Out of Left Field: Hope for Kiwi Berries

Spring is finally here, and I’m eager to monitor the progress of my kiwi berry plants! What's a kiwi berry? I’m glad you asked.

Kiwi berry, or “hardy” kiwi, is a fast-growing vine that produces clusters of smooth-skinned kiwis the size of grapes. These aren't the fuzzy, tropical fruits you’re likely familiar with. Kiwi berries are native to Siberia and therefore are obviously cold-tolerant or “hardy” plants well-suited to harsh Midwestern climates.

These kiwi berry fun facts are mostly theoretical for me, however. In the past five years, I’ve attempted to grow nine separate kiwi berry plants, and only one plant has survived.

The straggly, lone survivor wakes up every spring, sprouts a few anemic leaves, and grows a few measly inches. Last year it finally produced a single tiny but glorious kiwi berry. It was indeed just as advertised — sweet and citrusy with translucent green flesh and tiny black seeds.

I swear I’m not making this up! I realize it sounds like an alternate universe in which miniature tropical fruits flourish in an environment where the air hurts your face. In this mythical realm, pizza sprouts in bushy clusters under the dappled shade of a cheeseburger tree. (Sorry, I’m writing hungry again.)

Unfortunately, the mystifying kiwi berry is not my only horticultural failure. I’ve botched blueberries. I’ve struggled with strawberries. My efforts have been fruitless with fennel…and carrots, potatoes, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes…. (Now it appears I’m just naming foods.) I’ve even killed a zucchini plant. Experienced gardeners know zucchini is so prolific and easy to grow that gardeners have been known to leave it in unlocked cars just to discard the excess harvest.

I am, by any reasonable measure, a lousy gardener. With my track record of failure, why do I keep trying? Because hope springs eternal. And spring is the season of eternal hope. No matter how desolate and bleak winter was, spring always represents a fresh start. It’s a clean slate when anything seems possible. The fresh air stirs up baseless motivation that sat dormant just weeks ago. I mean, how else would you explain the spring cleaning phenomenon?

Even seemingly ridiculous pipe dreams deserve a shot. Wayne Gretzky noted, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I don’t believe he was referring to kiwi berries, but the inspiration still applies. So far, I’ve only missed 88.9% of the shots I’ve taken! My 11.1% pseudo-success rate proves that this elusive goal is attainable.

I have compiled a plethora of useful data on how NOT to grow kiwi berries. Past failures are irrelevant. I can feel the momentum shift. Soon I’ll have so many kiwis that I’ll have to toss the surplus in unlocked cars and hand out bunches to trick-or-treaters on Halloween!

I may be stubborn or arrogant or spellbound by the wisdom of Canadian hockey superstars. But like every prior year, spring has me drunk on unfounded optimism. The slate is clean, and a bountiful kiwi berry harvest remains…possible.




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