Matariki – a time for garden plans

With Matariki approaching, it’s nearly time to start thinking about our food plantings for the coming year. Three stars of the Matariki cluster, Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, and Ururangi, are important to planning for the coming year’s food crops – and traditionally the way they appear to viewers (hazy or clear, for instance) helped Māori determine when the best planting times and conditions would be.

Tupu-ā-nuku is the star of food from the earth – root vegetables and anything that grows directly from the ground, so this covers most of the vege garden. Tupu-ā-rangi governs food from the sky – so that’s fruit from trees, berries, and birds. Ururangi is the star of the winds, so it’s understandable this star would play an important part in determining key dates of the growing calendar – particularly in windy Canterbury!

As a gardener and seed-saver myself, all this makes perfect sense – the middle of winter is the best time to leave the saturated garden soils alone to hibernate (and slowly mature their winter crops), while I hibernate too in the warmth of the lounge and process my saved seeds from summer and autumn. As I do so, I’m thinking about next year’s garden rotation: making sure each type of vegetable will have a different spot from the previous year (to minimise the build-up of soil-borne diseases), assessing the harvest from each variety and whether it needs different conditions or an adjusted planting time, and deciding whether I have enough seeds of each type – and whether I’d like to try growing any new vege or varieties.

Seed saving is a great way to take control of your food supply, save money, teach kids about growing, preserve local varieties – and keep that delicious tomato you grew last summer so you can have it again! Anything you’ve grown from bought seed that isn’t an F1 hybrid (a cross to increase plant vigour that won’t grow ‘true to type’ in subsequent generations) can be left to go to seed and its seeds harvested for next year. If you’re buying seed with a view to saving it, look for heritage varieties as their seeds will ‘grow true’.

bean collection
Beans. An easy way to start seed saving.

Peas and beans are super-easy seeds to start saving yourself. Just let some pods dry as much as possible on the plant, pick them before they start getting too wet in autumn, and keep the seeds for next spring. These large and colourful seeds are fun for kids to grow too – easy for little fingers to handle, and their seedlings pop up super-fast.

You can also have a chat with other gardeners in your area and see if they have any seeds for you to try – locally-saved seeds are often a good bet, as they’re adapted to local conditions. You might also want to keep an eye out for the Libraries’ Spring Seeds Swaps, which take place in many libraries across the network (we’ll be posting the dates and locations of these in our events calendar closer to spring).

A parsnip plant gone to seed
A parsnip “tree” going to seed

For me one of the joys of seed saving is seeing the mature forms of vegetable plants, which we often don’t see since we harvest them before maturity. Who knew a parsnip left to go to seed would grow into a ‘tree’ as tall as the guttering of my house? Not me! It was magnificent. 🙂

Different plants need different seed saving techniques, but the good news is there are lots of great books available on seed saving. Why not try starting with one or two plants, and learning how to save seed from a new one every season?

Trust me, once you get started seed saving becomes quite addictive – my poor partner puts up with kitchen towels spread with tomato seeds, a laundry strung with drying corn cobs, and paper bags of seed heads drying all over the house. Gotta have a hobby, I say!

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