Fuzzy greenish brown skin and refreshing green fruit are what most of us know as kiwifruit, or simply kiwi. What you probably didn’t know is that there are actually many different types of kiwifruit, and that some of them can withstand temperatures as low as -40°F!
The word kiwi can refer to the smallest cousin of emus and ostriches (Apterygidae Apteryx), the people of New Zealand, or a delicious fruit that you might want to add to your garden or foodscape. Kiwifruit are native to China. Commercial cultivation didn’t start until the early 1900’s.
Your first decision, when growing kiwifruit, is to decide which species is best suited to your microclimate and taste. Collectively, kiwifruit are the berries of approximately 60 different woody vines in the Actinidia genus. The cultivars you see most often in the grocery are the ‘Blake’, ‘Hayward’, and ‘Saanichton’ kiwifruits. Some kiwi cultivars don’t taste good at all, but you probably won’t find them for sale at your local garden center. Nearly all of the fuzzy varieties of kiwifruit (A. deliciosa) are enjoyable to eat. Other varieties can also be quite tasty:
In addition to the familiar egg-shaped kiwifruit, you can also plant fast-growing kiwi berries, a smaller, smooth-skinned version with a similar flavor. Also known as baby kiwi, cocktail kiwi, grape kiwi, and dessert kiwi, three cultivars are available:
Kiwifruit vines need a certain number of chill hours to produce fruit, depending on the variety. Be sure to calculate your local chill hours and select a cultivar that will produce fruit for you.
How kiwi grows
Pollination of kiwifruit is tricky. Apparently, bees are not impressed by kiwi flowers (I think they’re lovely). Commercial kiwifruit growers often have to inundate their kiwi orchards with honey bee hives, in a practice called saturation pollination, to increase the likelihood of pollination. As a home grower, you can always hand pollinate. Also, very few kiwifruit cultivars are self-pollinating. Most kiwifruit vines are either male or female (dioecious). If you want fruit from a cultivar that is not self-pollinating, you will need at least two vines, but one male plant for every 3 to 8 female plants is ideal. Even self-pollinating vines will produce more fruit if there is a male plant nearby.
Like many bare root fruit trees, kiwifruit plants are generally sold as fruit producers grafted to sturdy rootstock that have been produced asexually, with cuttings. This gives you the best of both cultivars and an assurance of fruit that will be similar to the parent plant.
How to grow kiwi
Being vines, kiwifruit grow best on a sturdy trellis or pergola. This gets the vines and fruit off the ground, provides excellent sun exposure, and ensures good air circulation. Kiwifruit vines tends to be weak, so the trellising also protects the vines from breakage. Kiwifruit grows best where it is protected from heavy winds. Vines need good drainage, but the soil must be kept moist at all times. This is a good time to put that drip irrigation system to work! Kiwis should be planted 15 to 20 feet apart, with one exception: plant one male and one female in the same hole.
Caring for kiwifruit vines
Kiwifruit is borne on all the canes, but production is at its peak in the first year or two. Vines should be pruned off in their third year. One way to make this job easy it to create a three-color system of ribbons or ties. Every year, simply look for a specific color and remove those vines. When you’re done pruning, use those ribbons on the current year’s growth. Kiwi vines should be fed a high-nitrogen fertilizer, once in spring and again in early summer, to give them the nutrients they need to produce all those leaves and delicious fruit. You may need to provide frost protection in winter, depending on your location and the vine cultivar.
Kiwifruit pests and diseases
Very few insects will bother your kiwifruit vines. Armored scale, boxelder bugs, and leafrollers are all you have to watch for. Nematodes in the soil may also cause problems. Kiwifruit diseases are nearly all of the fungal variety, although a devastating bacterial disease (Pseudomonas syringae actinidiae (PSA)) has appeared in New Zealand, Italy, and Chile. Armillaria root rot, bleeding canker, botrytis fruit rot, crown gall, phytophthora root and crown rot, sooty mold, and bacterial blight are the most common diseases of kiwifruit, here in California.
Kiwi fruit vines take several years to produce fruit. But it’s worth the wait!
Traveling in Germany a few years ago, I was a little confused by grids of 20-foot poles pointing skyward. They looked alien, like a giant, bristling growth. That was before I learned about hops.
Hops are flowers from the Humulus lupulus plant and they love to grow up!
Hops in beer
I do not know how to make beer, so my knowledge in this area is limited. [Brewers, feel free to add better information in the Comments!] I do know that hops have been used in beer-making since the 9th century. Before that, other flowers and bitter herbs were used, including dandelion, marigold, horehound, and burdock root, in a mash called gruit. One of the main reason brewers switched to using hops was because there was a tax on gruit, but no tax on hops. Of course, that situation was only temporary. Hops are said to have an antibacterial effect, as well as providing a bitterness that balances malt’s sweetness. It is the unfertilized female flowers that are used in beer-making. The acids in beer have sedative properties, with or without alcohol.
