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  • The Great Fig Hand Pollination Experiment

    I realized 2 years ago that there is a total lack of video-based information out there on the internet teaching gardeners how to hand-pollinate figs. The wheels in my head started turning, and I decided that I wanted to be a pioneer in this field and put together the first fig breeding documentary of sorts. Two summers ago, I obtained a UCR 271-1 'Saleeb' persistent caprifig, and this year, I had my first breba crop set. Knowing profichi pollen was imminent, I decided to take the leap this season.

    For those of you that follow my YouTube channel, I completed the first two parts of the series here:





    Part 1 explains the mutualistic relationship between the fig tree and the fig wasp. Part 2 develops a procedure for hand-pollinating figs and I physically hand-pollinate the figs.

    The problem after the hand pollination is performed is that you're effectively waiting 2-3 months for the figs to ripen. Knowing there would be a long delay and that I'd be impatient, I decided to perform an experiment. I had a smyrna fig that I planned on culling over the winter, but I decided to hold onto it to be a gauge on my hand-pollination success. I decided to hand-pollinate some of the smyrna figs with the assumption that if the figs I hand-pollinated held while the others dropped, I'd know nearly 2 months ahead of time if my procedure was a success. Well, I have some good news!

    The variety I chose, Sangue di Drago Rosso, which I'm virtually certain is smyrna, had a cluster of 5 figlets on it. I injected 2 of them, which I promptly bagged with yellow organza bags to mark them. After injecting the 2 figs, they ballooned up to almost double the size within 48 hours. That got my hopes up! You can see the swelled figs shortly after hand-pollinating here:

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    I'm pleased to report that as of today, all the other figs have shriveled up and dropped except the two I injected:

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    I am feeling quite optimistic at this stage.

    I'll try to periodically update this thread to keep tabs on this experiment as I won't be able to harvest the seeds until probably September. The way I see this experiment playing out, this series will have at least four more parts:
    1. Testing endocarps for fertility.
    2. Germinating seed.
    3. Growing out the seedlings.
    4. Harvesting any common females.
    It may take more chapters to complete this book, and assuming the experiment succeeds, it'll take me until at least next fall to finish writing this story. Assuming it pans out, I hope to cut all the videos into one single movie.

    Timing is everything in this experiment. You need to insert the pollen very early in the fig's development, because the pollen needs to sit in there long enough to develop mature seed. Inserting pollen too late may be sufficient to get a smyrna fig to hold and ripen, but the seeds may not germinate because the fertilization may have happened too late for the seeds to fully mature.

    Anyway, I hope you all find this interesting.
    Zone 8A Southeast NC Coast
    Subscribe via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheMillennialGardener
    Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NCGardening

  • #2
    Very cool! Hope the best for success!
    ░░░SoCal░ ░ ͡ i ͡ ░ ░Zone░ ░9A░░░

    W/L: La Joya, Ondata, Belvedere, Bebera Branca, Fico Giallo, Vernino, Asunta 5 Paco (DF)

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  • #3
    Super cool! Have some persistent caprifig cuttings growing now, trying to do the same thing in the future. Ever try to colonize the fig wasp? I believe your climate may be hospitable with some additional winter warmth. Worth a shot especially since you have a mature caprifig.
    Zone 7a - South Jersey
    Subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCel...ehDsH0vkGLbj6Q

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    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      I think it's a little more complicated than that, unfortunately. One caprifig won't be sufficient to colonize the wasp, at least when they're this young, because you need the profichi and mammoni in various stages. My caprifig's mammoni crop did not "line up" with the profichi, so the wasps would have left the profichi with no mammoni for them to re-colonize, so I would have lost the population. Maybe it's a problem with a caprifig as young as this, but realistically, I think you'd want at least 3 different varieties of caprifigs growing IN GROUND. I think them being in-ground is very important, because you want the trees to be very well-developed with lots of options for colonizing. I just don't have the room for that. If I had acreage, I would definitely try.

      However, now with this Black Fig Fly in California, I'd be very wary to bring caprifigs into my area.

    • Figland
      Figland commented
      Editing a comment
      I think you might be on to something there. In this little ecotone there are many caprifigs, and I have seen wasps at different times of the year in different places, so it makes me think there might either be more than one colony here or that they have lots of places to go to startover. Maybe you need more than one type of caprifig, with different fruiting cycles. I've noticed that here there are many different fruiting time frames.

