Harvesting the kumara

by | May 12, 2022 | Seasons Newsletter | 10 comments

I found this blog that I wrote nine years ago. It awakens memories of my years at Te Henga, the cycle of the kumara and the excitement of harvesting with the community.

I thought you might enjoy it too.

 

The kumara garden lies hidden between the dunes and the hill. Kumara thrive in light, sandy soil, so the location is perfect.

For Māori, this area was a favoured food basket, where gardens could be cultivated close to the sea. With kumara and seafood, birds to hunt from the nearby forests and eels to catch in the river, it was a place of great bounty.

 

 

How can we tell if the time is right?

 

The kumara tops are still green, but the season is advancing, the tide is low all day, and it’s time for harvest. Will there be a good crop, after the dry summer we’ve had? Nobody knows as the answer is buried under the ground.

My neighbours on the coast hold a communal kumara harvest each year, inviting their friends to join in the fun. Children are especially welcomed, and so this year we bring four-year-old Mira, hoping her legs are sturdy enough to carry her through the stream, over the sandhills, down the beach, and along the path to the hidden ex-army hut.

 

 

We made it!

 

In the garden

In the kumara garden, the first task is to tear the foliage off the crop and throw it on a big pile.

 

 

Care is needed

Then the mounded up rows are exposed. The second task is to dig in the earth and carefully uncover the kumara. They are easily damaged, so no tools are allowed. A bruised kumara won’t keep well.

 

 

I found one!

 

and so did this little boy.

 

This one seems to be wriggling free all by itself.  We were told to put any aside that might qualify for a prize: the biggest, the smallest, the strangest, one that looks most like a mouse, and so on.

 

 

What’s this?

We all gathered around, amazed to see such a colourful and large centipede. The gloved hand removed it carefully and put it in the bushes.

 

The harvest is in, washed and laid out on the grass to dry. Now it’s time for hot soup, barbecued spare ribs and lamb chops, salads, cakes, biscuits . . . some provided, and some brought by the visitors.

And time to sit and chat while the children run around on a treasure hunt, looking for tiny chocolate treats hidden in the trees.

 

 

Whee! It was a long walk, but with a swing like this hanging from a tall tree, who cares. Life is full of adventure, and at harvest time everyone is in good spirits.

 

 

For books about the seasons, check out:

Dancing with the Seasons: a personal guide, with stories from my Māori teacher about harvesting kumara in Taranaki with his whānau.

Celebrating the Southern Seasons: a classic resource book, with many entries about kumara.

Sun, Moon, and Stars: for celebrating the seasons with your family or whānau.

10 Comments

  1. Peta Joyce

    What a lovely account of a communal harvest! It reminded me of my childhood growing up in rural Somerset, UK. We often foraged in the hedgerows and fields (the big tasty horse mushrooms were a favourite). My mother was keen on making wine and we regularly foraged for elderflowers in the Spring and elderberries in the Autumn (we ended up with purple fingers!). It was a family ritual which attuned us to the seasons and to nature’s bounty. There was also an apple orchard on our property, carefully planted by some former owner, with a range of apples from early to late, eaters to cookers and keepers. Harvesting the apples was a big job, and finding ways to use the harvest was major. We also had a large kitchen garden, and harvesting and preserving the proceeds was another seasonal activity. Both grandmothers would come to stay and help with that process, especially with bottling fruit and salting beans. How grateful I am for such a rich memory of producing (and eating) our own food.

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      What rich and juicy memories, which bring up some of my own, gathering hazelnuts and blackberries from the hedgerows in Dorset and making elderberry jelly over the golden summer when my son was born. How fortunate you were to have this grounding in the rituals of foraging and harvesting. And the intergenerational connections as well. No wonder you have such a strong earth connection. Thank you so much for sharing this, Peta.

      Reply
      • Peta

        Oh yes, I forgot the blackberries and the hazel nuts! The lane I walked along on the way home from school was lined with hazel trees, so walking home in the Autumn was a feast!

        Reply
        • Juliet Batten

          How wonderful!

          Reply
  2. Grace

    How beautiful this sharing from the past is, Juliet.
    It is heartwarming to see old and young working, sharing and celebrating the harvest.
    We had our own first tiny kumara harvest at home this year.
    We were ecstatic!
    For me it’s not only about the wonderful food that kumara is…. it’s the deep connection to Papatuanuku and the old ones who first grew this crop here.
    Dreaming of next year already….Arohanui

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Grace. It’s great to hear of your own first kumara harvest and your connection to Papatuanuku.

      Reply
  3. Lesley

    Hi Juliet,
    What a delight this was to read. Thanks for sharing it again.
    This is the first time I have ever grown kumara and had no idea what to do to harvest it so it was perfect timing.

    Love all you do and your sharing of your wisdom. It really resonates with me and my journey this year of being in more right relationship with myself and Mother Earth.
    Much appreciated

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Lesley. I hope you have a good harvest and enjoy eating your home grown kumara!

      Reply
  4. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – this was a lovely read – knowing it is a New Zealand harvesting-time gathering ritual. Lovely to share it with you … and as the others have mentioned reminding me of my early days.

    Having lived in South Africa for a while I hadn’t realised there was a Kumara plant – it doesn’t produce vegetable – such delicious looking ‘fruit’s … such fun to see and read about with your family …

    All the best to you for the coming season – cheers Hilary

    Reply
    • Juliet Batten

      Nice to hear from you Hilary, and I’m glad the story brought up early memories for you too.

      Reply

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