The flavor and aroma of hops flowers is largely the result of where they are grown. While there are many different hops cultivars, the plants can be [overly] simplified into three different types: American, British, and Continental European. American hops are robust, heavy producers with long sidearms. They tolerate a wider range of soil pH and soil structures. American hops are generally planted 4 feet apart in rows that are 14 feet apart. Common American varieties include Willamette, Chinook, Brewers Gold, and Zeus. British and Continental European varieties are genetically different from the American varieties. They have smaller, finer root systems and are less tolerant of soil variations. These varieties have shorter sidearms and can be grown 3 feet apart in 12-foot rows. This allows for more plant density on the same acreage. British varieties prefer more alkaline soil (pH 6.5 or higher) and can tolerate heavier soils. Common British varieties include Viking, Fuggie, and Challenger. Continental European varieties, such as Magnum, Glacier, and Pearle, prefer more acidic soil (pH 5.5 to 6.2). One subset of the European hops, referred to as noble hops, are less bitter, with a stronger aroma than others. These hops are used to make Pilsners and other mild beers.
Hops plant structure
Hops flowers are green, soft-petalled seed cones, also known as strobiles. Hops plants are dioecious, which means the plants are either male or female. To prevent male pollen from fertilizing the female flowers, plants are propagated vegetatively. When hops plants are grown from seed, the males are culled as soon as they are seen, similar to other flower bud crops. The hops vine is called a bine. As the bine wraps around a support, side branches, called sidearms, emerge. At the end of the growing season, everything aboveground dies back. In spring, the roots put out new bines and the whole process begins again.
How hops grow
Hops plants are fast growing, perennial climbers. That’s what all those poles and strings were - hopfields or hop yards. Hops grow from rhizomes that are placed in ‘hills’ or mounds that are 6 to 12 inches high. This helps with drainage. The rhizomes are placed 4 inches below the soil surface. Commercially produced hops are generally started in pots, in March. Then they grow in greenhouses until July. Plants are placed 7 to 8 feet apart in a grid formation that matches a series of poles that support strings used by the hops plants to climb toward the sun. In these commercial fields, air flow is critical to disease and pest management, so the bottom 3 feet of foliage is removed. If you are growing just a few plants for yourself, you don’t need to do that.
Hops prefer very specific conditions, requiring moist, temperate regions with plenty of boron in the soil. Most of the world’s hops production occurs along the 48th parallel north, which includes Germany, China, and Poland. Hops grow well in the same conditions preferred by potatoes, making Idaho, eastern Washington, and parts of California and Oregon good hops growing country. One acre can produce 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of mature hops flowers, on average.
You do not need to install 20-foot telephone-style poles in your yard to grow hops. One neighbor of mine simply attached strings from a fence to the roof of his house. Each spring, the bines emerge and lovely green flowers appear in late summer, shading the sunny side of his house! You can also grow hops using a tee-pee of bamboo poles, just to see what it’s like.
Pests and diseases of hops
Powdery mildew and downy mildews can be particularly troublesome. Mites and weeds become more problematic as interior sunlight and air flow increase.
Hops are toxic to dogs, so do not grow hops in areas frequented by Fido. You can, however, eat the young bines the same way you would eat asparagus.
Sweet, luscious pineapple - try growing it at home!
If you are lucky enough to live in California, you might be able to grow a pineapple plant for yourself. While you may or may not get fruit, it’s an interesting experience and, hey, it just might work! (Plus, three-fourths of the world’s pineapple crop comes from Costa Rica, where they use a lot of pesticides. Just sayin’)
Pineapples got their name back in the 1600s because European explorers thought they resembled pine cones, which were called 'pine apples' at that time. The Latin names, Ananas comosus, mean ‘excellent fruit’ and ‘tufted’, respectively. Pineapples are cousins to bromeliads, and the fruit are technically berries.
Pineapples and pollination
When a pineapple seed is pollinated, the fruit isn’t considered marketable. In Hawaii, where the majority of pineapples used to be grown, hummingbirds could not be imported, for fear that they would pollinate all the pineapples. There are some wild pineapple plants that only flower at night and these are pollinated by bats.
How to start your own pineapple plant
You can try growing your own pineapple from the crown of a mature fruit. Simply follow these steps:
Pineapple pests and diseases
Pineapples are highly susceptible to a number of fungal diseases, including heart rot and root rot. They may also become infected by fruitlet core rot, butt rot, and yellow spot virus. Thrips, mites, ants, scale, and garden centipedes can becomes pests, and mealybugs can infect pineapple plants with wilt disease.
Be sure that your pineapple is ripe before you harvest, because it will not ripen after it is picked.
Did you know that pineapple leaves are used to make clothing and wall paper? Me, neither.
The next time you buy a pineapple in the grocery store, try starting your own pineapple plant!
What summer picnic would be complete without the tang of rhubarb pie?
While purists may enjoy their rhubarb raw, dipped lightly in sugar, many of us prefer rhubarb pie with luscious strawberries. However you eat rhubarb, it is a sturdy perennial that can provide shape, color, and food in a garden or landscape for decades. These plants can get pretty big, making rhubarb excellent anchor plants in a foodscape.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is generally a cool season plant. It needs temperatures below 40ºF in the winter and prefers temperatures below 75ºF in the summer. That being said, I have had excellent success with rhubarb in San Jose (CA) where our peak summer heat can reach above 100°F.