  • #4
    It’s definitely interesting to see how quickly they swell up when caprified. I haven’t watched your video yet but it sounds awesome. I’ve done a good bit of hand pollinating tests as well and had my concentrations too high a few times and blew up a lot of figs! 😂

    I harvested some pollen from 271-1 that I will be using to hand pollinate some of my super premium new varieties later this year. Angelito just barely set tiny little figlets so it will probably be too late for the wasp but I thought it would be a good candidate for getting seeds for new varieties. :-)
    Eric - Santa Barbara, CA Zone 10a

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    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      I'm telling you, the swelling was practically overnight. It was pretty wild. However, some of my other figs didn't swell at all, though, so I don't know what to think about them. It seemed like the smyrna figs that I injected swelled practically overnight, but the common figs I injected didn't. I'm honestly not sure what to think. You may want to watch my video for the method, because I think it was a lot easier than trying to stab figs and blow pollen into them.

  • #5
    Very cool!!
    MJ
    Chicago Zone 5
    Figbid Listings Varieties List

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  • #6
    I saw them. Thanks for the update. You should turn this update into a video as well, it would make for a nice documentary for the final product.
    GA, 7b

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    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      I don't think it will be enough content. The whole video would only be a minute or two long, and I don't want to try to unnecessarily stretch it out. My next video, hopefully, will be testing the endocarps for seeds, planting and germination. My guess is it'll take 100 days by the time the seeds mature and germinate, so it's definitely a long-haul experiment.

  • #7
    Great stuff. You are one year ahead of me so the timing is perfect. My Saleeb cutting is growing vigorously and I plan on pollinating next spring. Well done!
    Joe, Central Bucks, PA Zone 6b/7a

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  • #8
    Welp, guess I need a caprifig.
    Round Rock, TX 8b
    WL: Delicious figs

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    • swethakyadav
      swethakyadav commented
      Editing a comment
      I offered one ... I still have one if you need

    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      If you want to breed your own varieties, it's mandatory. If you want a cutting this winter, let me know. Just keep in mind that it takes at least 2 seasons to get pollen since pollen is on the breba (profichi) crop, so it's a long-term investment for sure!

  • #9
    Wait a minute. Tres ao prato is a Smyrna?
    Z8+ Oregon, willamette valley. WL: More land, cool citrus
    Ok fine, I made a channel but it’s not all figs: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UC2vAVzLns27I5JUiwpiPMUw

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    • JR
      JR commented
      Editing a comment
      A true 'Tres ao prato' is a Common light skinned fig.

    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      According to Harvey, 3 N Prato and Tres Num Prato are two different figs. I have 3 N Prato. http://www.figaholics.com/cuttings.htm

    • Sod
      Sod commented
      Editing a comment
      Ah. Ok. Thank you. Ive got the tres ao prato sofeno claro from DaveL. It must be the common one.

  • #10
    Very interesting to see this in practice. I’m tempted to get hold of a male fig or pollen if possible here, then hand pollinate my Ice Crystal, its always my first tree to push out figs but of course they drop, I’d do the same for my small Black Bursa tree which I grow from seed being a supermarket fig from Turkey.
    RHS rating H3 (USDA zone 9)

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    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      It would be quite a bit of work to hand pollinate just to get smyrna fruits to hold. I would, personally, rather swap them with a common fig or graft a common fig onto the rootstock. However, if you really want that smyrna variety, it is definitely doable.

  • #11
    Thank you for sharing. I look forward to the completed series as I have wondered about hand pollination. I intend to try it myself in the next year or two. I have to learn how to grow common figs in my hot, arid climate first.
    Jason, USDA Zone 8a desert, Southern UT
    Wish List: Thermalito, CLBC, BNR, Socorro Black, Red Lebanese (BV), GM-172 and any caprifig

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    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks. Hopefully, this works out, or I'll have to restart the whole series next year. I'm hoping I get this right on the first try.

  • #12
    I don’t watch a whole lot of YouTube but I have been following along this series. You do a great job, I can tell how much effort you give. Very interesting!

