Mediterranean fruit growing well in Abbotsford

A kiwi farmer in Abbotsford finds early success in other warm climate fruit.

George Petkov shows off a small sample of the kiwis he harvested this year in Abbotsford.

George Petkov shows off a small sample of the kiwis he harvested this year in Abbotsford.

When George Petkov left Macedonia for B.C. a decade ago, he brought his culture of lush Mediterranean fruits with him. The farmer has been growing kiwi in Abbotsford since 2008. Early this month, he harvested 45,000 kilograms of kiwifruit – that’s about 650,000 individual kiwi. Although the young plants produced double the amount they did last year, the long-range fruit vines require another few years before reaching maturity and full production.

While Petkov waits for the kiwi trees to mature, he has been experimenting with 20 other types of Mediterranean fruit.

Petkov’s eight-acre field in West Abbotsford is dominated by overhanging trellises of kiwi plants. On the edges is a delightful assortment of fruits typical of warmer climates: the pomegranates, persimmons, gooseberries, and chokeberries are the most exotic. There are also figs, plums, prunes, apricots, currants, peaches, nectarines, three varieties of cherries, and raspberries and thornless blackberries.

“It is enough to see from a few plants, if it will work or not,” explained Petkov.

Petkov grew up around a 12-acre family fruit farm in Macedonia, where all of the above were regular crops. He moved to B.C. a decade ago and managed grape vineyards in the Fraser Valley before launching Petkov Kiwi Production.

Kiwis are a finicky plant. Only a very specific location will suit them, and growing them is labour-intensive. The benefit is a lack of natural predators and diseases; they are easy to grow organic.

Pomegranates and persimmons, on the other hand, require much less work than the sensitive kiwi, with similar resistance to diseases and pests. They are a new crop in B.C. Few farmers are experimenting with them, according to the ministry of agriculture.

Petkov’s test trees are healthy and have not suffered frost damage, he said. He is looking to buy farmland in Abbotsford and expand some of his test fruits to full production.

He hopes the British Columbian palate embraces the new fruits, such as the chokeberries – a nutritious sweet and sour berry, usually red or black in colour, that is richer in antioxidants than blueberries.

“They are still small bushes,” said Petkov of his chokeberries, also know as aronia. “There is no question that they will make [fruit]. Only thing is, who will start first? The market? But they are very very healthy.”

Kiwi are less exotic in the province, with several farmers on Vancouver Island growing them. Plants will only die if temperatures drop below -18°C, which they seldom do on the West Coast. But because of their sensitive natures, kiwis remain difficult to grow successfully, which limits how many farmers adopt them.

Petkov has been having little trouble making the most of his eight acres. His kiwis are currently filling about 250 crates stacked to the rafters of a cold storage facility in an Abbotsford barn. The fruits will ripen slowly over the coming months as Petkov sorts them for sale.

Many will line the shelves of a major grocery chain in B.C. Others will appear at Vancouver farmers’ markets. Still others will surprise children at schools as part of the government’s healthy snack program, officially called the B.C. School Fruit & Vegetable Nutritional Program.

Over the coming years, Petkov hopes that B.C.-grown pomegranate, persimmon, and other still exotic fruits join his B.C.-grown kiwi on grocery fruit shelves.