Chinese Gooseberries: Not Just For New Zealand Anymore

You've probably tried the occasional kiwifruit, more properly known as the Chinese gooseberry. But did you know you could grow them at home?

It may seem odd to call something the size of a tomato a berry, but that's exactly what Chinese Gooseberries are (technically, that's what tomatoes are, too). Better known these days as kiwis or kiwifruit, due to a successful marketing initiative in the 1950s, these giant furry berries are both tasty and nutritious.

More to the point, you can grow your own right here in America. They may seem exotic, but there's no reason they have to be grown halfway across the world.

Kiwi 101

Despite the proper name, the kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) isn't strictly a type of gooseberry -- which, for the uninitiated, is a prickly European fruit of similar size. There's a visual similarity, but the exterior of the kiwi is hairy rather than spiny, and the flavor is different -- sort of a strawberry-banana-melon medley.

Depending on the cultivar, the kiwi offers a green to golden flesh with numerous small, black edible seeds. It grows on a woody vine that can be either male or female (but not both), and hails from South China. The fruit was made popular in the West after commercial production began in New Zealand in the 1940s.

Growing hairy berries at home

Kiwifruit can be grown in the home garden in any warm temperate climate. They aren't frost tolerant, though with care they can be grown even in the northeast; in fact, that's where U.S. commercial production is centered. They don't respond well to excess heat, either, so they aren't recommended for southern climes.

Kiwi vines are quite strong, capable of handling yields of up to a ton of berries per acre. They require support, and can grow as high as 30 feet if given the chance. The fruit grow in loose clumps on sturdy stems, and may be up to three inches long. Basically, they resemble large, brown, hairy eggs.

Kiwi vines also require extensive pruning, since canes older than three years stop producing. They require a well-drained soil and moderate sun, and must be watered very often.

It ain't always easy...

Fair warning: these berries are for those who love challenges. You'll need at least one male per 3-8 female plants, and they're notoriously difficult to pollinate. Bees don't care for them, so in order to insure the female plants are fertilized, you may need to collect the male pollen and brush or blow it on the female flowers.

Is it all worth it? That's up to you. If you can get past the rough appearance and you enjoy the flavor, then you may well relish the challenge of growing Chinese gooseberries.

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