Preparing for winter

by | May 25, 2017 | Seasons Newsletter | 12 comments



Does the idea of preparing for winter seem an odd concept to you?

If it does, let me remind you that you may know more about this than you think. People have always prepared for winter through the acts of harvest, storage and containment.


Preparing for winter is part of your ancestral history.

Recently I took part in a community kumara dig on Auckland’s west coast. As I wriggled my fingers through the sandy mounds in search of the sometimes elusive tubers, I reflected on the principles of harvest, storage and containment, and the ways in which they are still relevant to us today.


How Maori prepared for winter

On their arrival in Aotearoa from the warmer climate of tropical islands, Maori had to adapt quickly to the new conditions. The precious kumara, their staple crop, could no longer be grown all year round. A cycle of harvest, followed by a fallow time, and then new planting in spring, had to be quickly established.

And how could they store these thin-skinned tubers without them rotting away? You may think that harvesting kumara has nothing to teach you, but take a look at the principles, and you may find some correlations coming to mind.

Five principles of harvest


1. Timing

It was important to choose a dry, sunny day and begin when the sun was high in the sky. This was critical to avoid any mould infecting the crop before it was stored. The slightest bit of mould could destroy the whole harvest.


2. Unearth with care 

The skin of the kumara is fragile, and prone to damage. Any cuts or bruises open the way to rot, and so every care must be taken to keep the tubers intact when harvesting. No sharp tools, just hands digging and exploring, then lifting the kumara one by one.

3. Offering up with gratitude  

Karaka (prayers) were chanted at dawn, before the harvest.  Special kumara, that had been ritually planted as the first seeds in spring, were unearthed first. They were cooked in a special hangi and offered to Pani-tinaku, the kumara goddess.

The whole crop was washed and dried with care, and examined for the possible appearance of a special large tuber that was a sign of Pani’s influence and blessings.


Back in 1994, I was shown a sacred kumara.

When I was writing the first edition of Celebrating the Southern Seasons I used to drive out to South Auckland to visit kumara researcher Dell Wihongi. I would bring freshly baked scones, she would boil the kettle, and we’d sit down to talk about Maori agriculture.

On one occasion I remarked on a large kumara sitting on Dell’s desk. This kumara bore a startling resemblance to the Venus of Willendorf and other fertility goddesses that I’d been studying in Europe. It was ‘Pani’s Kumara’ from the recent harvest, she told me. Such a kumara was always kept aside, and later cooked on sacred fire as an offering to Pani-tinaku.


4. Create the right container and store the crop with care

Maori invented the rua/kumara pit for safe storage of the harvest. The pits had to be dug into the ground or into a hillside. Then the diggers would line the rua with manuka brush and bracken fern to create a soft, springy bed. On this springy bed of fern, older women or men would carefully place the tubers in rows, interlacing them with native pennyroyal, and making sure they didn’t damage them in any way. The pit was then sealed to make it airtight.

The crop I helped to harvest recently will be stored in a dark hut between sheets of newspaper.


* The sketch above was done by ‘Miss E. Richardson’ and is reproduced in Elsdon Best, Maori Agriculture, p. 227)

5. Open the rua with intention at a time of scarcity.

Judgement is required for when to break the seal and lift the first kumara from the storage pit. My old teacher, Jim Okeroa, told me how at Parihaka his whanau would lift the lid of the rua on Te Whiti’s day, on the 18th of the month, in order to feed everyone at the pa.

How do these principles apply to your inner harvest?

Your inner harvest is a precious resource to carry over into the cold winter months. Consciously selecting, valuing and storing your inner riches is a powerful way to prepare consciously for the season to come.

1. Timing: gather your inner harvest on a bright day, when you are feeling positive and abundant. This ensures a successful ‘harvest’.

2. Unearth with care:  the resources, capacities and strengths that you have grown over summer and autumn.

3. Offering up with gratitude: Prepare this inner harvest, by recording it, ready for storage. Notice any special resources or gifts, that might indicate the presence of grace (spiritual presence or support). Valuing, noticing and offering gratitude are keys to this stage.

