My ducks told me that the hardy kiwifruits were ripe. No, they’re not trained to give a specialized “hardy kiwifruit ripe” quack. Instead, they’ve taken to hanging out beneath the vines to scoop up dropped fruits. No training needed for this.

Hardy kiwifruits trained for easy harvest

Hardy kiwifruits trained for easy harvest

    Those dropped fruits are one reason that these vines — Actinidia kolomikta — are not as popular for fruit as another species, Actinidia arguta. Ripening, and dropping, is fast in the heat of July. Arguta kiwis ripen in late summer and early fall, and possibly cling to the vines more reliably then because cooler weather slows ripening.
    Not that either of the fruits are well known. Both are cousins to the fuzzy kiwis (A. deliciosa), ubiquitous in supermarkets. Both hardy kiwis differ from the fuzzies in being cold-hardy (only to 0°F for the fuzzy as compared to minus 30°F for A. arguta and to minus 40°F for A. kolomikta), grape-sized, with smooth, edible skins, and better flavor than the fuzzies.
    In addition to ripening earlier and dropping more readily, kolomikta kiwis differ from arguta kiwis in coming into bearing much sooner, often in their second year, and growing much less rampantly. Argutas are hard vines to tame. Ornamental vines of both species gracing historic gardens for decades before their fruits were noticed and appreciated is testimonial to their beauty. Kolomikta’s leaves are brushed silvery white with random pink blushes.

Variegated leaves of A. kolomikta

Variegated leaves of A. kolomikta

   Back to harvest. Harvest from the ground is unfeasible because the green fruits are too hard to find among the blades of green grass. And unhealthy because of all the processed kiwifruits — poop — the ducks eject at their far end as they gobble up the berries. A ground cloth to catch the berries would become similarly soiled unless I went to the trouble of spreading it, shaking the vines, then gathering up the cloth after gathering up the fruits.

Hardy kiwifruit harvest into inverted umbrella

Hardy kiwifruit harvest into inverted umbrella

    Instead, I’ve taken to walking beneath the vines with a large umbrella, upturned, and shaking portions of the vines right above the umbrella. Ripe fruit drop into the waiting “funnel.” Sure, many fruits are lost, but the vine bears more than enough to share with the ducks, who can enjoy the missed fruits.


    Like apples, bananas, and avocados, kiwifruits of all stripes are climacteric fruits. Instead of steady ripening, climacteric fruits, just before they are ready to eat, go through a burst of ripening with sugar levels and carbon dioxide production all of a sudden rapidly increasing. Fruit quality begins to decline right after this burst.
    Ethylene, a simple gas that is also a naturally occurring plant hormone, also spikes during this burst. And ethylene further accelerates ripening, which increases ethylene production even more, which increases ripening even more, and . . .  Disease, wounds, and decay also stimulate ethylene production, which is why “one rotten apple spoils the barrel.”
    If picked when sufficiently mature, but not dead ripe, kiwifruits store well for a few weeks. They’ll ripen during storage, slower under refrigeration, faster at room temperature. From experience, I know that “sufficiently mature” for kiwis is when the first fruits start ripening. So, in addition to my umbrella harvesting, I’m harvesting a bunch of the unripe fruits and refrigerating them to extend their season. Don’t worry; there’ll still be plenty for the ducks.


    Every time I walk back to the kiwi vines, I pass a perennial flower bed. Or, at least, what was supposed to be a flower bed and now is bordering on half flowers and half weeds. The major two weeds, I admit, are my own doing.
    The first of these weeds is dayflower, which arrived here with some bee balm plants from a friend. It’s actually a pretty plant with small, blue flowers, and it’s easy and satisfying to pull out. To a point.

Groundnut tubers, in years' past

Groundnut tubers, in years’ past

    The other weed, groundnut, was a deliberate planting, by me, about 20 years ago. It seemed interesting, bearing edible, golf-ball-sized tubers that string along underground like beads. Groundnut reputedly is the food that got the pilgrim’s through their first winter. Occasionally the plant, a vine, flowers, bearing chains of pale chocolate-colored blossoms. Do I remember them smelling like chocolate also? Perhaps. With all the other vegetation in the bed, the plants haven’t flowered in a long time.

