Last weekend we started building a kiwi trellis. Most people’s reaction to this is “Inside your greenhouse?” or “Inside your actual house with that fig you’re going to kill eventually?” or just “WHAATT?” But the kiwi endeavor, unlike the fig tree or the maypop vine, might actually be successful.
When most people think of kiwis, they think of the larger, fuzzy variety that we buy in the grocery store, grown in New Zealand. But there are TONS of kiwi varieties! They are actually native to southern China, and come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and levels of fuzziness. Check out a photo here. The ‘artic’ kiwis have been bred for cold hardiness, and the Arctic Beauty kiwi, or Actinidia kolomikta, is rated hardy to Zone 3. The more common Actinidia arguta is hardy to zone 4 or 5, depending on the variety. Kiwis are dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants, so be sure to get your lady-plants a compatible mate.
What do these hardy kiwis taste like? No idea. They are rumored to be sweeter than a store-variety kiwi, with smooth green skin that you don’t have to peel. The vines start to bear in about 5 years, depending on the species, but last for 50. They are close to the size of a grape and are best eaten fresh, although they will store for a short time.
In fall of 2015 the local grocery store was getting rid of their plants. The inventory had shrunk from a giant parking lot greenhouse to a 3′ x 3′ rack next to the entrance. There was a lonely female arguta kiwi with no price tag. I took the pot inside and the disinterested clerk told me it would be $1. $1! I pretended that was reasonable, but mentally I was crossing ‘kiwi’ off my weird garden plants list and doing a jig.
In winter of 2015/16 the kiwi lived in a 5-gallon plastic pot, buried in the greenhouse bed with a free dead salmonberry, a live asparagus, and a silver buffaloberry. They were mulched lightly with straw. We took the roof off the greenhouse when the snow really started coming down, so they got a good layer of that as well. We ordered her a boyfriend (who came with his own girlfriend, but kiwis are successful polygamists). In spring it came back to life…
…showing off a few bright green shoots. It grew slowly through the spring until the temperatures started to rise above 50 F. Then it took off! Check out the over-wintered female below on the left, with one extra-long tendril that will become the ‘trunk’. The arguta male is in the middle and the other female is on the right. We pulled straw mulch from one of our mushroom trenches, which was absolutely covered with mycelium, and then covered that with a layer of soil. In theory this will ‘case’ the mycelium and encourage the mushrooms to fruit, so we could have kiwis AND mushrooms! Worst case scenario, it helps to add nutrients to the soil and increase nutrient uptake.
Now back to this trellis.
Toby planted two 8″ wide posts at either end of our gooseberry bed, with the front at 6′ and the back at 8′. Kiwis in their native habitat, I have read, often trellis themselves on tree trunks, and the mass gives them additional protection in the winter. I’m hoping it will make it easy to wrap the trunks with burlap for additional protection. A little garden note on the trellis placement…to the north is a row of fruit trees that will reach 10-15′ tall. The sun angle should be high enough in the summer that they get full sun. The trellis should be far enough back that the gooseberries still get a lot of sun. However, it would have been ideal if the honeyberries and gooseberries were still small enough to swap! I think the honeyberries would be happier with a little bit of shade. When you read this and plan your own fantastic kiwi trellis, keep honeyberries in mind! They also prefer the same type of soil (slightly acidic).
Those are not actually herbs, they are gooseberries. There’s a lot going on in this photo, including a badly damaged metal flamingo and three sticks that could someday be black raspberries, but focus in on the pile of dirt between the front posts. That is the future arguta kiwi bed. In a future photo, we (Toby) dug out a trench between the posts and replaced our clay soil with manure and our standard starter mix, which is the soil amendments we have on hand at the time plus granular mycorrhizae.
Up to this point the REALLY hardy kiwis have been ignored. They live on the other side of the trellis (west side) and there is a male and a female that came from Territorial Seed Co. They arrived and looked BEAUTIFUL, so if you are considering ordering next spring, I would highly recommend their boyfriend/girlfriend pair of kolomiktas. The Arctic Beauty kiwi male has a variegated pink and white leaf when it is older, if you are into attractive foliage on your fruit plants. They got the same planting treatment, except they are currently monogamous. I’ll try to update with their photo when I take one, as well as the finished trellis.