Spotlight on Hardy Kiwi & How to Prune

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Cluster of hardy kiwis, photo taken 10/16/13

Hardy kiwi is a fruit that I’m just starting to become more acquainted with over the past few years— thanks to my generous/nutty friends and colleagues who kindly share their space and knowledge. Not to go on a tangent, but really its folks like Mike Levine, Ken Asmus, Marc Boone, and so many others who have made this path of fruit exploration so much more accessible for me as a young orchardist, and for that I’m very thankful. Anyways…Actinidia! Actinidia is the genus for kiwi, the fuzzy kiwi that we all know so well is A. deliciosa, but unknown to most are A. arguta and A. kolomkita, two kiwi species that are reportedly hardy to -25F. Hardy kiwi fruit however is approximately grape size and entirely fuzzless, unlike the supermarket kiwis most people know. So you can just pop ’em in your mouth whole, and their flavor is truly exquisite; many people, including myself, claim they have much better aromatics, sweetness, and overall flavor than the fuzzy kiwi. Out of all the uncommon fruits, like pawpaw, black currant, and jujube, to name a few— hardy kiwi seems like one that really has the potential to catch on and to be sought after by the likes of many, not just foody fruitnuts with crazy palates.  One company, Kiwi Korners, has been successfully growing hardy kiwi as a commercial crop for some time now.  None of my kiwi vines are producing yet, as they can take 5-10 years to come into bearing. DON’T WAIT, plant your kiwi vines today. Another reason I’m so adamant about hardy kiwi is how late they ripen in the season when not much else is available; from a resiliency and season extension standpoint this is prime. One minor challenge with kiwi vines in cold climates is their tender leaf buds want to unfurl very early and they’ll often get zapped by late spring frosts. This doesn’t kill the plant but it certainly sets it back for that season.

A well managed vine with high productivity.
A well managed vine with high productivity.

All In The Pruning…

This unproductive kiwi vine grew up trees and as a tangled mass on the surrounding shrubbery.
This untrained/unproductive kiwi vine grew up trees and as a tangled mass on surrounding shrubbery.

Kiwis grow on vines, similar to grape vines. From my research and explorations thus far, it seems that the key to growing a productive hardy kiwi vine is all about proper training and pruning. Generally speaking, vining plants inherently want to just grow, grow, grow, and focus most of their energy into vegetative growth rather than flower and fruit development; so as caretakers of the vines there are certain ways we can coax the vines into instead thinking fruit, fruit, fruit. Its called spur pruning. Kiwi vines need annual pruning to develop small fruiting branches known as spurs. In my travels I’ve seen many large healthy looking kiwi vines, but often times their productivity is very low. Now I realize that these plants weren’t managed under a careful annual pruning regime. I am no expert in this field, or vineyard as it were, but I do know people that are so I’ll use this time to plug their expertise.

Kiwi vine trained to a single trunk with two cordons growing outward in either direction.
Kiwi vine trained to a single trunk with two cordons growing outward in either direction.
Hardy kiwi grows on the front of the home-studio at the Whole Systems Design Research Farm in Vermont.
Hardy kiwi grows on the front of the home-studio at the Whole Systems Design Research Farm in Vermont.
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For largescale production a sturdy T-trellis is the most common system, photo courtesy of www.kiwiberry.com

Mike Levine of Nature and Nurture, LLC has been growing hardy kiwi for several years in SE Michigan and he is one of the few people I know around here with such a successful system. Hats off to Mike for what he’s doing…

Another person who is perhaps one of the most experienced kiwi geeks in North America is Michael McConkey of Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia. Here Michael talks about summer spur pruning of kiwi vines…

Lee Reich is one of the upmost authorities on uncommon fruits and has a lot to say about hardy kiwi. Check out his book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden to find more on hardy kiwi.

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Halved kiwis prior to dehydration, photo courtesy Whole Systems Design

If you’re going to plant hardy kiwi(which everyone in the north should ASAP) it seems very worthwhile to take the time to train the vine to develop a single trunk system, and then manage the cordons each years to maximize their fruiting potential. I am so excited for the day that my vines come into production. There is oodles of information available on the web about hardy kiwi and the purpose of this post was to primarily talk about the training and pruning techniques necessary for growing productive vines. Visit the nursery links page to find sources for hardy kiwi plants. I’ll be busy dreaming of jars and jars full of kiwi raisins stored away for winter snacking…until next time!!

