Can Maori knowledge of moon phases help farm resilience?

Using ancient Māori knowledge of moon phases has shown positive results with regard to pasture growth and riparian planting resilience for Bay of Plenty farmers Miru Young and Mohi Beckham.

The farmers were among those who spent two days on the historic Te Kūiti Pā being guided through the Māori lunar calendar at a first-of-its-kind workshop this week.

They were shown why different moon phases can influence aspects of plant growth, seed-sowing effectiveness and the potency of healing properties in native plants that Māori farmers have used to counter illnesses in farm animals for decades.

“We’re not here to preach maramataka [the Māori lunar calendar], but to encourage farmers to observe so they can utilise the tools around us,” said Erina Wehi-Barton.

“Using maramataka and traditional plant knowledge is about working smarter, not harder.

“There’ll be things these farmers would have seen that no one else would have seen, and we provided diaries on ngā mata o te marama [faces of the moon] so they can build on their own observations and knowledge.

“The idea is that they create their own maramataka on their own farms.”

Wehi-Barton is a mātauranga practitioner and project specialist/kairangahau Māori for the trial Rere ki uta rere ki tai.

The Government-funded trial explores mātauranga – Māori science – alongside Western science and farmer knowledge to improve soil health.

It is one of three place-based projects awarded funding as part of the Revitalise Te Taiao research programme. Paeroa-based Rere ki uta rere ki tai has been allocated $2.7 million to test farming methods that aim to “enhance the mana and mauri of the soil” across 10 farms.

Wehi-Barton said farmers already spent their days observing differences in pasture and forest growth through different seasons and were uniquely placed to gain insights over a lunar cycle.

Both Mohi Beckham and Miru Young are farmers on the two-year Rere ki uta rere ki tai project.

The workshop came about after Wehi-Barton visited Young’s 80-hectare dairy farm in Pukehina and had a conversation about maramataka.

Miru’s father Patrick and late grandad Steve had shared what they knew about maramataka, but the workshop allowed Young to learn more about each individual moon phase and how it might influence his farm.

“I grew up with maramataka from Dad and koro [grandad], and Dad used it for gardening, hunting, fishing and diving. Now I do it for all of those, but I never thought about doing it for farming,” he says.

“What I do with fishing and diving is I write down what I get when I go out and what the moon phase is, then I know where to go back at what time. I saw patterns, more seasonal than anything.

“But with farming, I didn’t know how it might work because we use a contractor for planting, and he comes down when he’s ready, not when I’m ready.

“After I’d spent two years writing down my planting and the moon phases, I’d built a better relationship with my contractor, and I picked a better time to plant on, and now he’ll come then.”

Young has recorded his observations that pasture was slower to get going at certain moon phases.

During the workshop on the marae, he talked with Wehi-Barton’s “ngahere parents” – who have taught her their knowledge of the forest – and related this to his experience hunting by the moon phase.

“I could see the patterns with hunting and diving.”

Fellow Bay of Plenty farmer Mohi Beckham grew up in a big family and learned from his mother, who incorporated traditional Maori knowledge into her garden that helped sustain the whānau.

He has employed contractors who use the lunar cycle to guide riparian planting times on his brother’s Scylla Farm in Pukehina, a 208ha mixed dairy farm and orchard which he manages in the Bay of Plenty.

“We’re already doing maramataka on our farm through our planting of riparian plants, and the results they’ve had are amazing,” he says.

“The contractors only work in the high-energy days of the lunar cycle, which is anywhere between 12 and 20 days compared to five days a week for conventional planting contractors. But the productivity is higher in the maramataka boys.

“A lot of our stuff has been under water this year, and there’s a 93 per cent survival rate for their [maramataka] plantings. Usually, you are lucky when the survival rate is at 80 per cent.”


Beckham says he’s not kept a diary to properly record observations but had experimented with sowing pasture on different moon phases that are resting and dormant phases or high-energy phases for plant growth.

“Two years ago, we planted some according to the best phase of maramataka, and some a week before that high-energy period. The maramataka outgrew the first area sown, even though it was planted seven to 10 days later.”

Taranaki farmer Nick Collins, the farm engagement adviser for Rere ki uta rere ki tai, has used moon phases during his 18 years as an organic dairy farmer.

“With hay, we found it cures better on the new moon, or after the full moon, because there are lower moisture levels in the pasture,” he says.

“Leading up to the full moon is the active phase, which was a good time for sileage because we weren’t worried about drying the plant. But we found that with hay, it seemed to dry better when the plant has lower moisture levels, and that’s [during] a waning moon.”

The workshop also introduced the medicinal use of plants in a farm setting. Wehi-Barton said native plants had been used on farm animals by Māori farmers, who drew on knowledge gained over centuries.

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