Groundnut flowers

Groundnut flowers

 The problem is that those chains of tubers spread to make more chains of tubers which, in turn, do likewise, ad infinitum. The vines now creep over almost every plant in that bed but rarely get enough space to themselves to make tubers anymore. No matter. They didn’t taste that good anyway.
    I wasn’t as foolish as might seem planting groundnut in that flower bed. Twenty years ago that flower bed wasn’t a flower bed, but just a place for interesting plants in my then small garden.

Hardy Kiwifruits, Better Than the Fuzzies

Last week I wrote that, what with the cold weather and low-hanging sun showing its face but briefly each day, there’s little for a gardener to do now. That proved not strictly true. Soon after I wrote those words, I received a holiday card from David Jackson and Holly Laubach of Kiwi Berry Organics, growers of what I can attest to are, as it said on the card, the “World’s Sweetest Kiwi.” Theirs are hardy kiwifruits, the small, cold-hardy cousins of the fuzzy kiwis you usually see in the market; with their smooth skins, you pop them into your mouth like grapes.
Most importantly, David and Holly’s card sported a photo, a snowy scene of their kiwi plants pruned to perfection, the fruiting canes all neatly arching over with their ends tied down to their supporting wires. To

David and Holly’s kiwis

me, the scene was both beautiful and inspirational. Acting on inspiration, I headed outdoors, pruners in hand, to get to work on my own kiwi vines.

In past years, I delayed all pruning until after the coldest part of winter. Accepted wisdom is that later pruning reduces chances for winter injury. Last year, David told me he started pruning his vines in autumn after leaves dropped. I followed suit warily with one or two vines and they came through winter unscathed. Perhaps it’s our warmer winters of late, perhaps damage that occurs depends on the plant species, or perhaps the accepted wisdom is wrong. At any rate, I’m now pruning with abandon.
Staring at the tangle of stems on my kiwi plants could have quelled my enthusiasm had I not been presented with this sight in years past. Kiwis are rampant vines, each year sending out masses  of vigorous (as long as 15 feet!) that twisting stems that are hard, at first, to make sense out of. Pruning is a must to

My kiwis, before pruning

keep the vines manageable and easy to harvest, bathed in sunlight for high quality fruit, and to stimulate an annual flush of new wood. Fruits are borne only near the bases of new shoots growing off one-year-old canes.

My plants, like David’s, are trained on a T-trellis about 6 feet high with 5 parallel wires running from T to T. Each trunk rises to the height of the T and then has been trained to spread into two permanent arms, one growing in either direction along the middle wire. The one-year-old canes, off which fruit is borne, grow perpendicularly to the permanent arms, their ends tied down to the two outermost wires.
My pruning begins with three easy steps. I cut away any shoots poking up from ground level or out along the trunks below the level of the wires. I shorten all fruiting canes a foot or so beyond the outside wires. And I cut the permanent arms back to where they began growth so that adjacent vines don’t grow into each other.
Then things get more complicated. Too many fruiting canes sprout each year from the permanent arms

My kiwis, last spring, after pruning
(except final shortening)

and from along canes that were left for last year’s fruits. The goal is to remove enough so that those that remain are spaced a foot apart on either side of the permanent arms, favoring those that are pencil-thick and originating either from the permanent arm or near the base of a last or previous year’s cane.

Finally, pruning becomes easy again. All remaining fruiting canes get shortened to 2 feet long and then tied them down to the wires, hopefully as neatly as on Dave’s and Holly’s vines. I will delay these last steps until later in spring.
I realize that not many people grow hardy kiwi vines. You all should: The vines are ornamental (they were brought here and for decades grown strictly as ornamental vines), and the fruits are

delectable and free of pest problems. Even if you don’t grow hardy kiwi vines, though, the above pruning technique could be useful to you. It can be applied, with slight modification, to grapes, which a lot of people do grow.

The only differences with pruning grapes is that the fruiting arms can be spaced somewhat closer along the permanent arm, 6 to 12 inches apart, and each fruiting arm needs to be shortened to only a couple of buds long, at which point they take on a new name, “fruiting spurs” rather than “fruiting arms.”
Whether for grapes or for hardy kiwi vines, training to a T trellis and annual pruning presents me, in late summer on into fall, with “ceilings” of delicious berries splayed out and ready for easy harvest.