bee forage

Honey bee forage: hardy kiwi

The hardy kiwi or “northern kiwi” (Actinidia arguta) is a vine that produces thousands of small, smooth-skinned kiwis about the size of large grapes. The plants are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. I planted two of these about five years ago and they have gotten huge and very productive.

The small white flowers bloom early and attract all kinds of bees—bumble bees, honey bees, mason bees, and many others. These kiwis are dependent on insect pollinators so a good crop is the result of many industrious visitors. On a warm spring morning, I can hear the plants buzzing before I get close enough to see the bees.

Since the fruits are smooth-skinned, they can be eaten straight off the vine. I also use them for jam, cobblers, and pies—just about any fruit-based concoction. Like regular commercially-grown kiwis they can be picked before they are ripe and held in the refrigerator for a long time. So, at the end of the fall before the first freeze, I collect all the remainders and put them in the fridge where they last for many weeks.

I have been unable to discover how nutritious kiwi pollen is for honey bees, however I learned that the regular commercially-grown kiwifruit are not especially attractive to European honey bees and so the growers must place extra hives among the vines to achieve adequate pollination. This does not seem to be true with hardy kiwis however. In my experience, the honey bees love them.


Ripe kiwis on the vine. Photo by the author.

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  • I have a crab apple tree behind my house. It explodes with blossoms in the spring. That’s as good as it gets around here. I can’t wait to see the bees dig in.

    Then I’ll harvest the apples for making baked apple crisp. Hmm … apple crisp.

    “On a warm spring morning, I can hear the plants buzzing before I get close enough to see the bees.” That sounds wonderful.

  • Phillip, if you ever want some hardy kiwi vines I can take some cuttings and get them to root. That is how I got mine. Keep in mind I only planted mine last year as they were in pots for 3 years waiting to find a home. But the semi-hardwood cuttings take root pretty good. Also one male will handle up to 4 – 5 female plants.

    Really good to know that honey bees like the hardy kiwi. I have a lot of room to stick more vines in.

  • Very interested in getting kiwi honey, if it can be found. I understand that if at least 50% of the forage for the bees making the honey is from a particular plant type, it can be called (plant name) honey. Would you have any connections to help me find kiwi honey?

    • Don,

      Someone wrote to me and mentioned their kiwi honey about two weeks ago. It was from regular kiwis, too, not the little hardy ones. I will try to figure out who it was. Meantime, I will post this and maybe they will see it.

  • Hi Rusty –

    At some point an article in Wikipedia had the details wrong and I became a Wikipedia editor. Go figure.

    Anyway, the Wikipedia article about Kiwifruit has a section about pollination that seems to get it all wrong, confusing floral fidelity and indiscriminate floral visits. I’m citing your article in my rewrite, and if you’ve time I’ll send you my version for review, but wonder if you have any new kiwi insights since you wrote this little piece eight years ago.

    Bee well, Glen B.

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