Forget the Olympics, it’s time for the Fig tree netting championship

I can tell that the tension and excitement has been building up for weeks amongst regular followers of this blog as we ready ourselves for my annual fig tree netting championship. For those of you who haven’t followed this international sporting event, then get ready for a thrilling read.

If you have a fig tree, and many of us do in Spain, then now is the time to net your tree to protect the fruit from maurading birds. Failure to net the tree will result in no fruit for you and lots of fat birds in your garden. So let’s get on with the gardening.

24th June 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Preparing to net fig trees. I have two fig trees. A standard medium size tree and an espalier that I have been growing along a wall for about 6 years. Now ideally you should have pruned your fig tree in January or February by training it to shape, and that should be it as figs grow on old wood. And, whilst I do not recommend pruning figs at any other time, this year has been exceptional. The heavy rain in the spring has produced abundant growth with long stems that will not produce fruit. The photo below shows my overextended fig tree that will make it difficult to net.

Note the long whippy unproductive branches

Before pruning figs at this time of the year you have to prepare to protect your skin. When cut figs weep a copious amount of white sap from each branch end which is corrosive and will easily burn unprotected skin. Just because it is hot day doesn’t mean you can prune a fig without a shirt on or with just a t-shirt. As you lean into the tree to prune the sap will smear your arms and chest and can lead to severe burns.

The first and second photos below shows me in my fig pruning outfit and in action. Despite the fact it was ferociously hot I was completely covered including gloves and protective glasses. The second photo shows an example of a weeping stem. Whilst the final photo shows my newly trimmed tree ready for netting. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Netting the fig trees. It has been my usual custom in recent years to invite international teams of Fig Netters to assist me in my netting. This serves two purposes, firstly it allows me to observe the different national and regional customs. Secondly it is really cheap and Cruella (my wife) usually refuses to get involved. Last year I had a very successful mixed team from Northern Ireland and Scotland. But this year I have ambitiously opted to bring in a crack husband and wife team from Wigan in the UK where they have been the All Wigan Champions for the last 5 years and are now in the Wigan Fig Hall of Fame.

Gordon and Camilla arrived here in Campoverde to assist in the fig netting, but unfortunately they were in an agitated state as the French had impounded their Pack of Whippet Fig Hounds (despite Gordon assuring them they were fully Covid compliant). After calming them both down despite Gordon muttering threats to Macron underneath his breath, we began to plan the netting. Ideally fig netting requires a team of four. Traditionally this has been husband and wife teams. Though following the lead of Strictly Come Dancing, I may look to include same sex couples next year.

You need to start with a small mesh bird friendly net, this will ensure that even the smallest birds will not be able to squeeze through and get caught in the net. Failure to abide by this rule will guarantee that when you come out each morning you will be met by the sight of fat angry birds hanging upside down from your net. Once you have your net you need to stretch it fully to ensure the mesh is fully open. Normally this takes four people, but to make up the numbers Cruella had conjured up a disembodied hand to help out. The photos below shows the preliminary net stretch process. Interesting things to note – apart from the disembodied hand – are that Gordon has struck a typically challenging male ritual Wigan pose involving leaning back and holding the net with just one hand. Whilst Cruella has dyed her hair to match Camilla’s top in a form of female bonding. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The next photos show Gordon trying to explain that in Wigan the Whippet hounds stretch the net. His attempts to harness Tango the Labrador proved to be a poor substitute as Tango is blind. This point is emphasised in the second photo by Tango facing completely the wrong way whilst waiting to be harnessed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Preparing for net hoisting. Here you need one person as the net hoister, in this case Cruella claimed precedence as she had brought along her best extendable wand. Gordon and Camilla meantime are displaying their world famous Wigan Mill Wave. This pose originated in the noisy Wigan Mills when a young man wished to convey that he fancied a young woman across the noisy Mill shop floor. The man stands with his left leg slightly raised whilst pointing up with his right hand. The woman (if she finds this approach acceptable) will enthusiastically respond by throwing both arms into the air.

This is Camilla and Gordon’s go to pose and has been highly acclaimed as far as Bolton.

When everything is ready then net hoisting can begin in earnest. Ideally you should cover the whole tree, yet still leave yourself enough slack to pull the net up and pick your figs. Normally this stage of the process is covered by mixed male and female teams singing traditional netting songs. Many of these songs are handed down from generation to generation and involve regional pronunciation. Camilla and Gordon soon launched into one of their favourites sung to the tune of “what shall we do with the drunken sailor”. Unfortunately their accents were so strong I could only get a few words, but the gist of it was … Wigan Pier, chips and gravy and the loyalty of Whippets. Cruella who was brought up in East Ham made pathetic attempts at singing this in a Cockney accent. Even the disembodied hand was waving with enthusiasm. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The “tying in process”. This is solely a female activity and it can be considered bad luck for a man to become involved as it will ruin the harvest. The first photo below shows Cruella and Camilla working rhythmically and singing a song that only women are allowed to know the meaning of. All I know is that the tune is similar to “ I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

I had to move their handbags out of the way to take this photo.

Unfortunately the whole tying in process went completely wrong when Gordon insisted that the women were doing it wrong and tried to show them how to do it properly. The first photos below show Gordon interrupting the women’s work. The next photo shows Cruella’s complete astonishment at this intervention, which could have ended badly knowing Cruella’s powers (we already have lots of frogs in our garden who can attest to this). But it all ended well when Gordon offered Cruella an apologetic Wigan Masons handshake. Click on each photo for a larger view.

By way of an apology Gordon offered to end the netting of the big tree with both he and Camilla performing the end of netting mating dance. This type of dance has been performed in Wigan for over 300 years. In the main it involves both dancers facing away from each other as if they have no interest. But slowly and then more quickly, the male begins to dance with rhythmic pounding of both feet whilst at the same time slapping his knees and lunging forward to project his bottom in a provocative manner. The female throughout this performance studiously keeps her back turned to the male and affects no interest.

I have sent a copy of this photograph to National Geographic for inclusion in their “Native world dances”.

The day ended on a happy note all round when Camilla and Gordon performed their signature net which involves netting an espalier fig. Following this we all retired for traditional Wigan fare: chips with gravy washed down with Brown Ale. Despite Cruella’s attempt to appear inclusive, she still threw up all over the flower beds.

Please note that an important part of this performance is that the woman’s face is obscured. Gordon valiantly kept his arm up as Camilla had forgotten her Fig Veil.

Author: spanishgarden

I live in both Spain and the UK and am a very keen gardener. I garden every day and enjoy sharing all the secrets that God allows us to discover in our gardens.

3 thoughts on “Forget the Olympics, it’s time for the Fig tree netting championship”

  1. What a tedious job. I am pleased that I never needed to do it. I would hate to take the net off later. For stone fruits, such netting damages many of the buds that should bloom and fruit for the following year. Some of our clients netted their trees. I sort of wonder what would have happened if they did not, since I never had a major problem with birds taking fruit.


      1. Goodness! That IS different! Even where there are many of the black birds (which we call starlings, even though they are not), it takes several days for them to do significant damage.


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