Cardamom - Whats the plant all about
With its exotic flavours and soothing aroma, Cardamom, the Queen of spices, is an important and expensive spice. This spice is an inevitable ingredient in many dishes and has a lot of health benefits. Cardamom is the dried ripe fruit of the cardamom plant. The aroma, the flavor, the color and all that makes it the Queen of Spices, depends on the early care, protection, and nourishment given to the plant in its growing phase. Timely soil preparation, providing an adequate amount of fertilizers or organic manure, timely treatment with medicines and pesticides, and practices to maintain optimum conditions for its growth like trashing, shade regulation, forking, mulching, irrigation etc are inevitable to increase yields and quality of the fruits. Therefore having cardamom plantations is not a child's play. It is a costly affair as it needs proper care and also the work cost is high as it involves more manual labor. Hence farmers incur a loss if they do not receive profits by a good margin.
Cardamom plant owes its growth to the rains, the shelter, and the soil. The soil of the Western Ghats is best suited for this plant. Cardamom requires timely rain and shade but more of it can also damage the plant. Therefore it is important to maintain optimum growing conditions throughout the year. July to December is considered to be the best for cardamom plantation because of the southwest monsoon and northeast monsoon showers (Thula varsham – the rains during the Malayalam month of thulaam). This is the best time to flower and bear fruit.The cardamom plant is at its best at a temperature of 23-degree Celsius. This is the optimum temperature to flower and bear quality fruits. The fruits are at their maximum size and attain a good color. Towards the end of December, the climate changes, but the plant continues to bear fruit, though the quality of the fruit deteriorates.
Cardamom plant is prone to many fungal diseases which can destroy the plant and also affect the quality of the fruits. Before the month of July, necessary steps are taken to protect the plants against fungal diseases like ‘Fusarium’. Prevention is the best way to fight fungal diseases. Fungal diseases occur when there is not enough sunlight available. During the rainy season, the sunlight available is less and it is important that the plants get whatever little is available. To ensure this, proper shade regulation is done during the months of March and April. The branches of the trees (usually below 60 ft) in the cardamom plantations are cut to ensure the availability of direct sunlight. This helps in protecting the plant against fungal diseases to a large extent. Cardamom pant requires 40 – 60% shade and the remaining can be cut. Direct sunlight also helps in the coming up of young plants in the clump.
Fertilizers are used during the summer season, usually in May. The use of fertilizers in the rainy season can lead to fungal diseases and other infections. The dry spell of summer is survived with the help of irrigation. Fertilizers used during summer is more effective as it gets dissolved in water and the plants can easily take them up. Urea and potash are also used during this time. The dry leaves on the cardamom plants are removed and medicines for pests like ‘thanduthorapan’ or ‘shoot borer’ which affects during summer, are sprayed. The use of fertilizers in summer is then stopped and bodomix a natural treatment for ‘azhukal disease’ is used, which is found to be very effective . Azhukal is a fungal disease occurring during the rainy season. It affects the leaves, tender shoots, panicles, and capsules. The affected parts then rot, thereby decreasing yield and quality. Prevention is the best treatment for rotten disease, as the treatment after its occurrence is costly and affects productivity to a large extent.
By mid-July, harvesting begins. The initial harvest is usually less as these are the fruits which ripen during the summer season. From June to December, the harvesting can be done every 55 – 60 days. Later, since the atmospheric temperature increases, the fruits ripen faster and can be harvested within 40 – 45 days. After the first harvest, the use of foliar (spraying liquid fertilizers and medicines directly on the leaf) is started. It helps in giving bigger fruits, more flowers, reduces fall of flowers and ensures their turning into fruits. Medicines are also used along with the foliar. Foliar is used during rainy season as there are fewer pests during this time.
Nowadays people use medicines and fertilizers of international standards like Tata Rallis, Cheminova, UPL, Bayer etc because of its quality and result. It helps in the growth of the plant and also increases productivity. Soon after the monsoon, people start using fertilizers. Fertilizers are applied in the soil, at the base of the plant, once in three months and pesticides are sprayed once in 50 – 60 days.
Chemical fertilizers are not the only way to enhance the growth of the plant; there are organic ways as well. In the areas of cardamom cultivation, people also have dairy farming. Cowdung is an excellent organic manure. Every year 10-20 kilograms cowdung powder is applied. Cowdung helps in natural growth, root penetration and also maintains moisture content in the soil. Also, organic manure like Jeevamrutham works wonders for the plant growth. It is a nourishing combination of cow dung, cow urine, besan flour, jaggery, mud, and water. The mixture is allowed to ferment for 10 days and then it is ready to be used. It is then diluted and around 10 liters can be used per plant. This ensures a natural growth and much stronger plants with better resistance. Pure turmeric powder, when used with other manure, is also good for the plant. Rock phosphate which is available in nature is good for root proliferation and helps in increasing yields.
Trashing or removal of dry leaves, old panicles and other dry parts of the plant is an essential step to prevent pest infestation. Trashing also helps in better application of sprayed medicines.
The foliar sprayed after monsoon includes micronutrients like zinc, boron, and magnesium. Micronutrients help in the internal growth of the plant, thereby making it more healthy. Boron helps in flowering.
Before the onset of northeast monsoons, the weeds in between the plants are removed. Weeds compete with the plants for water and nutrients. They absorb the fertilizers applied to the plant. The weeds also act as an obstacle while spraying medicines and plucking fruits. ‘Choriyanam’/ Indian stinging nettle is the most common weed found in cardamom plantations which acts as a hindrance while plucking the fruits. Weeding ensures that water and nutrients reach the plant and the work environment is made better. After weeding, a pit is dug and the leaves, weeds etc are put into it. The pit is then closed with soil. This later becomes manure for the plant. Next, the older plants are cut and preparation for growing new plants are done.
By October, the entire field is raked or dug, especially in between the plants, so that old roots are destroyed and new roots can penetrate better. Cardamom plants that are far from its clump are removed and planted near the clump for better growth.
By December and January, practices like forking and mulching are done to provide optimum growing conditions for the plant during the dry summer months. Forking is done at a distance of 3-4 ft from the plant base and at a depth of 1- 1.5 ft. This is practiced to enhance soil aeration and also for better water infiltration into the soil. Mulching ( a protective covering of dried leaves, chips etc) is done around the plant base or the entire field to maintain the moisture of the soil and also to keep the temperature cool. Cowdung is also applied during this time as it absorbs water sprayed through irrigation and maintains the moisture. It also helps in better absorption of fertilizers by the plants.
February to May is a very important phase in Cardamom plantation as irrigation starts during this time. Earlier, people used to spray water using long hose pipes. Now things are better and convenient as irrigation is done by sprinkler or mist irrigation. Sprinkler irrigation ensures that a cool environment is maintained around the plant. Mist-irrigation provides adequate water to the plants thereby saving water and also keeping the environment cool.
Towards the end of summer season, the preparation for nurturing the cardamom plant during rainy season starts, and the cycle continues. The nourishment and care given to the plants reflects in the yield and quality of the fruits.