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NZ Gardener - 2021-10-01

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PRACTICAL GUIDE TO MARAMATAKA

MARAMATAKA

For those who are keen to garden according to our local lunar calendar, Dr Nick Roskruge has a practical guide for the cues from nature that tell us to get growing. The seasons are one of our most familiar ways of making sense of the natural world and its idiosyncrasies as day length, temperatures and other factors start to change. In this article, we will continue to build our relationship with the maramataka, the traditional almanac which brings together the knowledge of the lunar cycles, stars, seasons and Papatūānuku generally. The primal parents, Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother represent the most fundamental of relationships and remind us that we all descend from the natural world, and therefore we all have obligations to ensure it is maintained for our future generations. But at best, we continue to support and guide our world through the contemporary issues which are continually arising, especially threats to our crops which are a mainstay of our physical wellbeing. The maramataka is both a general knowledge system which we all can draw from, and a personal knowledge system to which we all add our personal observations, experiences and learnings. An example of this is the application of the lunar knowledge to each of the seasons. How do you learn from your own personal space about what the local or regional indicators of the change of season from winter to spring, or from summer to autumn and so on? In te ao Māori, we also recognise the changing patterns of the natural world in a similar way to the seasons in the Pākeha world. Spring for example is commonly known as kōanga, and while it doesn’t necessarily begin on September 1 as our modern calendars indicate, it does represent the changes in our natural world as it exits the coldest (and darkest) period through to the cycle of new growth on plants observed for that very role in telling us change is imminent. Kōanga can have several definitions but the general origin of the word is the reference of “turning to” (anga) the kō or planting stick. It indicates the importance of this time of the year for the preparation of the whenua or land to plant the crops. Crops in times past were the most important of land use as they guaranteed good health and survival. In some regions, certain tree or shrub species are observed as indicator plants of the move towards spring. Plants can be very subtle in their response to the environment. Soil temperatures can initiate seasonal weed species or annual plants from the shallow depths of the soils whilst other plants are more responsive to the fluctuation in moisture levels within the soil. Air temperatures might break winter dormancy allowing buds which were present before the winter months to wake from their slumber and expose themselves for the important task of producing seed and therefore securing survival of the plant beyond the current generation. In the coldest inland regions, the plants mostly respond to the day-night cycles of light and temperature. Kōwhai bloom earliest in some regions such as the Rangitīkei whilst in others the tī kōuka (cabbage tree) is the indicator of spring. Other tree species might apply elsewhere. These trees are observed or “read” for their subtle signs of the seasons beyond spring. Early spring (or perhaps late winter) and prolific flowering of the tī kōuka is said by many to indicate a long summer ahead and the tree is preparing itself for this. The timing of the flowering of the same tree is also an indicator of the harvest window for kina and other spring foods. The kōwhai is another iconic native tree and the blooming of these flowers excites the tūī and other birds to move into spring behaviour! Importantly for any gardener though is the message each of these trees provides: winter is coming to a close, the soils can start to be prepared for new crops and those fallow soils which have been left for the winter elements to breakdown can now be mulched for the warmer months. Following the maramataka itself, one should note Rākaunui or the full moon as one of the first of the nights to recognise. Rākaunui always impacts our natural world. At this time, the moonlight is bright enough to influence the creatures of the night. During winter with a clear sky, the temperatures always drop at this time for several nights, often leading to frosts of considerable note, especially in the inland areas. Frosts are considered one of those beneficial environmental responses that supports Papatūānuku in preparation for the planting season ahead. They are known by a number of names – hukapapa and hauhunga the most common, and the term hukapuri for a severe frost that burns the leaves of plants ordinarily capable of surviving frost. But importantly, once kōanga has begun, the frosts are less intense and our activities are redirected to the māra (garden) for planting. The two-day period following Rākaunui is one of the best for the month for general planting and gardening activity. The moon then wanes through a quieter period until the lunar phase that coincides with the “last quarter” in English and the Tangaroa phase in the maramataka happens. This Tangaroa phase (22-26 days after the new moon) is considered the absolute best period of each lunar month for planting the garden, but in particular the food crops. That means you should have your ground ready for planting ahead of this phase so the plants, seeds, or plant materials you want to plant can benefit from the process of initiating a new cycle of growth. Kōanga is a season of change. It is incremental in that not everything happens at the beginning of the season. If you observe the garden and wilderness at this time you will note seasonal activity of the birds, insects, and spiders as they all prepare to take advantage of the warming environment. Plants also do the same. Seasonal species of short-term annuals, some of them considered weeds, start to respond to temperature and light. Ground recently prepared for planting will have the first flush of green growth of the self-perpetuating weeds. In times past, this led to a muchanticipated change of diet as edible young plants such as pūhā and rauriki (Sonchus sp.), tohetaka (dandelion, Taraxacum sp.), huainanga (fathen, Chenopodium sp.) and morewhero (redroot, Amanranthus sp.) flourish and can be harvested for meals. This is the season to harvest leafy plants and young growth on some of the older plants but not the roots and bulbs – that is left for the period after the summer. Once the crops are planted, these leafy weeds are less available for the pot and other vegetables are sought. But back to the impending season of kōanga. The winter or season of Takurua (some call it hōtoke, a term recognising the cold period) allowed a time of relative rest for the gardener, especially the vegetable gardener, to contemplate what has previously worked well or not, and to plan what the new year of planting and cropping should achieve. Therefore, it is extremely important recognise the cues around us to get the best advantage of the new season. Just as the ground wakes us, so too do the plants and the rest of the biological world. Some of them are waiting for the new plant growth for their change of diet following dormancy, so recognise that spring supports all components of our world, good and not so good. We just need to learn what we should tolerate alongside our own garden activity. To download a copy of the above calendar, go to the website: tepapa.govt.nz/discover-collections/ read-watch-play/maori/matarikimaori-new-year/how-usemaramataka-maori-lunar

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