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  • Fig Storage House - Design Aspects

    I'm assuming anyone owning container figs that live in zone 11 or below, need to worry about protecting their trees during the winter months in some fashion. Most place their container figs in sun rooms, garages or basements. Presently I've got 30 something cuttings rooting and 10 trees already in my garage. I'm pretty certain my garage isn't going to fit all my figs as they grow so I'm wondering, has anyone built a shed/fig storage house specifically to store your figs in over the winter months?

    I'm assuming if people do have "fig houses" they are most likely converted sheds. If you are using a shed to store your fig trees, what are their limitations? If you'd build a "fig storage house" from the ground up, what design aspects would you include? For the sake of utility, I'm assuming a "fig storage house" would double as a shed during the spring/summer/fall months.

    Here are some of basic assumptions I'm making concerning a fig storage house:
    1. Should be well insulated to protect from harsh temperatures
    2. Should have some external heating capabilities that are automated (electricity/solar)
    3. Should be constructed to easily insert or remove container figs
    4. Should be constructed so that container figs can by watered every 4-6 weeks

    What are people doing that have really large 20-30 gallon container figs? I'm assuming they are a lot of work to move during the "fig dance" in the fall and spring.
    Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.

  • #2
    40 x 60 ft ought to do it
    SW PA zone 6a


    • #3
      I think most people would say that you should build it as big as you can and in most cases it will be too small quickly

      I put on a 9x12 lean to greenhouse last year and in a year or two it will be too small. I have plans to put some figs in the ground and winter protect them when I run out of winter storage room.

      In an "ideal fig house" all the items you mention are important. I kept track of the temps in my GH last winter and with no "real" supplemental heat the temps bottomed out in the low 20's a few times last winter. The GH gets morning sun in the winter so it warms up a little even during the day but it is by no means "airtight". But I had no winter damage to any of my figs last year and we had many cold nights and a freakish amount of snow.

      But you have to find out what works best for you.

      For the sake of my back, I'm restricting my potted figs to a max of 15 gallon pots. Larger ones are just too big for me to move. If you have the benefit of a tractor you could go larger.

      In your climate, have you thought about having some in ground?

      Anyway, it sound like you're off to a great start.
      Last edited by fitzski; 11-02-2015, 08:18 PM.
      Kevin (Eastern MA - Zone 5b/6a)


      • #4
        On the property I'm on now, I have nearly 80 figs in pots ranging from 4 gallons to 16 and another 30+ trees in again 4 gallon and larger pots. The trees range from 12" to 6' tall and are all stacked in a pyramid in the garage. Real neat, real space saving. When I move to acreage, I will be building a place to over winter the trees that insulated with climate controls.
        Last edited by COGardener; 11-03-2015, 09:35 AM.
        Scott - Colorado Springs, CO - Zone 4/5 (Depending on the year) - Elevation 6266ft

        “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” – Bill Mollison


        • fitzski
          fitzski commented
          Editing a comment
          only 80, scott I think i'm actually going to count them when I put them away for winter storage.

          I'm anticipating over 50 so I have a little ways to go to catch up to you.

        • COGardener
          COGardener commented
          Editing a comment
          Kevin... I don't know what came over me, this time last year I had 4. I guess I spend to much time on here!!

          Or maybe Hershell infected me with something on the trees I got from him... either way the collection will keep on growing until I run out of space or my beautiful wife completely flips out over all of my "trees"

        • cis4elk
          cis4elk commented
          Editing a comment
          I don't count them anymore, that way when my wife tells people I'm crazy and have 18 fig trees..I just smile and be agreeable.

      • #5
        If I wanted the storage house to have the ability to store any fig tree variety without concern for limb die back, what minimal temperature range should it have?

        What would be the most cost efficient structure (to build and maintain)? Would it be a fully insulated storage house with supplemental heating or some sort of passively heated solar greenhouse, or a hybrid of both? I'm not interested in growing or maintaining fig trees in the winter, just protecting them from any temperature damage.
        Last edited by smithmal; 11-03-2015, 01:52 AM.
        Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


        • #6
          The best temperature range for dormant fig trees is 30F to 40F (-1C to 4.5C), below these temps breba and branches can be damaged, above these temps the trees will break dormancy. Good Luck.
          Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b


          • #7
            Thanks for the info Pete.

            So I've been doing some research on Solar Passive Greenhouses (there's a nice short overview of SPGs here). People that build/optimize these types of greenhouses have spent countless years researching greenhouse materials (glazing), heat sinks/cold sinks strategies, ventilation and insulation.

