As a kid, I used to spend hours playing with my dollhouse. I was obsessed with the miniaturized toiletries, dishes, rugs, lamps, and everything that made the house feel real. I remember a tiny pale blue hand towel hanging from the medicine cabinet, the size of a postage stamp. It was all uncanny in a magical way.
I feel the same way about hardy kiwis. They’re kiwis, but mini!
Hardy kiwi fruit is about the size of a large grape and grows on a vine. It doesn’t have the fuzzy skin that we’re used to on regular kiwis, which is a bonus since you don’t have to peel one to eat it.
I have a hard time just popping them in my mouth because it’s when you slice them in half that you see the tiny kiwi interior. So cute!
Another benefit to the hardy kiwi is that it truly is hardy and can thrive in northern climates that dip down to -40 C. The only thing you have to watch out for is early shoots getting damaged by frost. The harmful effects of an early spring thaw and subsequent freeze can be offset by covering the plant. Otherwise you’ll likely lose a year of production.
There are a number of distinct cultivars that produce fruit that are genuinely different from one another in colour, size, shape, and flavor. The Chung Bai is green inside and out, and looks almost heart shaped whereas the Bingo has red skin surrounding yellow flesh and tastes a bit like pineapple.
Apart from a couple of varieties, hardy kiwis are self-infertile and require a male and a female to produce fruit. While males won’t fruit, some varieties have beautiful foliage that turns white and pink.
Something that may hinder commercial growing is actually a benefit to individuals––the fruit ripens irregularly, so the harvest season is stretched out to sometimes a month and a half (from September into the middle of October). That said, like their larger, hairier cousins, the hardy kiwi will continue to ripen once picked. If you grab a bunch and find some aren’t ready to be eaten, just pop them on your countertop and they’ll be delicious in a matter of days. I have a special bowl I like to keep mine in on the windowsill in my kitchen.
The hardy kiwi is native to Asia and Eastern Russia (some people call it the “Siberian gooseberry”). Actinidia arguta somewhat less hardy than Actinidia kolomikta, although breeding programs in zones 3-5 in Canada and the US have yielded hardier versions of the former.
While it’s not a fruit that you tend to see even in Canadian farmer’s markets, the hardy kiwi has a history spanning more than 100 years in our country. A. kolomikta was deemed cold hardy in the Ottawa area two years after it was planted in 1897. The Morden Arboretum in Manitoba had success down to -40 C with A. kolomikta by the 1930s.
Some regions are moving the hardy kiwi to the invasive species list (mainly in the Northeast US) because they can overtake other plants, like many vines out there. With pruning I don’t have any issues in my garden. They don’t tend to sucker so it’s just a case of keeping things under control above ground. You can really hack away at them in the winter when they’re dormant.
Like so many amazing and unfortunately lesser-known cold hardy fruits, I don’t know why there isn’t a kiwi vine in every backyard. They’re delicious and so fun to have, and a mature plant will yield between 50 and 100 lbs of fruit!
In Russia, kiwi jam is commonplace so presumably they’re good for making preserves although I haven’t tried it yet. I love using them as garnishes on cakes and other baked goods since they’re so pretty and dainty. They’re great in salads to add a bit of a tang and sweetness.