Several years ago I planted two arguta kiwis—one male and one female (Actinidia arguta). Today these have turned into huge plants, looping over the garden fence, running along the chicken yard, and straying into the backyard where I have them propped up with a trellis. Right now they are in full bloom and bees of many types are plying the milk-white flowers for the sweet nectar.
Before this year I never noticed the aroma of the flowers, but this year there are thousands and thousands of flowers, and I can’t help but smell them. These kiwis are also known as “hardy” kiwis. They produce the little, smooth-skinned, grape-sized fruit that are sometimes called cocktail kiwis or dessert kiwis.
In the past I’ve collected these for jam, pies, and fruit crisp, as well as for eating plain. But this year—if all goes well—I’ll have to be more creative. When I say there are thousands out there I’m not exaggerating. I have no clue what I will do with them all.
The important thing, though, is that the honey bees love them. Most things I plant the honey bees pretty much ignore—probably because they are in small quantities—but with the kiwis in such abundance, the bees are happy to spend their days choosing among the many blossoms. Kiwis are one of those plants that are largely dependent on bee pollination, hence the bee-attractive flowers and alluring scent.
If you are a beekeeper/gardener I would recommend the hardy kiwi if you’ve got the space to support it. They can tolerate temperatures to about -25° F (-32° C). They flower during May and June, and can withstand a certain amount of shade. They prefer well-drained, lightly acid soil (pH 5.5-6.5), need lots of water, and are relatively free of garden pests—although the leaves are prized by deer.
The fruits ripen very late—October or November here in the northwest—but they can be picked early and allowed to ripen indoors, much like the larger kiwifruit. Remember that kiwi plants are dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers form on different plants. Although you need at least one of each, one male will provide enough pollen for several females.