Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Fig Propagation Project update

Covered figs--

Here are a bunch of potted figs that were up-potted and moved into this shadehouse a day or two before this pic (which is why they're pouting a little bit).  There are around 600 trees in this pic, and there are about 600 more that are this same size/age that aren't pictured.  

I still have plants from multiple generations floating in wading pools inside swimming pools in one tunnel, here's what they look like (note that I've lowered the water level to give them more headroom).

In-ground under plastic:

Aquaponics trees (growing in gravel) and more potted trees:

Outdoor figs--

The 2nd and 3rd year figs that I have outside in-ground have been flourishing.  Many are over 7' tall and loaded with fruit.  All of this wood will be pruned at dormancy and used to supply cuttings and rooted fig trees.

Here's a pic showing part of the outdoor orchard expansion.  I've got around 150 varieties planted in-ground so far. 



I am behind pace, but the project is still progressing and looks like it will be a success.  There have been a number of obstacles that sprang up and had to be solved along the way, and those slowed me down, but they didn't derail the project, they just slowed it down.  So even though I'm behind pace, the amount of fig wood is starting to accumulate very fast at this stage, and soon I'll have enough to prune/root/ship to everyone.

There are around a dozen varieties that have grown slowly and are primarily responsible for the delay (Black Madeira, Figo Preto, I-258, Maltese Beauty, Native de Argentile, Abebereira, etc).  There's a 'double whammy' effect, too: not only are these the slowest rooters/growers, they were the most requested, too, so they affect the vast majority of orders.  The most salient example is Black Madeira.  I have around 20 Black Madeira mother plants that range from 1-4 feet tall, and I need to produce around 150 small well-rooted Black Madeiras to ship.  If I get an average of 7 cuttings per mother plant and root them all, I would have about the right amount.  But whereas my success rate rooting the vast majority of varieties is around 90%, Black Madeira is more like 50%.  That means that I might just get around 70 new Black Madeira plants to survive the rooting process out of the 140 cuttings.  But while the slower propagation rate is disappointing, it certainly isn't the end of the world!  The total number of Black Madeiras is still growing exponentially, and down the road a little bit when I prune those 90 Black Madeiras (the 20 existing mothers plus the 70 new ones) and get perhaps 500-600 cuttings, that poor propagation rate should still yield 200-300 new Black Madeira trees.  So there should be more than enough Black Madeiras to go around soon, it'll just take another rooting cycle.  Even in a worst case scenario in which it requires 2 more rooting cycles, I would still be able to finish them this winter and get them shipped out as soon as weather permits, since I'll be growing in heated greenhouses all fall and winter.

I openly admit that I have failed to uphold my end of the deal by failing to have the trees ready on time, and I fully recognize that I therefore owe you all something extra, not just as fair compensation for your long wait, but as an apology, too.  I am open to all ideas and would appreciate input.  What I want to have happen is for everyone to get enough 'extras' that they feel like they still got a good deal overall in spite of the long wait.  I was thinking that free cuttings might be good, maybe giving everybody vouchers or coupons for some number of free cuttings down the road.  Giving partial refunds is another idea, although with $7 trees I'm already selling them at cost with no profit.  Another idea is to do special favors, like allowing people to make substitutions on their orders (for example if folks have acquired some of their ordered varieties from other sources during this wait and no longer need them).  That last idea seems like a potential logistical and bookkeeping nightmare, but I'll throw it out there and see what you all think.  A slightly less terrifying idea would be to allow everyone who participated in this $7 tree project to participate in a similar project next year, just for them (maybe $7 trees again?  or maybe drop it to $5 trees as a special apology?).

I want to stress that I have been working extremely hard on this project and that it is the focus of my entire life right now.  I get up and start working around dawn every single day, and I work all day until I run out of daylight or energy.  Often times I strap a headlight on and keep working after dark.  Since I am this committed, I feel very confident telling you that the project will indeed be completed successfully, and that it is only a matter of when, not if.

I also want to stress that I'm not selling any of your fig stock to anyone else.  Every fig you see in these pics is being grown for you: none of them are for sale to other people, and when people come by and want to buy them, I tell them "Sorry, no; those are all spoken for and are being grown for other people."  I have given away a handful of extra Hardy Chicago plants, but aside from that, these plants are all off-limits for other people because they're all being grown for you.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be doing a lot of pruning and will be packing my humidity bins with thousands of rooting cuttings.  Most orders will be ready when that generation of rooted cuttings is ready.  In the meantime I will continue shipping out a slow stream of orders that do not contain any of the troublesome rooters/slow growers.  Please note, however, that I up-potted most of the fast-growers and will be trying to prune/root them in sync with the troublesome ones so that they'll all be ready around the same time and can ship together.

Exciting update:  As some of you know, my plan when I started this project was to expand into an empty 10 acre field adjacent to my house.  I had already discussed leasing it with the realtor for an affordable $400/mo, but when I called about it recently I learned that the land had just sold, and that the new owners want $455,000 for it as a commercial property and aren't interested in leasing.  That's more than I can afford, and it threw a wrench into my plans, but a couple of days ago I had a positive meeting with a neighbor about buying a different piece of adjacent land, and submitted a bid that the neighbor seemed pleased with.  He said he needed to take some time to think it over and discuss it with his family, so nothing's finalized, but I'm hopeful.  If I get this land, I'll have the space to put up another 6-10 large greenhouses, which will give me more than enough space for current needs and for future expansion.