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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: How to harvest and ripen homegrown kiwi fruit

To ripen kiwis, bring some in from cold storage and place them in a plastic bag with a ripe apple.

Dear Helen: I know that the fuzzy type of kiwi fruit does not ripen on the vines here. They need to be stored and brought indoors in batches to finish ripening. My question: When to harvest? A few leaves began falling from my vines around two weeks ago. What storage conditions are needed, and is there any special way to ripen them?

L.F.

Around mid-autumn I monitor overnight low temperatures and, like you, watch for the first leaves falling from my kiwi vines. That happened this year just after mid-November, when overnight lows hovered at or near 0 C for a few nights.

Soon after that, I chose a dry day to pick the kiwis that had lost leaf cover and others that were highest up on the vines and most vulnerable to frost. I use my hand pruners to cut the stems at around their mid-point.

Temperatures warmed after that brief flirtation with frost. While the weather remains mild, I’ll pick in stages, on dry days, and store the fruit in shallow boxes from my local liquor store. Storage at refrigerator temperatures is ideal. I use a storeroom off the carport.

I’ve tried various ripening methods over the years. The one that works consistently for me is to bring the kiwis that I want to ripen in from cold storage and place them in a plastic bag with a ripe apple. The ethylene given off by the apple stimulates ripening in the kiwis. I leave the plastic bag partly open for ventilation, to avoid an ethylene buildup, which can cause off-flavours in the kiwis.

I test for ripeness by gently pressing the fruit with a thumb. When the flesh gives way fairly easily, that usually indicates a sufficient ripeness for easy peeling and slicing. I make a cut across the broad, blossom end and peel down from the cut to the stem.

People’s tastes differ on a preferred state of ripeness. I like kiwis best when the flesh is still firm and fully opaque. Once the flesh has softened into a darkened translucence, I consider it no longer pleasant to consume.

When a batch of the fruit is ripened nicely, I indulge in a daily pre-breakfast treat of the beautiful slices.

Dear Helen: In a recent column you mentioned that you made two outdoor seedings of snow peas, one in early spring and another in summer. Can you give me more specific timings for the two sowings?

E.W.

For the first one, I aim for February but often don’t get it done until early March. Weather and soil conditions early in the year will determine the timing, but when it is possible, early is best, for a good harvest before hot, dry weather arrives to make the pods less palatable.

This was the first year I managed a summer sowing, in the third week of July. I planted the seeds of several varieties along the base of wire fencing that had supported shelling peas earlier.

By late September, the snow pea vines were full of succulent pods. The cool temperatures, along with rains, produced a wonderful crop of pods through mid-November. I’ll certainly be repeating the summer sowing next year. That second seeding produced a much longer, heavier, sweeter and juicier harvest than any early sowing ever did in my garden. Something new learned.

In the home garden, for both novice and veteran gardeners, each year brings new, useful discoveries.

Dear Helen: Amid the leaf fall in my new garden, the roses are retaining their foliage. Is this usual?

A.R.

Yes, it is, but because roses are prone to several diseases in our climate, it is recommended to remove any remaining leaves at some point in December. This is to prevent old leaves from infecting new leaves, whose buds often begin swelling early in the year. Follow the de-leafing with a thorough cleanup of the ground under and around the roses.

VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society is hosting a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The featured speaker will be Egan Davis, who is currently Manager of Parks for the City of White Rock. He has previously taught and practised horticulture at UBC and VanDusen Botanical Gardens. He will talk about the principles and methods of plant propagation. Drop-in fee for non-members is $5. To register, visit vichortsociety.org.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com