Every time I hear the word Kumara, I get a classic kiwi primary school song in my head... Oma rāpeti, oma rāpeti, Oma, oma, oma (Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run!). Cute. Pity my husband finds it painful; semi-fair considering he hears this tune regularly as I love to eat Kumara! (and sing “kumarapeti!” in full throttle!).
This year I have embarked on growing my own potatoes, but to be honest, I much prefer Kumara, as they are nearly fat and cholesterol free, and full of vitamins, plus they are delicious. There are three main varieties; Owairaka Red, Toka Toka Gold or Beauregarde (Orange), with each having their own unique textures, flesh and sweetness! Gold is the sweetest of all, but red is an easy to use variety . These sweet delights cost a fortune! Growing a batch of these would certainly save your pocket a few chingas if you eat them semi-regularly, like myself.
Kumara grow similarly to potatoes, obviously being of the sweet potatoes variety. They love a warm climate, and should be planted in early spring, before the end of November. You should start by either buying your own kumara plants from your local garden centre, or from sprouting kumara shoots yourself.
You can sprout your own kumara by laying them on in a warm place, preferably on damp sand, a box is best. After a couple of weeks, you will notice shoots growing off the kumara. When the sprouts are 5-10cm long you can pull them away from the original kumara and they are ready for planting.
Plant your kumara in a layer of rich, organic soil, mixed with compost, in the ground, or in pots or planters 25-25cm deep. Kumara need water, so keep them regularly hydrated. Kumara do not like soil that weighs too much, as this can damage the plant.
As the plants grow, it is important to make sure the foliage/leaves are kept off the soil, or rot can occur. Regularly check the leaves and keep them off the soil. The leaves of the Kumara plant are actually edible, and can be eaten in salads! Double savings to be had! The plants will literally grow themselves, with a little bit of help on the side.
They are ready to harvest in early Autumn after around 5-6 months of solid growth. When your kumara are ready, dig them up and dry them out for a few days. They will store well in a dry and cool place, but will need to be eaten.
You only have a few weeks left to get your kumara planted, so “run rabbit” to your local garden centre today!
By Holly Jean Brooker
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