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Fall IS Here, But Apples Are Not…

Today marks the autumnal equinox and now its official— fall is here! In retrospect the summer seemed to have went by in fast motion as it started abruptly with an early spring and now its concluding just as swiftly. These periods of drastic change are incredibly powerful and sometimes the shifting energy can be difficult to deal with but we try our best. I have been traveling for the past few weeks, first on a trip to VT to stay at Whole Systems Design research farm and then touring throughout northwest MI doing some consulting, seminars, and catching up with friends and colleagues. Summer seems to have ended during the weeks on the road and now that I’m back its satisfying to spend time walking through the gardens observing, harvesting, and contemplating. There is still a lot to be had for the 2012 gardening season but cold nights dipping into the low 40’s pose major threats to those vine-ripening tomatoes and unripe figs(which sadly won’t ripen). Its the time of year to move inward, wether that means collecting your ideas and dreams, or storing away the season’s bounty. In the next couple weeks I will be making jams & jellies, fermenting cabbage, carrots, and other root vegetables, as well as putting up other storable food items for the cold months ahead. The squirrels are busy burying nuts, luckily for them(and us!) its a bumper crop year for oaks. The best part is that sometimes they forget these burial sites and VOILA a cluster of oak trees appear a few seasons later.  Ever since I’ve been growing fruit and gardening in general, this season stands out as the most unusual in terms of weather conditions, ripening dates, and so on. In the old apple orchard on my families land not an apple can be found. Not to say that all of the apples in SE MI were a bust, but these particular trees set very few if any. On a recent visit to a friend’s orchard outside of Ann Arbor, I discovered that his plum, apricot, peach, pear, and apple trees didn’t set a single fruit. On the contrary, the other day while driving through the hilly landscape of the grand Traverse bay in northern MI, the roadside orchard trees were laden with ripe apples. Perhaps this protected fruit growing region has somewhat of a buffer. Either way, its been an odd and eye-opening year. I keep thinking back to a principle we share in our Roots To Fruits talks…it goes: Value Diversity; we then expand and talk about the different facets of diversity(functional,biological,genetic,etc.) and the many values of having a diverse landscape, but now I’m referring to crop diversity in a garden-orchard. Its one of those years you wish you would’ve over-planted. Another interesting idea comes to mind that I’d like to share with you. While having a conversation with my buddy Ben Falk, he mentioned that there is a lot of talk about how tree-based agriculture is highly resilient in the face of an unpredictable climate and other instabilities but really when we depend on fruit, mast, or nut-producing trees we’re actually relying on the most delicate and vulnerable manifestation of nature— a flower. He makes a good point, and it can be clearly seen this year with crop loss due to drought, late frosts, and other climatic conditions. This reinforces the necessity for planting late-flowering trees like American persimmon and chestnut. I digress.

Several exciting ideas are brewing for new blog posts and articles so keep an eye out over the next couple weeks and expect much more as we move into the winter months. I will have some amazing guests coming on the podcast as well. For now I’ve decided to share some recent photos with quick captions that will hopefully give you an idea of what I’ve been up to as of late. May you have a happy and healthy seasonal transition!

Ben showing the few quinces on his tree this year…
Korean nut pine doing well at Whole Systems Design research farm…
Comfrey growing beneath a plum tree at Whole Systems Design research farm in north central VT…
Cornus mas bush loaded with pawpaw trees in background. At Marc Boone’s orchard in Ann Arbor, MI.
Cornelian cherries were one of the few crops that fared through the tough season…one worth planting!
Marc showing the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy limb union on a pawpaw tree…although this branch is growing at a good crotch angle, it is the unhealthy one with a higher risk of splitting…
Well-joined limb on pawpaw tree with good crotch angle…
One of the few ‘Aromatnaya’ quinces. This one had plum curculio damage and Marc claims his grandma told him this is ‘how quinces are’ and why you cook ’em in pies!
Marc setting up his ‘pawpaw harvesting sleds’ for easy access through the orchard alleys…
Good pawpaw cluster, although the orchard overall produced nearly 10% of what it did last season. 9/9/12
‘Leikora’ is a seaberry cultivar that produces beautiful large clusters with good pickability… 9/9/12 Ann Arbor, MI
Mike Levine’s front yard food forest near downtown Ann Arbor, MI. Check out his website at http://www.natureandnurture.org
Extremely vigorous American persimmon that got topworked earlier this spring…mature roots make all the difference for graft vigor when it comes to American persimmons. This tree will be fruiting in no time…
Another graft detail…appears to be a rind graft.
Mike picking his favorite pawpaw— Overleese…
Mike has one of the most successful hardy kiwi productions systems I’ve seen yet…
Nice flush of oyster mushrooms on one of our very successful mushroom hunts in NW Michigan…
High density apple planting at Tandem Ciders
Tasting room at Tandem…I love this place!
Came home to find the golden raspberry primocane crop in full swing…’Fall Gold’ and ‘Kiwi Gold’ 9/22/12
Lovely basket of produce from the garden… 9/22/12