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    • TheMillennialGardener
      TheMillennialGardener commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank you. To say it's been "a lot of work" is an understatement! But it's worth it.

  • #13
    Great work as always.
    Catonsville MD Zone 7A
    Wishlist: Crozes

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  • #14
    This is awesome TheMillennialGardener . I might try this as well if your experiment is successful. Very cool!
    East Coast, Zone 7a
    WL: Boysenberry Blush, CdDB, BNR

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    • #15
      I saw your video and it was very informative. I can't wait to see the end results and to try it out for myself.


      WL: Boysenberry blush
      Wishlist: Boysenberry blush, tia penya, Malibu Greek unk, cosme manyo.

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    • #16
      Originally posted by key88sf View Post
      This is awesome TheMillennialGardener . I might try this as well if your experiment is successful. Very cool!
      It is going to take me awhile to get the full results, but I will try to post updates as they come here.
      Zone 8A Southeast NC Coast
      Subscribe via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheMillennialGardener
      Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NCGardening

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      • #17
        Very interesting topic. I may try hand pollination of figs, if my fig seedlings turn out to be smyrna, as they most probably do. If only there are some male trees also.
        Otherwise I planned to donate my non common type trees to local municipality for landscaping.
        Estonia, Zone 5 Wish List 2023 Improved Celeste-Florea-Red Lebanese Bekaa Valley-Teramo-Long Yellow-Iranian Candy-De Tres Esplets-Malta Black-Salem Dark-Olympian-Smith-Green Michurinska + Any tasty super early fig

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        • #18
          I have been watching this project of yours with interest. Unlike many of the above comments, I have no plans to follow suit... but it sure is fun to watch. It is far more work than I would be able to do, but I'm pulling for you!
          Angel #1 at 2 Angels Mushrooms & Figs-Chattanooga, TN Zone 7-B
          You are invited to The Fig Frolic on Sat., Sept. 17th, AND Hang Time (for OurFigs only) INFO HERE

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          • TheMillennialGardener
            TheMillennialGardener commented
            Editing a comment
            You mean going through all of this work for 2+ years and potentially growing out 100 seedlings to come away with 3-5 really good figs isn't attractive to you? NO WAY! 😆 I do not blame you. Breeding anything is really hard work for minimal gain.

          • 2AngelsMushrooms
            2AngelsMushrooms commented
            Editing a comment
            LOL...exactly! Much more fun to watch than to do. If you get 3-5 really good common figs out of 100 seedlings, that will be remarkable. Here's wishing you the best of luck in your endeavors, though. Looking forward to watching it play out.

          • TheMillennialGardener
            TheMillennialGardener commented
            Editing a comment
            2AngelsMushrooms the reason why good figs are so hard to come by in nature is because you're getting some random wild caprifig crossed with some random wild female spread via bird droppings. When you can control the crosses, the chances of a good result increases. I'm crossing Saleeb with Gegantina, DSJG and WM#1, so I'm using top tier genetics in the crosses, so I expect some decent offspring. That being said, it's really a 4 year minimum investment. I've spent 2 years alone growing out this caprifig to get my first drops of pollen. Now, it'll take a minimum 2 additional years to grow out offspring if I'm fortunate enough to be successful.

        • #19
          Pollinating them is the easiest part. Germinating and growing them out is where the challenge begins. 271-1 is by far the best persistent pollen producer.

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          • #20
            Originally posted by Neil View Post
            Pollinating them is the easiest part. Germinating and growing them out is where the challenge begins. 271-1 is by far the best persistent pollen producer.
            I may have gotten lucky with obtaining Saleeb. I just took what I could get right off the bat, and it just happened to be this one. The profichi were ENORMOUS. I didn't weigh them, but they looked to be 100+ gram figs. Even the main crop look to be 80+ grams, so I am optimistic that this is a good variety that could yield large fruit. This is a big reason why I'm doing Saleeb X Gegantina. I want to try and breed large-fruited, rain-resistant figs since they're so hard to come by.

