We should all be so lucky (or smart?) To have a simple greenhouse like Mr. Reich's on his 2.25 acre property in New Paltz, NY, a 20 x 20 foot poly-roofed building He keeps heating minimally so that the temperature does not drop below 37 degrees.
Four of his figs are planted in the ground of the greenhouse, formed as a trellis. It's not just a fig in there, however. The greenhouse is also home to a variety of edibles, including mache, lettuce, kale, and even celery in winter, along with spring flower seedlings and summer cucumber.
But the easy way to grow a fig – in places where the winters are cold – is in a pot. Assuming you have the right place to stow it when the frost comes, as Mr. Reich does in his barely heated basement, where he has 15 trees in a pot.
In addition to figs, Mr. Reich has long grown medlars and pawpaws, which are among the plants featured in Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, his forward-looking 1991 book that prompted gardeners to consider a wider range to pull. Even with more common decisions such as blueberries, Mr. Reich goes to the limit and harvests, for example, 190 liters per year of highbush plants that are grown in "our bird-safe blueberry temple", an outdoor structure that is clad on the sides with an inch mesh and when it is ripe also covered with nets at the top.
Among the tree fruits, figs are characteristic. The most commonly grown varieties of the temperate zone, such as apples and pears, produce their fruits on older wood from the previous year and earlier. Some varieties of figs can also do this by delivering what is known as a breba crop early on last year's stems. But those best suited to growing in colder climates, including popular strains like Brown Turkey and Chicago Hardy, produce their main crop – sometimes their only crop – on new shoots.
If the fig tree is reduced to container-grown proportions by pruning, the possibility of harvesting is not excluded. On the contrary, success with figs in colder zones, emphasized Mr. Reich, requires a combination of two practices: correct pruning and adequate protection.