Most people who come to the farm are astonished that we are growing kiwi. I always hear the same question: “I thought Kiwi was a tropical fruit?” Well the variety that most people are familiar with is the “Hayward”, a tropical kiwi originating from Southern China, the size and shape of an egg, with a fuzzy skin that must be peeled prior to eating.
Hardy kiwi fruit are much different but taste the same: they originate from the colder climates of Northeastern Asia, (they can tolerate winter temperatures as low as -25 F) and normally grow up trees They are much smaller, the size of a large grape, and have a smooth grape-like skin that requires no peeling. Consequently, they can be eaten right off the vine, and surprisingly, have twice the sugar content as their larger tropical cousin.
The Hardy kiwi vines are very slow growing and typically don’t flower and fruit for 5-7 years after planting. Therefore, a much greater amount of patience is required to cultivate than other types of fruit. In addition, they require up to 150 days of frost-free weather to fruit, being extremely susceptible to late spring frost damage after the vines have broken dormancy.
Hardy kiwi fruit are dioecious, meaning they have either male or female flowers, but not both. That means that both male and female vines are required to bear fruit. The ratio is usually one male vine to every six to eight female vines. The vines can grow up to eighty feet in length and are capable of producing 100 pounds of fruit per vine per year!
They produce small white flowers with brown centers in May, which have a fragrance very similar to lily-of-the-valley. They typically don’t ripen until October, and the fruit seldom ripens at the same time, meaning a single vine can bear ripe fruit for up to a month.
Hardy Kiwi grow best in full sun and well-drained soil, but like lots of water and are heavy feeders. They require extensive pruning, normally twice during the growing season, and once during dormancy, and an extremely sturdy trellis or pergola. Soil pH of 5.5-6 is optimal, and they should be planted in an area with Northern exposure to reduce the risk of early bud break and late spring frost damage.
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