            From my research, the reason why people have such problems germinating fig seeds is because they pollinate the figs too late in the process once they've begun their "second swelling." Because the ostiole is more easily accessed at that point, people choose to pollinate them then. This is a problem, because while pollination at this stage is sufficient for caprification, the seeds don't have enough time to develop fully mature embryos before ripening. Because of this, I made sure to pollinate many figs that were very small and difficult to get the needle into the ostiole. I also pollinated late-season varieties: CdD Gegantina, WM#1 and DSJG. I did this because I wanted to give the embryos the maximum time to mature.

            So, if this works, I'm confident that I did what I could to maximize my chances for viable seed. However, that still doesn't mean I'll be successful! We'll see.
            Zone 8A Southeast NC Coast
            Subscribe via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheMillennialGardener
            Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NCGardening

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            • don_sanders
              don_sanders commented
              Editing a comment
              Early and tasty too if you are taking special requests 😉

            • Neil
              Neil commented
              Editing a comment
              The problem with germinating fig seed is they do not all germinate evenly. Some will germinate within a couple of weeks and some seed will take months. I have even seen differences in the germination from different crosses. Some spring up right away and some you will think is a bad batch of seed and then one day they surprise you.

            • TheMillennialGardener
              TheMillennialGardener commented
              Editing a comment
              Neil I want to use multi-cell trays for this reason. I'm hoping I can take my time with them.

              don_sanders unfortunately, just like with children, you're going to get what you get! I tried to control the crosses by selecting my favorite fig trees as mothers, but you just don't know what recessive genes are lurking in there, and it's really hard to tell what the father is going to do since we don't eat caprifigs. I'm sure some caprifigs produce better offspring than others.

          • #21
            Nice work so far! Looking forward to what happens...
            Sam
            AKA Frankenberry/Scubasamdo
            Arroyo Grande / Central Coast of California, 10a/b, AHS 1

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          • #22
            If you need help growing some seedlings out, I'd be happy to help.
            Zone 6a/b, Cincinnati. Wishlist: Ouriola, Ondata & Tupac's Killer

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            • TheMillennialGardener
              TheMillennialGardener commented
              Editing a comment
              At this point, I will be happy if I have any germination at all! I appreciate the offer.

          • #23
            I have a Saleeb growing along with Butler striped Girsh and Yanonali up here in Southern Ontario Canada. Thank you for the inspirational videos! I wish you all the success in your fig breeding journey! I plan on getting pollen just to ripen my figs but maybe I might try my hand at breeding too!

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            • TheMillennialGardener
              TheMillennialGardener commented
              Editing a comment
              If you can hold that thought for a couple months and I'm successful at this, you'll be able to just copy my method. It's difficult to try and figure this out without any video help since so few people have done this in the grand scheme of things. The pollination procedure I used is 100 times easier than trying to blow pollen into the ostiole like some folks try to do, but I'm not sure if it'll work just yet. Hopefully we'll know in 3 months.

          • #24
            A VERY interesting turn of events happened today. My Sangue diDrago Rosso plant is now officially confirmed as smyrna, because it has dropped almost all of its figs except the 2 that I hand-pollinated (and a couple babies scattered about). Well, today, the two have begun to swell, so we have confirmation that this method of hand pollination does work!

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            This is so much easier than punching holes in figs with an awl, trying to jam a straw in there and blowing in pollen. It's revolutionary, in my opinion. The little needle barely makes a mark on the fig, so it doesn't injure it or open the ostiole. You can hand-pollinate dozens of figs in minutes with this method, so I'm thrilled to see that it works! Now, we wait (even longer)!

            Here is the problem: we are forecast to have ten inches of rain over this week, so a lot of my figs are going to get destroyed. In an effort to protect this tree, I moved it under my soffit in hopes it'll keep the rain off. I think these are about 3-4 days away from maturity, so I'm hoping they're able to mature fully and produce viable seed.

            Click image for larger version

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            Zone 8A Southeast NC Coast
            Subscribe via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheMillennialGardener
            Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NCGardening

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            • #25
              Good luck with your efforts! BTW, since you're looking to breed figs and aren't as worried about getting edible fruit, cutting open the fig, as fignut documents here may be just as convenient: https://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-h...ure-and-update

              I'm not sure that this method of pollination is revolutionary for fig breeding (as YATAMA has talked about it before), but I applaud your documentation of the process, as there's still too little information that's readily accessible to the average hobbyist.
              San Francisco, Zone 10b

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