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The kiwi is a small, soft-fleshed fruit with a delectable and distinctive taste. The kiwi is really a vine not a tree, but it grows so large that one needs to treat it much like a tree, so we include it in this tree-fruit section.
Kiwis come in two broad classes: the "standard" kiwi (often called the "fuzzy kiwi"), A. deliciosa, which is perhaps lemon-sized and which has a fuzzy skin requiring that it be peeled before use, and the smaller "hardy kiwis", A. arguta and A. kolomikta, which can be eaten entire, rather like a good-sized grape. (There is another, the "Chinese kiwi", A chinensis, not yet much seen outside of China, though it is very popular there.)
The fuzzy kiwi, though it long dominated the rapidly growing kiwifruit market, is the least flavorsome of the types, and also the greatest nuisance to prepare or eat, owing to its skin. The so-called "hardy kiwi" types are now emerging as the preferred alternative, inasmuch as they may be eaten out of hand, are better tasting, and have a wider growing zone.
Four important things to know about growing hardy kiwis:
But, as one source says, Despite the challenges, once one has sampled the fruit, kiwi growing seems well worth the trouble. The fruit is aromatic, with fuzzy kiwi, banana, strawberry, and pear flavors all wrapped up in one delightful package.
Fortunately, Actinidia kolomikta is not only described as "best suited to short-season and cold-winter areas"--that's us--but is said to fruit in its first year after planting [Yeesss, Pinky!]. The species is hardy to Zone 3, and only needs about 130 frost-free days to ripen its fruit, which sometimes drop when ripe.
One source, albeit speaking of commercial operations, states that "Under optimum conditions, yields of . . . about 200 pounds per vine can be expected". Cut that even by ten to allow for home-growing, plant two vines, and you've got 40 pounds a season--and probably more--when the vines are mature.
The typical "hardy kiwi" used to be the A. arguta species; what held its development back was fear by the commercial growers that its smaller size would be a marketing handicap--but its special and superior flavor has made it a success anyway. Regrettably, though A. arguta is significantly hardier than the old standard kiwifruit, it is not quite hardy enough for really northerly climates. Fortunately, the other hardy kiwi species, A. kolomikta is, with only modest grower care, hardy enough for regions like ours. The choice of A. kolomikta for our kiwi species is really a no-brainer.
That said, what of particular cultivars? In Europe, and latterly China, there are large numbers of cultivars; there has been an especial development effort in the Baltic nations (especially Lithuania), whence many of the better cultivars available today (and why so many of them have Slavic-sounding names). In North America, most nurseries offering the plants make few or no cultivar distinctions, and it is usually impossible to know what one is getting. (One reads of "Arctic Beauty", but that seems to be mostly or entirely just a nickname for the entire kolomikta species, rather than any cultivar of it.) Nonetheless, in the hope that that may be changing, here is some cultivar information.
First off, one study found that "The differences in the time of bud burst, blooming, shoot growth and leaf fall comprise only 2 - 3 days for all of the cultivars studied, while the harvest maturity differs more considerably." So we aren't going to get around the bugaboo of early budding by cultivar selection. Also, "Except for one-year–old plants of cultivar "Lande", which showed rather medium winter hardiness, other investigated cultivars wintered poorly. However, the two-year-old plants were sufficiently hardy [in all tested cultivars]." So cultivar type doesn't make much difference there, either, unless one has access to "Lande" (and it only has an advantage in that very first season).
(The cultivars Lande, Paukstes, Sakarva, Laiba, and Lanke--all created in 1996 in Lithuania--are reportedly characterized by constant bumper crops of big and uniform berries, tolerant of varying conditions, and resistant to cold, disease, and pests; of course, that's their creators describing them.)
At least in North America, there seems so far little cultivar distinction. One reads of "Arctic Beauty", but that seems to be mostly or entirely just a nickname for the entire kolomikta species, rather than any cultivar of it. But the lack of well-drawn distinctions does not mean that there is any scarcity of cultivars around (though "around" does not always mean "in the seedsmen's catalogues").
The named varieties we found mentioned in the literature (not including things identified only by grower codes) included:
Have a caution! There are also A. arguta cultivars with the same names (notably "Ananasnaya") as many of those listed above. When buying, make absolutely, positively sure that what you're being sold is guaranteed Actinidia kolomikta vines. Caveat emptor.
Of the roughly dozen cultivars we can actually choose from, the leading contenders would have to be Ananasnaya, Krupnopladnaya, and Sentayabraskaya ("September Sun"). Your choice may in good part come down to whom you would like to buy from. And remember, you must plant at least one male vine--normally sold separately--to pollinate the named, fruiting female vines.
These are just a few summary notes--consult the varous web pages linked farther below for more detail.
The hardy kiwi prefers a sound, loamy, pH-neutral soil. Above all, the soil drainage must be perfect. Full sun is said to be best for good fruit production, but many sources recommend partial shade for optimum overall success. Either way, it should definitely be well-sheltered from wind, especially in the colder months.
