Home gardeners and produce farmers across central and south Alabama have a new and refreshing fruit possibility from kiwi varieties patented by Auburn University.
The new varieties include the “traditional” kiwifruit-the fuzzy, egg-shaped fruit with bright-green, seed-studded flesh and a distinctive sweet-tart taste. A couple of yellow-fleshed varieties characterized by smooth skin and a sweet flavor are called “goldens.”
“The first gold kiwi I had, as soon as I tasted it, I knew it was something that would be a hit,” says Wayne Bassett, owner of Beck’s Turf and The Wildlife Group in Macon County.
Bassett so strongly believed in the fruit’s potential that, working through Auburn’s Office of Technology Transfer, he licensed the patented varieties and now has exclusive rights to sell the kiwifruit vines through a newly established entity, Gold Kiwi Group LLC.
The kiwifruit Bassett’s company offers include AU Golden Dragon and AU Golden Sunshine, the gold-fleshed cultivars, and the green-fleshed AU Fitzgerald. Also available are the pollinators for these three female plants: AU Golden Tiger for Golden Sunshine, AU Arthur for Fitzgerald and, for AU Golden Dragon, an existing kiwifruit variety called Hortkiwi Meteor. Bassett said one male would pollinate up to four females. Prices for the plants start at $20.
Kiwifruit are native to China and have vines that can reach up to 25 feet. They are grown on trellises to support the weight of the branches and start bearing fruit in three or four years.
Spearheaded by retired horticulture professor Dr. William “Billy” Dozier, Auburn’s kiwifruit research project sought to determine whether the subtropical fruit could be grown in Alabama not merely in home landscapes but as a commercial crop for fruit and vegetable producers.
Making the two golden fruits even sweeter is the nutritional analysis conducted by Floyd Woods, an Auburn University associate professor specializing in post-harvest physiology.
“It is known that kiwifruit in general are nutritional powerhouses-extremely high in beta carotene, polyphenols and vitamins C and E-but we compared AU Golden Dragon, AU Golden Sunshine and an industry-standard golden variety against two green-fleshed varieties and found the antioxidants of the yellow-fleshed kiwifruit provide significantly higher cellular protection from free radicals than the green-fleshed,” Woods said.
The Chilton Research and Extension Center in Clanton has been home for the kiwifruit project for nearly 20 years. Center Director Jim Pitts was a key player in the project. Broader field trials indicate the Auburn-patented kiwifruit varieties can be successfully grown from Birmingham southward to Fairhope and from East Texas to South Carolina.
“Basically, anywhere peaches grow, you can grow kiwi,” Pitts said.