Heritage kumara shows its worth

An experiment in growing a pre-European type of kumara in Port Underwood has produced interesting results.

Taputini kumara are smaller and sweeter than the kumara we eat now. The variety has almost disappeared but should be preserved, studies show.

Open Polytechnic of New Zealand tutors from Wellington have grown the variety for 10 years in a plot in Robin Hood Bay to study how Maori grew the kumara, traditionally grown in a tropical climate, in Marlborough.

Tutor Mike Burtenshaw said the latest crop, planted last November and harvested last Wednesday, survived well without water, rotation or fertiliser, but with some weeding.

He said crop yields had fluctuated over the years but had not declined overall, even though the kumara were planted year after year in the same soil.

"So it's possible to grow taputini kumara in the same soil for years without moving them to fresh ground. That type of rotation came later, with the introduction of the potato," Mr Burtenshaw said.

Brought to this country by Maori in waka, the cultivar was drought-resistant and grew well in low-fertility soils, so it should be preserved, he said.

Mr Burtenshaw and Open Polytechnic colleague Tony Tomlin were last week sorting and weighing the kumara at the Ngakuta Bay home of archaeologists Janet Davidson and Foss Leach, who support the research. Mr Burtenshaw said the experiment was for academic purposes but Kiwis could learn much about growing things by looking to the past.

The kumara have been taken to Wellington to be stored at the polytechnic over winter.

The Marlborough Express