A. kolomikta is inherently quite cold resistant (but see farther below), with dormant plants hardy down to at least -20°F. The chief problem encountered in growing hardy kiwi is that they are fairly low-chill plants, meaning that they are all too likely to break bud a lot sooner than we'd like, and consequently encounter late-spring-freeze damage to the developing buds (even though the plants are safe enough). In a bad year, spring freeze damage can mean no crop that year.
The vines grow well on a wall, and can also be grown into trees. (Beware: cats are very fond of these plants--reportedly more so even than of catnip--and can easily destroy them by scratching at them.) They are vigorous climbers, and require a sturdy support.
Plant the largest vines available, allowing one (nonfruiting) male for up to eight (fruiting) females. The vines can be supported on a T-trellis that is about six feet high and wide, with 3-5 wires (#12) strung between the arms of the T. In that scheme, space posts sixteen feet apart, with plants at half that distance, as shown at the right.
Although hardy kiwifruits are, as their name implies, cold hardy, that cold-hardiness comes only with age; young plants (especially first-year vines) commonly freeze back, delaying production. So plant the largest vines you can get hold of, and protect the developing trunks from winter sun and cold with "Tree-Shelters", corn stalks, burlap, pipe insulation, or tree-wrap material. Keep in mind that the trunks of hardy kiwifruits are rarely exposed to full sunlight in the wild, so don't be afraid to wrap them well.
Fruit is produced on second-year wood, or on fruit spurs on older wood; pruning is best carried out in the winter, while the plant is dormant.
Prune annually. Remove 70% of the wood--all the spent, misplaced, and tangled wood--leaving approximately 30% percent, composed of the previous year's new growth. When plants are young, be sure you have one trunk, two cordons, and last year's pencil-sized new lateral growth (fruit spurs - close nodules). Removing more than about 70% will throw the plant out of balance and it will become vegetative the following year: you need last year's fruit spurs present. [adapted from a post by David Jackson & Holly Laubach, Kiwi Korners.]
The fruit should be picked during what is called the "technical maturity phase", because after they get soft rapidly and their skin starts to break. One source reported that the technical maturity of mid-season kolomikta kiwi cultivars starts about 58 to 66 days after their full bloom, though another source referred to picking around 50 days after pollination. With those very rough guidelines, a little experimenting the first time a vine fruits should give sufficient insight.
Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful:
Hardy Kiwifruit - California Rare Fruit Growers
Hardy Kiwifruit: Emerald Gems (a PDF file)
Kiwifruit and Hardy Kiwi - OSU
Kiwi Korners Farm - a hardy-kiwi specialist grower
Success With Kiwis (a PDF file)
(And don't forget that we have listings of nurseries on our suppliers page.)
The genus Actinidia contains about 60 often quite various species. All Actinidia species are perennial, climbing, or scrambling plants; most are deciduous, though a few from warmer areas are evergreens. All species appear to be dioecious: that is, the flowers on male vines produce viable pollen but lack a properly developed ovary, ovules, or styles, while the flowers of female vines appear perfect, but the pollen they release is shrivelled and non-viable. That all means that one must have both male and females vines present to produce fruit.
The fruits of the various Actinidia species are all berries, in that they are fleshy, have many seed embedded in the flesh, and do not split open at maturity. Horticulturally, however, they display great diversity, often in the attributes that are important to growers. For example, the fruit can occur singly, in small bunches of three to five fruit, or sometimes in larger bunches or infructescences containing up to 30 or more fruit. They can vary in size, shape, hairiness, and external color. Some species change color as they ripen. The flesh can also vary in color, juiciness, texture, and composition. The fruits of some species are basically inedible or, at best, unpalatable, whereas the flavor of the fruit of others is considered superb.
The four species of use for edible fruit are A. deliciosa, the "standard" kiwifruit; A. chinensis (only recognized as a distinct species in the early 1980s), a type a bit smaller, and much more nearly hairless, than A. deliciosa and reportedly of much better flavor, and now very popular in China; A. arguta, which is the more common sort of what is now called the "hardy kiwi", and has a significantly better flavor than the "standard" kiwi; and A. kolomikta, another "hardy kiwi" that is even hardier than A. arguta.
The kiwi, unlike most common fruits, is a strikingly modern development. A mere century ago it was just a wild plant growing in China; by 1970, it had been developed into a major new fruit crop in New Zealand. Today, the kiwi is an important commercial crop grown in several regions of the world: it has also become an important element of international trade , the three biggest producer countries exporting almost all the kiwifruit they produce. Total world production now exceeds that of such well-established crops as raspberries and currants, and is likely to soon exceed the production of strawberries and apricots.
Almost all kiwifruit cultivars being grown in orchards outside China are descended from just three plants--two female and one male--themselves derived from a single seed introduced to New Zealand in 1904, a seed probably collected at Hubei or Sichuan in China.
Kiwifruit contain large quantities of the enzyme actinidin, which will tenderize meat, for those who still eat dead animals.
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