not planning on eating them right off the tree. We make a lot of jellies and preserves with our figs, but we don't make a batch each time we harvest the figs. We'll usually put our fig harvests in ziplock bags in the fridge until we get enough to make a batch of jelly.
An oozing fig will usually not store very well in the fridge and that excess moisture can cause the other figs in the bag to ruin. If you pick them before they're cracking or oozing, they'll usually store for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. This will give you time to accumulate enough figs to justify a batch of fig jelly, fig jam, fig preserves, or whatever other sweet treat you want to make with your figs.