In my recent forays into all things edible I heard a rumour about someone growing kiwi on a commercial scale in the Abbotsford area.
To be honest, I didn’t believe it, so I just googled ‘kiwi’ and ‘Abbotsford’ and up popped the name George Petkov.
I contacted George by e-mail and set up a meeting, so I could see this established kiwi orchard with my own two eyes. Getting there was a pleasant drive through pastoral Matsqui and as I passed a sprawling vineyard of ripening grapes growing on a gentle hillside, I knew I was on the right track. Just around the corner, on a sunny southeast facing slope I was confronted by the improbable – seven and a half acres of kiwi vines growing on a raised support pergola of wooden posts and wires, all fitted with a drip irrigation system.
I was initially awestruck by the sight of kiwis as far as the eye could see but George, who was doing the summer pruning with a co-worker, made me feel right at home. When I meet people who do incredible things (like establishing B.C.’s largest commercial kiwi orchard) I always like to ask why, because I think motive tells you a lot about a person and George answered well.
He said he wanted to grow the fruits that he enjoyed as a child on his parents and grandparents 12-acre farm in Macedonia (former Yugoslavia). I can relate to that, as my own grandmother’s Okanagan orchard and gardens continue to inspire me decades after they have ceased to exist.
But Macedonia is not the Okanagan, and translating those childhood memories from southern Europe (just north of Greece) to Canada can prove to be quite an undertaking.
With a master’s degree in viticulture and fruit production, as well as years working in the winery industry, George certainly had the knowledge and experience to grow, but finding that perfect site can be a daunting task.
Earlier kiwi orchards (encouraged by Agriculture Canada) planted in the 1980s on Vancouver Island came to ruin when late spring frosts killed many of the vines – so commercial aspirations were quickly abandoned, with just a few smaller operations surviving. George still believed it could be achieved given the right location, which he discovered on the eight acres he grows on in rural Abbotsford. Here he found rich soil with good drainage, gently sloping southeastern fields that allow the cold air and frosts to sweep downhill out of harm’s way, and fresh well water for irrigation.
He started in 2008, planting cloned vines that he imported from Italy (the second largest producer of kiwi behind China) using ‘Hayward’ as his primary female and ‘Tomuri’ as the male pollinator – planted at an 8 to 1 ratio.
He had to wait three to four years for the vines to mature before his first harvest, at which time he had to change gears and start marketing his grown-in-B.C. kiwis. Last year’s yield was 70 metric tonnes, and George is expecting somewhere between 90-100 tonnes this season. His kiwis are harvested from late October to early November, a process that takes five days for about 15 pickers. The fruit is then put into cold storage to ripen where it can be kept for up to six months. You can find George at the Vancouver Winter Farmer’s Market (Nat Bailey Stadium) where he sells his fresh fruit and kiwi jam – so you too can enjoy a little taste of Macedonia grown right here in the Fraser Valley.
To learn more about Petkov Kiwi Production visit petkovkiwi.com.
Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (firstname.lastname@example.org).