Kumara dig with creature

by | Apr 22, 2013 | Uncategorized | 23 comments

 The kumara garden lies hidden between the dunes and the hill. Kumaras like a light, sandy soil, and so the location is perfect. For Maori, this area was a favoured food basket, where gardens could be cultivated close to the sea. With kumara and sea food, birds to hunt from the nearby forests and eels to catch in the river, it was a place of great bounty.

 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 friends hold a communal kumara harvest each year, inviting all their friends to join in the fun. Children are especially welcomed, and so this year we bring 4 year old Mira, hoping her legs are sturdy enough to carry her through the stream, over the sand hills, down the beach, and along the path to the hidden bach.

We made it!

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

 Then the mounded up rows are exposed. The second task is to dig (hands only) in the earth and carefully uncover the kumara.

 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 like a mouse, etc. . .

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.


  1. Max

    Iharvest festival was always a fave time of year when i was a kid, and picking the last of most everything still gets me excited. I’ve never seen a kumera plant before-i’ve been told they dont grow in the south island so i never tried to grow them, but i love to eat them! The thing i like most about them is that they are always each a unique shape-the photo of them all laid out puts me in mind of a richard kileen mural x

    • Sue

      Yes they do grow in the south island maybe not commerically but in your home garden you can!

      • Juliet Batten

        Thanks Sue, that’s good to know

  2. juliet

    * Max, how lucky you are to have such memories. We didn’t grow them in Taranaki where I grew up, and the south island is too cold for them. They certainly grow in interesting shapes.
    Thanks for visiting.

  3. Anne Ruffell

    How wonderful to have such a great harvest! I smiled with delight reading about their uncovering and recognising where and who you were with, and I haven’t seen the leaves before either. You learn something new every day. I bet they tasted delicious being so fresh.

  4. ~Sia McKye~

    I love fresh sweet potatoes, as they’re called here. When fresh potatoes and sweet potatoes were harvested we would put them in the fire pit to back while the meat roasted. Yum, I love lamb chops.

    Looks like you had a grand time!

  5. Ruth P

    What a wonderful harvest! Kumara is one of the few things I miss not being able to grow down here in the South. The purple sea you created makes me think of all the winter warmth and nourishment those vegetables will provide for people = beautiful!

  6. Ruth P

    What a wonderful harvest! Kumara is one of the few things I miss not being able to grow down here in the South. The purple sea you created makes me think of all the winter warmth and nourishment those vegetables will provide for people = beautiful!

  7. Ruth P

    What a wonderful harvest! Kumara is one of the few things I miss not being able to grow down here in the South. The purple sea you created makes me think of all the winter warmth and nourishment those vegetables will provide for people = beautiful!

  8. MandaBurms

    Oh the children will remember this treasure hunt for years. – Still a good crop even with the dry summer you had.
    Our kumera isn’t ready yet.

    Love Leanne

  9. juliet

    * Anne, I thought you would enjoy this one! I told Daniel the story of the sudden appearance and glasses of wine, as we walked along.

    * Sia, welcome to the blog, and nice to see you hear. Where are you from? Cooking sweet potatoes in a camp fire is a delicious way to go.

    * Ruth, we are lucky in the north island to be able to grow kumara. I love roast kumara and am always happy when the roast vege season begins.

    * Leanne, I look forward to hearing of your kumara harvest.

    Thanks Anne, Sia, Ruth and Leanne; great to have you visit and comment.

  10. Hotly Spiced

    Kumera! You only hear that word in NZ. I just love it. I would love to see how it grows. I have never seen kumera grow. That purple variety is so much nicer than the orange xx

  11. edora smith

    I love your blog so much..a lot of amazing activities u have all the time..i am so jealous

  12. Friko

    Ah, I looked up Kumara,: sweet potatoes is what they are.

    Very nice roasted with garlic.

  13. juliet

    * Charlie, the purple kumara is spectacular. It is fascinating to see how it grows as the foliage is very attractive.

    * Edora, welcome to the blog, and thank you for your kind comments.

    * Friko – yes, I should have translated! We get so used to these words in New Zealand that we forget not everyone knows them. Roasted with garlic is great, plus with pumpkin and beetroot – colourful and tasty.

    Charlie, Edora and Friko, thanks for visiting; good to see you.

  14. Penny O'Neill

    As I read of your communal harvest, and saw the first of the kumara, I thought they resembled the sweet potatoes sitting in a basket on my kitchen counter. We love sweet potatoes here. How rewarding to dig into the earth at season’s end to find these tubers waiting.

    There is a seasonal plant we get here in the midwest, called a sweet potato vine. It grow as a an annual vine, abundantly, trailing in baskets and snaking across the garden, filling in space. We don’t grow it for food, though there is a tuber when they are dug up, and the leaves look quite similar to these here. You have me wondering, Juliet . . .

  15. juliet

    * Penny, they are sweet potatoes, thought to originate in South America. The Maori brought this and other varieties with them when they first came to NZ from the islands of the Pacific.
    My daughter-in-law put one in a dish on her outside, under cover table, and it has produced the most decorative vine, tumbling over the table though not quite clambering through the garden. I’m sure these plants are all related.
    They taste delicious when roasted. Thank you for your comment; it set me thinking too.

  16. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet .. looks like you had an amazing time – and what a store – do they keep .. stored over winter – they’re a goodly size too ..

    I love sweet potato .. cheers Hilary

  17. juliet

    * Hilary, it was such fun and quite an adventure. The Maori learned to store the kumara, using pits in the ground. All done very carefully, and the kumara would last for many months.

    Thanks for visiting.

  18. Diana Drent

    It’s really nice to dig with your hands in the earth then you feel connected.

    In this case it is the kumura you want. A sweet potatoe it is. Google told me!

    Indeed very delicious with garlic. And full of vitamins also.

    What a cozy autumn celebration!

  19. Amanda Trought

    I was just going to ask you if they were sweet potatoes, I tried growing some in my garden, but I guess it wasn’t warm enought. Hope you are well!

  20. Lynley

    What a splendid community event.

    The drought seems to have left many things unscathed but reduced the vitality of others.

    I like admiring the shapes of the kumara. As for that centipede – thank goodness for gloves.

  21. juliet

    Diana, it’s certainly satisfying to dig in the earth with our hands.

    * Amanda, yes sweet potatoes they are, a special variety that the Maori planted.

    * Lynley, the drought meant that the earth was a bit more solid to dig through than usual. But the kumara had enough water luckily. Gloves were a great asset, that’s for sure!

    Thank you Diana, Amanda, and Lynley, nice to see you here.


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