Hardy Kiwi Fruit: The New Fruit on the Block
Our customers who are home gardeners frequently ask us to carry the most disease resistant and flavorful small fruit cultivars for their back-yard gardens. This year we have selected the hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) ‘Issai’ a perennial shrubby vine native to Japan and East Asia.
The kiwi fruit is the best-known member of a small number of deciduous clambering and twining shrubs closely related to camellias. ‘Issai’ produces an edible, grape-sized fruit similar to kiwi fruit in taste and appearance, but are green and hairless. Often sweeter than the fuzzy kiwi fruit, hardy kiwi fruit can be eaten whole and need not be peeled. Thin-walled, its exterior is smooth and easy to eat. Kiwis can be eaten raw or made into juices, jellies and jams and are much liked for decorating other dishes, usually sweet but occasionally savory. They contain an enzyme that breaks down gelatin, so should not be used to make dessert jellies.
Kiwi fruit were not known in the West till the end of the nineteenth century, when they were introduced from Japan, more for their use as decorative climbers than for their fruits. Though now commonly known as kiwi fruit, they are not native to New Zealand, but were introduced there in the early years of the last century and became more popular as a fruit when greenhouse growers needed to look for alternate crops to their oversubscribed tomato market.
When planted, Hardy kiwi vines should be pruned back to four or five buds. From these a main stem should be selected and staked to grow to the top of an arbor or trellis, usually seven-feet in height. Hardy kiwi needs a sunny location with some wind protection. They have a life expectancy of more than fifty-years and take two to five years to produce fruit.