Kiwifruit (Chinese Gooseberry)

(the Actinidia group)

Arctic Kiwi fruit
Arctic Kiwi—green fruit

Species and cultivars tested

Northern Kiwi

  • Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta) – ‘Ananasnaya’ (‘Anna’)
  • Arctic Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) – ‘September Sun’
  • Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama) – ‘Vera’s Pride’

Description and site preference

Type and size – twinning woody vines
Hardiness zone – 3-9 (depending on species)
Exposure – full sun, protected from fluctuating winter temperatures
Soil – deep, fertile, pH 5.0-6.5
Drainage – well-drained

Economic factors

Years to harvest – 5-9, slow maturing
Maintenance – intensive for commercial production
Life of planting – 30+ years
Machine harvest potential – low
Suitable markets – fresh

Notable features

Nutritional highlights – vitamin C and minerals
Adaptability – limited to very specific conditions
Pest issues – crown rot, Japanese beetles
Invasive potential – not a threat
Environmental benefits – not a significant contributor

Integration characteristics

Shared management – very low
Shared equipment – minimal
Shared processing – minimal
Co-marketing – intermediate, could be marketed with other perishable fresh fruit

Integration potential – very low

Possibly a good niche crop for local retail sales, but poor candidate for an integrated cropping system due to demanding site conditions, specialized management needs and lack of compensating nutritional and environmental benefits

History and background

Carandale has observed three members of the family Actindiaceae, none of which have adapted to the site. Most species are winter hardy, but they all have demanding site requirements. Since all species are similar, they will be discussed as a group with individual characteristics pointed out below.

Actinidia is native to southwestern China where it grows within, or along the margins, of humid mountain forests. It is adapted to partial shade and requires a deep, well-drained but moist soil. Kiwi seems quite unforgiving if these requirements cannot be met.

All Actinidia species are twinning woody vines, clambering up trees or sprawling over the ground in native habitats. This unruly growth habit poses a management challenge in commercial settings where sturdy trellises must support the vines that, unlike grapes, do not have tendrils to cling to the trellis.

Even cold-hardy species have short dormancy requirements and frost-tender foliage, which predisposes them to early spring freeze damage. Sites that receive high winter and early spring sun should be avoided (i.e. unprotected south and west facing slopes).

Other characteristics in common

  • Plants are dioecious, so both male and female plants must be planted in a ratio of roughly 1 to 6.
  • Plants are slow to mature and fruit is usually not borne until the plants are 5 to 9 years old.
  • Pollination can be a problem, even when both male and female plants are planted. Pollen borne by male plants may be injured by chilling, even without frost.
  • Kiwi can fall into a biennial, or alternate year, fruiting cycle.
  • Kiwi flowers are not attractive to bees since they lack nectar. A small percentage of flowers are wind pollinated. Hand pollination may be required to assure consistent fruiting.

Species specific information and observations at Carandale Farm

Hardy kiwi
Hardy Kiwi with frozen foliage

Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta) – ‘Ananasnaya’ (‘Anna’)

Considered winter-hardy to -25 degrees F, this plant requires about 150 frost-free days to ripen fruit. It has been the most persistent, but it dies back and regrows every year, so Carandale never got a mature vine. Cambrian tissue becomes brown and peels at ground level. Phytopthora (crown rot) may be the culprit.

Arctic Beauty Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) – ‘September Sun’

Dormant Arctic Kiwi
Dormant Arctic Kiwi

Winter hardiest of all the Actinidia, it is considered hardy to -40 degrees F. It is said to require less than 130 frost-free days to ripen. The plants did not die back like the hardy kiwi, but they showed lack of vigor and general decline. The foliage had an unhealthy yellow appearance. Carandale harvested a few fruit, but the vines began to die out one at a time. As of 2012, there is only one vine struggling to survive at Carandale.

Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama) – ‘Vera’s Pride’

This plant is native to the Russian Far East and has cold hardiness to -30 degree F. The pod-shaped orange fruit was said to be sweet and tasty. It suffered from the same symptoms as arctic beauty, but worse. Not only did it have pale, unhealthy looking foliage in the first year of planting, but it also died back to the root system in the spring of 2004. Only about half of the plants re-grew. Remaining plants were dead by the spring of 2005.

All Actinidia plants were purchased from Northwoods Nursery (see One Green World) in 2003.

References

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, by Lee Reich
The Berry Growers Companion, by Barbara L. Bowling

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