4. Create the right container and store your inner harvest with care. Place messages in a box, pouch, or lidded pot.

5. Open the container with intention in order to draw on the harvest at the right time, i.e. a time of scarcity, or need.


Would you like to be guided through this process?

I have recorded the steps on an audio recording and PDF, so that you can relax and be guided through the process of unearthing, preparing and storing your inner harvest in a way that will bring gladness to you in the future.

I also take you through some practical ways to prepare for winter.

If you would enjoy this support and holding, then check out my ‘Autumn Attunement’ (which I could just as well have called ‘Preparing for Winter’, since that is the theme).

Even if you decide not to take advantage of this extra support, you might like to reflect on the principles of harvest and ask yourself how they might apply to you.

What ritual of harvesting your inner wealth might you create for yourself?

How might you prepare for the long haul of cold nights and short days?


In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
—William Blake


Winter Blessings,



This post is an excerpt from my Seasons Newsletter. To receive the Seasons Newsletter, you may sign up on the home page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.


  1. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Hi Juliet – what a great analogy … and so true. Care and protection keep fruits and vegetables long into the dark of Winter and on into Spring … my parents stored various home grown produce after the War …

    The Venus of Willendorf certainly looks like your Pani’s Kumara … amazing likeness.

    I love too the William Blake dictat …

    Lovely photo and thanks for the history of the Kumara, your bach and your season …cheers Hilary

    • Juliet Batten

      Glad you enjoyed this one Hilary, and like the analogy. Yes, the war certainly prompted the use of methods of storage. Now that might be a subject for you to dig into, in your usual thorough way. Thank you.

  2. Vicki Lane

    I so enjoyed this especially the idea of using this analogy in other parts of our lives.

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Vicki, and it’s nice to hear from you in the northern hemisphere!

  3. Dana Leigh Lyons

    Beautiful, tender rendering of harvest principles, Juliet. I’m especially touched by the Maori’s close attention and care – in the timing of things, the unearthing process, and expression of gratitude and offering.

    What a powerful practice – bringing this sort of attention and care to our inner harvest, and all that we keep safe and protected during more reflective, inward-focused times.

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Dana. I have been fortunate in learning so much from some wonderful Maori teachers, and being part of a community kumara harvest each year has made it all very real.

  4. Marja

    A beautiful post of the Kumara harvest and using it as an analogy for the inner harvest.
    I love Kumaras and it is so interesting to read about the harvest process.

    • Juliet Batten

      Marja, I love kumaras too. I’m glad you liked the post; thank you so much.

  5. Sue Kearney

    This is wonderful and lovely. And full of useful meaning. Thank you.

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you Sue. I’m so glad you found it useful.

  6. Denise Poyner

    Hello Juliet

    What a great metaphor for our lives. This has taken me a bit to think your message through. Just now though I am clearly aware the process you invite us to engage in is helpful for me in my photography activities. I like to photograph scenery, architecture, waterways and birds. Particularly at the moment I am feeding off my visit to Wingspan Birds of Prey near Rotorua to see the New Zealand falcons and Australasian Harriers. In waterways I am enjoying photographing reflections of the clouds.

    Photos are a great harvest. They tell me where I am at in my interests. I look at some of them for a long time harvesting the colours, the beauty, the meaningfulness (if I can get that) and the delight I feel from these images.

    Storage is an issue. I do not like storing photos on a computer for the sake of storage. I have stored mine uncomfortably making them hard to find if I have a memory flash of something useful for another project. I think having read your commentary helps me sort out that I would like to store them better, particularly the bird photos. They are better stored in their classifications of waders, raptors etc. That is a good winter project to redefine that.

    I love being the photographer. It shines a light on me. I like how it shines a light on being connected to a greater sense of our existence.

    • Juliet Batten

      Denise, how inspiring to hear of your love of photography, and to see how this activity is one of harvesting for you. Storing them in their classifications sounds like a satisfying winter project. Thank you so much for the way you have absorbed my message and found its application in your own life! And then sharing it here.


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