            Now, as I said, I've no interest in building one of these things for growing figs year round b/c the investment for figs alone is a little overkill. Maybe I'd entertain this if I lived in a zone where my growing season was very short. In any event, one of the elements that was discussed which many greenhouse (GH) owners don't take into account when building one is taking advantage of the thermal mass properties of the ground on which the GH is built on. By digging down and insulating the ground on which the structure is built on, you create a pocket of insulated soil which greatly enhances the insulation properties of the structure and passively heats the greenhouse during the winter months. This is also the reason why people build partially submerged GH (if they have a nice slope to build it into).

            This pic suggest digging down and insulating the ground 5 feet below the surface of the structure should create an adequate thermal pocket. To me it looks like doing so wouldn't add that much money to the overall cost of a storage house/shed and would greatly decrease the heating costs of the shed during the winter months for the lifetime of the storage house. Also, if I ever wanted to convert the storage house to a full blown GH, I would have already completed the foundation which the GH would but built onto. Does anyone have any experience with this or have any thoughts?
            Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


            • #8
              Here's a link that was sent to me last year about growing figs in greenhouses in Rhode Island.


              Just something else to consider while you're trying to figure out what you're going to do.
              Kevin (Eastern MA - Zone 5b/6a)


              • smithmal
                smithmal commented
                Editing a comment

                Thanks for the link. That is one impressive GH. I'd bet with that setup, their figs wake up pretty early vs. regular in ground figs. I wonder how hardy the varieties they grow are.

              • fitzski
                fitzski commented
                Editing a comment
                i think they're growing mostly brown turkey with some Hardy Chicago and Black Mission.

                My GH only gets morning sun in the winter so it doesn't rise too much higher than the outside temp (maybe 10-15 higher on average during Jan/Feb) during the day.

                When the sun angle starts to increase in March, it starts to heat up more. And the in late March/early April last year I was opening the roof vents if the days were going to be in the 50's so it wouldn't get too hot in there.

                Things seem to be working out ok so far with the GH.

                We'll see what this winter brings

            • #9
              You're welcome.

              The problem with greenhouses, passive solar heated structures and attached thermal mass heat storage would be keeping the fig trees dormant, or cold enough in a sunny period since they will break dormancy above 45F. If keeping them dormant is the only design criteria a large root cellar, https://www.google.com/search?q=root...w=1280&bih=865 direct earth coupled, with an active solar heating system would be a good design.
              Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b


              • #10

                Agreed, my idea would not be to construct a true passive solar structure, but possibly to use elements of it (thermal heating) to reduce the heating costs over the winter months. Creating a structure with any type of glazing would be a bad idea b/c it could heat up the interior of the structure during the day causing the figs to break dormancy too early.

                I like the idea of a root cellar and have thought about that in the past, but it's my understanding that you want the cellar to be at least 10ft below the surface of the ground to produce the necessary temperature range (32-40F) which, depending upon the size of the cellar, would be a lot of labor (plus I don't have a hillside to put it into to make the excavation a little less painful). Also, moving large figs in and out of the cellar would be problematic.

                Basically I'm looking to build a multi-use structure. In the winter months (when I'm not using it), it would store my container figs and keep a healthy temp range necessary to allow the trees to stay dormant but not get cold damage in my temperature zone. In the summer months it would be a working shed for whatever.

                Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


                • #11

                  Root cellars are simply soil insulated passive earth coupled heat sinks they do not need to be 10 ft deep nor into a hillside if well insulated. It's easy to gain the benefits of a root cellar in your proposed design using current technology and materials factoring in your location, frost depth and average winter temperatures.

                  1. Foundation... FPSF foundation, http://www.huduser.gov/Publications/PDF/FPSFguide.pdf . Serves as the Earth coupled heatsink, uninsulated concrete slab foundation, vapor barrier with perimeter and wing insulation to lower the relative depth of the foundation, http://sqfoot.com/pdf/US_Map_Frost_DepthAVG.pdf to utilize winter soil temps to keep the storage space cool but above freezing.

                  2. Walls and Roof... Super insulated walls and roof structures, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superinsulation windows with removable insulated shutters for winter use only. The insulation R-value of 10 ft of sandy clay is approximately 16.7, http://www.bae.uky.edu/publications/aees/aees-13.pdf .

                  3. Active Solar Heating if required... Photovoltaic electric heat or Photo voltaic circulating pump with Drain Back Hydronic Solar panels and Hydronic fluid storage tank(s), http://www.sunnyhotwater.com/closedloop.html#drainback .

                  4. Ventilation... fresh air intake from, Earth tubes, https://www.thenaturalhome.com/earthtube.php to temper the fresh air and exhaust by standard exhaust fans.
                  Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b