VARIED are the uses to which spices have been put from time immemorial. They are used as additives and for the propitiation of the gods. They also stimulate digestion on account of their carminative properties. Most of the spices find place in various medicines.
There are about 35 spices and condiments which can be broadly classified into 6 groups, based upon the parts of the plants which they are obtained, namely (i) rhizomes and root spices, (ii) bark spices, (iii) leaf spices, (iv) flower spices, (v) fruit spices, and (vi) seed spices.
Inspite of the importance of spices in dietary, medicinal and other uses, and their commercial importance, the research inputs on these crops have not been adequate. The important spices and condiments under commercial or large-scale cultivation are cardamom, pepper, chillies, turmeric and ginger. The total area under these spices and condiments in India is over one million hectares, and they account for an annual export earning of over 40 crores of rupees.
Cardamom. Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton) is considered to be the ‘Queen of Spices’. India is the largest producer and exporter of this spice, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the total world production and 60 per cent of the total world trade. our annual production has ranged from 2,300 to 2,800 tonnes in recent years. It is also grown in Guatemala, Tanzania, Srilanka, El Salvador, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It is cultivated in the hilly forest regions of the entire Western Ghats in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu on about 86,000 hectares. It is grown either as a pure plantation crops or as a crops subsidiary to coffee and arecanut at higher elevations. Under favourable conditions, it is found as a natural undergrowth in forest tracts and is supplemented in varying degrees with actual cultivation.
GENERAL BOTANICAL ASPECTS. Cardamom for commercial use is the dried fruit of Elattaria cardamom (L.) Maton, a perrenial herbaceous plant belonging to the family Zingiberaceae. The plant is a native of India. It has a tall pseudostem formed by the encircling of the leaf-sheaths, wrapped one over another. Depending on the variety, a normal full-grown plant may attain a height of 2 to 4 metres. The real stem of the shallow-rooted plant is a rhizome which is subterranean. Leaves are distichous, linear and lanceolate, with short petioles.
Flowers are borne on panicles and they arise directly from the base of the pseudostem. The panicles are erect in the ‘Mysore’ variety, prostrate in the ‘Malabar’ variety and semi-erect or flexious in ‘Vashuka’. Panicles emerge from January onwards, and flowering continues from April to August or even later. Fruits mature in about 3 to 4 months after flowering. They are small trilocular capsules, each containing about 15 to 20 seeds. On maturity, fruits turn into pale green. Under favourable conditions of the environment, a healthy adult plant would annually produce about 200 capsules, with a green weight of about 900 g, which on processing yeilds about 200 g, of dry capsules.
CLIMATE AND SOIL. In India, cardamom grows under natural conditions of the evergreen forests in the Western Ghats. It thrives best in tropical forests at altitudes ranging from 600-1500 metres, receiving a well-distributed rainfall of over 150 cm and a temperature of 10o-35oC. its optimum growth and development is observed in warm and humid places under the canopy of lofty, evergreen forest trees. It is highly sensitive to wind and drought and, therefore areas liable to be affected by these conditions are unsuitable. Water-logging or excessive moisture is equally injurious. The ideal site is a sloping land with good drainage. The crops is raised chiefly on well-drained, rich forest loam, and red, deep, good-textured lateritic soils having plenty of humus or leaf-mould.
PREPARATION OF LAND If virgin forest areas are selected for a plantation, they are too be cleared of all undergrowth and trees not suitable for furnishing heavy shade needed by cardamom. Where tree growth is sparse and shade insufficient or unsatisfactory, quick-growing trees such as Erythrina are planted for temporary shading and other tall and spreading trees for permanent shade. When grown as a subsidiary crops in areca and coffee plantation, the main crops furnishes the required shade.
The spacing commonly adopted for the ‘mysore’ type varies from 2m X 2m to 3m X 3m and for the less vigorous ‘Malabar’ type it varies from 1.5m to 2.2m between the plants and the rows. The seedlings are planted in pits of about 60cm X 60cm X 35cm filled with a mixture of surface soil and compost or well-rotted cattle manure. For planting in areca gardens, the north Kanara system of digging trenches instead of individual pits is adopted.
PROPAGATION. Cardamom is propagated through suckers or seedlings. However the latter method is preferable in order to check the spread of the virus disease ‘katte’. In the case of vegetative propagation 3-5 bulbs of 1/2. to 2-year-old clumps obtained from healthy and regularly high-yielding stock are planted in each pit. For raising a nursery, the present practice is to collect the seeds from disease-free, high yeilding plants with compact-panicles. The capsules selected for seeds should be fully mature and preferably from the second or third round of picking. They should immersed in water and gently pressed for rejecting the seeds, which should then be washed well in cold water. After draining the water the seeds should be mixed with ash and dried in shade in 2 or 3 days. To ensure uniform and early germination, seeds should be sown after extraction. They are to be broadcast on nursery-beds of 1m X 6m and raised to a height of about 30 cm. The selection of the site for the nursery-beds is very important. The site should have a gentle slope and there should be adequate facilities for irrigation. The soil should be fertile and rich in humus. The seed-rate commonly used is 10g per square metre of the germination bed. After sowing, the seeds should be covered with a thin layer of fine sand or soil and then mulched to a thickness of about 2 cm with paddy straw or any other suitable material. The bed should be watered twice a day. Germination will commence in about 30 days and may continue for a month or two. The mulch should be removed after the commencement of germination. Shade should be provided for the young seedlings by erecting a pandal. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu seedlings are transplanted in a secondary nursery when they are about six months old, allowing a spacing of about 25 to 30 cm. in the case of 3-4 rows per bed. In Karnataka, generally the seedlings are not transplanted in a secondary nursery. They are allowed to remain in their germination-beds for about ten months, after which they are planted in the main field. Spraying with 1% Bordeaux mixture keeps the seedlings disease-free. About 1 kg of seeds would produce enough seedlings for planting one hectare.
