Horrah for Hardy Kiwi! 2011 Report

Kiwi, Issai_9-28-2011_2037 Experimenting with hardy kiwi in the mountains of north central West Virginia has been an interesting experience. Also called “kiwi berries”, Actinidia arguta is a species of kiwifruit that grows a smaller, smooth skinned version of the big fuzzy ones we are familiar with in the grocery stores. As its name implies, it is much more winter hardy and that is why we decided to give them a try. It was in 2006 when, with the help of our good friend and expert welder Neil McHenry, we erected the sturdy trellises on a sunny south facing slope and planted the four kiwi vines under them. We had purchased a fruiting vine, a pollinating vine, and two self-pollinating ‘Issai’ cultivars. There was no way I could find out exactly which cultivar the fruiting vine was, but since the nursery did not advertise specific cultivars, I assumed it was the common ‘Ananasnaya’ – or ‘Anna’ for short.

Kiwi, Ananasnaya 5-13-08_IMGA0619 I had read that ‘Issai’ was slightly less hardy than the typical “hardy kiwi” and sure enough, those two vines failed to survive the winter. However the fruiting vine and its pollinator have never had any trouble with winter survival. In a few years the vigorous vine had spread out over the trellis quite nicely and now the two ‘Issai’ kiwi vines have been replaced with two other cultivars. We hope to report on them in the future.

2011 was a special year! Although hardy kiwi can easily survive our mountain winters, they are ready to break dormancy in the spring as soon as they sense warm weather. As a result, our “Anna” vine would always leaf out in early April, get hit by frost, and have to start over again. Even a light frost would blacken the leaves and shoot tips. In past years, whenever the vine bloomed, the flowers were always misshapen or partly black. But in 2011, the vines narrowly escaped all threatening frosts. Apparently the vines were elevated sufficiently on the hill to allow frosty air to drain away from them just enough that they were not affected by the light frosts that occurred occasionally throughout the rest of April and May! The bloom, which began around May 25 was thick and full and fragrant!

Kiwi, Issai_9-28-2011_2033 One more problem. Due to a setback the pollinator vine had almost no flowers on it this year. I could see no way for the fruiting vine to be pollinated well enough to produce a good crop. I did not expect any fruit at all. But as time progressed through the spring and early summer it became obvious that there was going to be a harvest! How was this possible? Could this vine have been self-pollinating? On August 22 I found the fruits full of little black seeds, just like fuzzy kiwi. They were still very hard and far too tart to be edible.

Kiwi, Issai_9-28-2011_2001

Finally came the day of September 12 when I made a quick check of the kiwi vines and noticed that one of the berries was wrinkled like an empty sack. “Must be rotten” I thought. I picked it and some green liquid oozed out. “I wonder what rotten kiwi tastes like.” I touched my tongue to it. Then I licked it. “Wow” I exclaimed, “that’s not kiwi! That’s lime candy!!!” I just about did cartwheels all the way back to the house. I could not wait for everyone else to taste them. When they did, they were amazed at the level of sweetness and flavor “like a mix of grape and kiwi” they said. The skins were a bit leathery with a reddish blush, matching the description of the ‘Anna’ cultivar perfectly.

With the help of Donald, Jonathan, and David, most of the fruit was harvested on September 28. At that time most of the fruits were still hard, but became sweet as they softened at room temperature. Squishier usually meant sweeter. Refrigeration seemed to slow the ripening process so that we were able enjoy them over a long period of time. October 10 was the date of the last harvest, when most of the fruits remaining on the vine had become soft.

Kiwi, Issai_9-28-2011_2011 Kiwi, Issai_9-28-2011_2027 Kiwi, Issai_9-28-2011_2019

Kiwifruit is an astounding source of nutrition (more links here and here) and we praise the LORD for making kiwifruit a possibility for our climate… “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” – Psalm 103:5


  1. Crystal October 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Sounds delicious! Kiwi is well liked by certain persons in my family.

    Could y’all make a jam or something out of the abundance?

  2. Mrs. Christi A. October 31, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Wow. They look wonderful. We love kiwi here. What all can you do with all of them? Do they freeze well?

    Blessings to your family from the “Ant” family down south.

  3. Emily H. October 31, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    That’s really neat, Michael! Looks like a yummy harvest! How many pounds was it? Were you able to dry some of the kiwi berries?

    We’re so grateful to your brother James, who showed us how to eat kiwi with the skin on…so good!

  4. Michael October 31, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    Yes, wonderfully delicious! The most natural thing to do with them is to put them in the mouth. 🙂 We ate almost all of them fresh, taking a couple hand-fulls out of the refrigerator from time to time and savoring them one at a time (or ten at a time) as they ripened. We also added them to fruit salads.

    One thing we did when a lot ripened at one time was make smoothies. I’m not sure of the exact recipe, but I think it included bananas and yogurt.

    Maybe we should have at least experimented with some freezing and drying. If we get to pick from several vines at one time in the future, we’ll need to know what works because it will be too many to be eating them all fresh! I expect jam would turn out great. This vine produced 20 pounds. Older plants can produce over 200 lb I’ve heard.

    One thing to know is that fresh kiwi has proteases like those in fresh pineapple, mango, figs, etc. that go around chopping up other proteins. This enables them to make meat more tender, but also prevents gelatin from gelling, and makes yogurt watery. I read that kiwi will take on an unpleasant bitter taste when mixed with dairy products, but it did not seem to hurt our smoothies, perhaps because we mixed and served them quickly. These properties are eliminated if the kiwifruit is heated.

    Fresh kiwi can be like fresh pineapple, making your mouth raw when you’ve eaten too much, especially if you have been drinking water at the same time, and if the kiwi is less ripe.

  5. James November 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Wow! Those look soooo good. I guess I missed harvest time and all the joys of experiencing the taste of the a new fruit. Maybe next year!

  6. Andrea November 10, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Up until I saw kiwi berries @ a grocery store about a month ago, I’d never heard them before. Now, within the space of 2 weeks, I’ve seen them referenced on 2 different websites (this one included). Coincidence, perhaps? 😉 Glad I tried them & found them to be as tasty as their regular-sized versions.

  7. Eric B. January 20, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I wonder if a south-facing slope is contributing to your spring frost problems. Maybe a slope that didn’t point at the spring sun as much wouldn’t warm up as much/early and would help keep the vines dormant a little longer so they wouldn’t flower as early and get hit by the frosts.

  8. Bev Kirk October 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    We have kiwi berries at our farm in Sumas, WA and have enjoyed them fresh and frozen. I am wondering if you have discovered other ways to use them. Learning from others is always beneficial. Thanks, Bev

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via email.