time to explore with esplora

Emily in Malta: Figs in Mellieħa

Emily in Malta: Figs in Mellieħa

Out of all the incredible bits of information that I’ve been receiving from all of our extraordinary interviews with local Maltese farmers, this one is of utmost importance. This is particularly crucial for someone like me, a neophyte with regards to anything fruit farming and cultivation.

That information comes in the form that some trees are what we call self-pollinating plants or trees (monoecious) while others are cross-pollinating (dioecious). This means that some require another tree of the opposite sex in order to produce fruit, whereas others can produce fruit on their own.

Figs are the oldest cultivated fruit on the entire island of Malta and it is believed that there are 32 different varieties of figs around the islands. A fig tree comes as either a male or female tree. As previously mentioned, some need the other sex to procreate, and others are just fine producing fruit on their own, such as the white fig and the star fig.

We met with Tony Borg of Mellieħa Home Made Jams and visited his incredible land. He even had a few fig trees to show us. In fact, the fig trees Tony uses happen to be cross-pollinating trees of three varieties, which according to Tony, together make the sweetest figs in the world. In the case of his three varieties of barrow, jarrow and dukkar, the trees have two seasons of fig-making. The early figs launch in February and grow through the last week of May, all the way up until the beginning of June. These figs are known as Bajtar ta’ San Ġwann. The second round of figs, however, known to the locals as tin, start at the end of July, once the early figs have come and gone.

Tony Borg and Emily A Francis

The kicker? Mosquitoes! All my life I have questioned what the use for mosquitoes was. As it turns out, we now have an answer. It’s for the figs! The mosquito eggs are laid inside the figs and since fig trees don’t have visible flower blossoms, the eggs hatch inside the fruits themselves.

The almighty pollinators

Tony waits and watches for the figs to open up and thus, for the mosquitoes to fly out. That’s when he knows that between his varieties of figs, they’re cross-pollinated and therefore, the sweetest of figs will begin to grow.

The mosquitoes fly from the original egg to the next figs and the next trees, until they pollinate all the figs. Now we know that if it weren’t for those pesky bugs, we would not be able to indulge in the sweetest and most succulent figs in the world. You can find these figs in Tony’s delectable jams.

It’s also important to note that in Malta, the bark beetle have become a huge problem for the fig trees. More than half of all fig trees on the islands have already died as a result and buying fresh, local figs is now more difficult but also more crucial than ever. Figs themselves are known to be a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. We must do all that we can to preserve and protect these sacred fruits and support those who continue to grow and harvest them.