Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Cardamom is the most expensive spice in the world after Saffron. The small Green Cardamom is known to be the Queen of spices. For Indians, Green Cardamom or Ellaichi is an important ingredient in various Indian cuisines. Apart from the health benefits, the green cardamom flavour helps in achieving a stunning aroma.
The Cardamom hills of central Kerala nestled within the highranges of the Western Ghats is source to some of the best cardamom produce in the world. The aroma, the flavour and colour is evidently supreme for the produce that comes from this hills. It is a very sensitive plant and is prone to multiple attacks of insects and fungus, which makes it a plant that requires prompt care and action.
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.
I have heard from many people that cardamom was a plant that grew on trees, but then today you tell this to someone, not many would want to believe it. Something like an orchid, it take nutrients from the atmosphere and from the host plant. But over time when it became cash crop, the cultivation systems were entirely different.
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.
The best time to take off planting would be from June or July when the South West monsoon arrive the high ranges. Later these hills receive the rains from North East monsoon which are short lived by torrential. This is the best time for the plant to flower and bear fruit. The cardamom plant is at its best at a temperature of 23-degree Celsius. That is why the name cardamom hills came into existence, these hills have the most favourable elements like soil, weather, temperature and water. And it is these combinations that make the cardamom hills the most favourable place for the best cardamom in the world. I have seen people growing the cardamom plant in places apart from the high ranges, the plant would survive, but it would be difficult for it to flower and bear those green pearlish pods.
From a farmer's or a planter's perspective, necessary steps are taken to protect the plant. Prevention is the best way to fight fungal diseases. 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.
Did you know there is nothing called as an organic cardamom pod. It is possible to achieve it, but then it would not be a commercially viable mechnism for the farmers. Fertilizers are used during the summer season, usually in May. 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.
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. It helps in giving bigger fruits, more flowers, reduces fall of flowers and ensures their turning into fruits.
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. You know, this is inevitable as mentioned earlier.
By winter, post November to February the plant would need to be irrigated very well. Since there are no rains we would need to source water for the plant. From sprinklers to mist sprayers. We would need to find a mechanism for the plant to get water. The summer months of March to May are crucial for the plant to sustain the harsh summer heat.
You can take this as my word, you got to take care of the plant like your baby. Consistent care and precaution is key to the success of Cardamom Plantations. The time, money and effort will get paid off only if the produce fetch good sum for the farmer. Considering that, it is reasonable that the Queen of spices is the second most expensive spice in this universe.