You may be surprised to learn that rhubarb is related to buckwheat. If you look at the seeds, you can see the similarity. Rhubarb is believed to have started in Asia, some 5,000 years ago. Marco Polo is cited as the one who brought it to Europe and Benjamin Franklin carried rhubarb to North America, way back in the 1700s!
How to grow rhubarb
When selecting a site for rhubarb, keep the plant’s mature size in mind. Rhubarb plants can reach 3’ in height and 4’ in diameter. Rhubarb generally prefers full sunlight, but mine are under a small apricot tree (which probably protects the rhubarb from our summer heat). In temperate regions, the rhubarb harvest begins in April and continues until September.
Individual plants will be productive for 8-20 years, but, since they grow from rhizomes, the plants will replace themselves over time. [Side note: my mother purchased a 200-year old farm house in Upstate New York many years ago and decided to plant rhubarb along the southern side of an outbuilding. Apparently, the original owners felt the same way because, come spring, not only did the new plants come up, but so did the offspring of the original plants! Needless to say, Mom had plenty of rhubarb!]
Rhubarb can be grown in large containers, as long as there is enough room for a season’s growth. Rhubarb will do much better in the ground. Follow these steps to get your rhubarb patch started:
*While rhubarb leaves are mildly toxic, they are not the poison we have been led to believe. You would have to eat several pounds of rhubarb leaves to cause problems. In fact, spinach has more oxalic acid than rhubarb. That being said, I do not feed them to my chickens.
One easy way to keep weeds down in a rhubarb patch is to simply take a few of the large rhubarb leaves and lay them on the ground. The leaves block sunlight needed by the weeds and then they break down, adding organic matter to the soil.
Get your rhubarb crowns in today for a lifetime of red-stalked deliciousness!
California is famous for its wine grapes, but did you know it is easy to grow your own table grapes at home?
Not only will you get sweet, luscious grapes, but the vines can be trained over a patio or pergola, providing a nice shady spot in summer!
How to grow grapes
Pruning grape vines
The variety of grapes being grown determines which of two pruning methods to use. Grapes are either spur-pruned or cane-pruned. This is because different grape varieties produce fruit on different bud spurs.
Cane pruning leaves only the trunk and two to four shoots from the previous year’s growth to be trained along support wires. New buds will emerge from these canes to produce leaves and fruit. ‘Thompson Seedless’ and ‘Concord’ are cane-pruned grapes. One cane-pruning method is called the Four Arm Kniffen method and the University of Maine offers an excellent how-to video here.
Spur pruning leaves the bilateral cordons, or horizontal branches, permanently in place. In spring, new growth will emerge from this old wood. ‘Flame Seedless’, ‘Tokay’, and ‘Ribier’ are spur-pruned grapes. In either case, you will want to trim each cane to have no more than 14 spurs. Otherwise, all the plant’s energy will go into vegetative growth, rather than producing grapes.
While most of a grapevine’s roots are in the top 3’ of soil, some of those roots can go down as much as 15’ deep! Grapes perform best when they are watered deeply and allowed to dry out between waterings. The amount of water needed depends on the type of soil, the depth of the roots, and the weather. On average, a deep watering every 2-3 weeks during summer is adequate. During cooler or wet weather, little or no water is needed. Once your vines have bloomed, it is important to water regularly. As fruit develops, erratic watering can lead to water-stress and cracked fruit.
Feeding grape vines
If grapes are being grown in rich soil, nothing needs to be added. Too many nutrients can reduce or eliminate fruit production. Remember, in the plant world, it’s all about reproduction. Grapes are the reproductive part of the vine. If the plant doesn’t feel the need to reproduce, it won’t.
Assuming your soil isn’t perfectly rich, nitrogen and potassium can be added before berry set. (‘Berry set’ is when the grapes are 1/4” in diameter.) Zinc should only be added before the vines bloom. The only way to know if these additives are needed is to have your soil tested by a reputable lab.
To reduce the chance of pest problems, harvest grapes as soon as they taste ripe. Unripe grapes will not ripen off the vine. Grape clusters should be cut, not pulled, from the vine, and then cooled after being harvested. Do not rinse grapes off before storing them. Do that just before eating.
Pests & diseases of grapes
Spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, cutworms, thrips, click beetles, leafhoppers, branch and twig borers, and ants can infest grape vines. Diseases such as Eutypa Dieback and Pierce’s Disease can infect grape vines, and powdery mildew is a common problem. Birds and rodents can also wreck havoc on your harvest. Monitor grape vines regularly for these pests and diseases to ensure timely control. Contact your local County Extension office for information specific to your region.
While grape vines take some time to become productive, an established grape vine can produce fruit for 50-100 years! Only one or two vines are needed to provide a family with an abundance of grapes.
Get yours started today!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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