PLANTING AND CULTIVATION One or two year old seedlings are planted in each pit, either in June-July or September-October. The rhizome is planted 5-8 cm securely tied to a stout wooden stake to prevent it from being laid low by the strong monsoon rains and winds.
The plantation recieves atleast four weedings in the first year, three in the second year and two annually thereafter. The clearing, digging and manuring of soil in each clump, filling up gaps, and the lopping of shade trees constitute the main cultivation practices. Each clump requires a heavy doze of cattle manure or leaf-compost. A well developed mould or a well marked layer of humus accumulation is essential for the development of the plant. On large estates, castor-cake, bone-meal, fish-manure, ammonium sulphate and muriate of potash are commonly used to provide 30-40 kg of N, 30 kg of P2O5 and 50-60 kg of K2O per ha. The application of dolomite also helps also helps to correct the soil pH. Though specific experimental evidence on the fertilizer requirements of cardamom is not available and, whatever information that is available shows that the cardamom crops needs a judicious application of potassium. In general, fertilizer to supply 30 kg of P2O5 and 60 kg of k2O per ha. appear to be necessary for the healthy and vigorous growth of the crops.
VARIETIES. Based mainly on the size of fruit, 2 major groups of cardamom plants are recognised in India, viz. Elettaria cardamom maton var. major, comprising wild indegenious types, and Elettaria cardamomum var. minor, the cultivated type. The common cultivated varieties are ‘Malabar’, ‘Mysore’ and ‘Ceylon’. The first two alone are widely grown in southern India. ‘Vazhukka’ is supposed to be a cross between ‘Malabar’ and ‘Mysore’ types. A few other types are also raised over areas. Of these, ‘Kannielam’, cb onsidered to be early-bearing, is grown at lower elevations (750 m above the mean sea-level) in the Ernakulum district. Three other types worth mentioning, are the ‘Munzerabad’ and ‘Bijapur’ varieties grown at lower elevations in north Wynad and Nadan in the Quilon district. The ‘Malabar’ type is characterized by plants of medium size, with prostrate panicles and small ovoid and round capsules with leaves pubescent on the under-surface. This variety is cultivated largely in Coorg and other parts of Karnataka and to some extent in Kerala. The plantsof the Mysore type have robust growth, large leaves with smooth-under surface, erect panicles and large round capsules. It is suited for cultivation at higher altitudes and is grown largely in Kerala and in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. ‘Ceylon’ is another robust variety. It has large but less aromatic seeds. The ‘Vazhukka’ type has deep-green leaves, is as robust as the ‘Mysore’ type with flexuous panicles and and elongated capsules. The ‘Malabar’ type is considered to be more tolerant to thrips and less sensitive to light than the ‘Mysore’ type which, in certain areas, is preferred for the shape and size of its fruits. Different combinations of the above two broad groups of chaaracters are observed in other types and varieties.
Selections based on yield, quality and earliness in bearing have been made at Mudigere and Pampadumpara and these lines are under initial evaluation.
HARVESTING. Cardamom comes into bearing in the third year after planting, though an economic crops is usually obtained only from the fourth year onwards. Flowering starts in April-May and continues till August-September or even later, depending upon the weather conditions. it takes 3 or 4 months to form fruits, which mature at intervals of 30-40 days, nesseciating several pickings and the whole harvest is completed in 5 or 6 rounds. In most areas the peak-harvesting season is October-November. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, harvesting starts fron August-September and continues till February-March, whereas in Karnataka, it starts in July-August and continues and continues up to December-January. Capsules along with peduncles are harvested just short full ripeness. Dead-ripe fruits split on the drying floor whereas the unripe fruits shrivel on drying. The average yeild of dry capsules from a well-maintained plantation is about 100-150 kg per ha. From small gardens which are not properly managed, it is about 25 kg.
CURING. The preparation of cardamom for the market consists in harvesting, drying, sorting, bleaching, etc. These processing activities have an important bearing on the quality of the finished product.
After harvesting, the produce is dried either in the sun or in the specially built drying houses by using radiated heat. For the latter, the devices vary from sheltered mud platforms heated by a slow fire from beneath to large drying-houses to kilns heated by fuel pipes, as is mostly done in large plantations. The fruits kept for drying are spread out thinly and stirred frequently to ensure uniform drying. Sun-drying takes 3-5 days, whereas in the case of artificial heating, it takes only about 48 hours for proper drying. The latter process also helps to retain the green colour of the capsule which is much valued, especially in the Middle-East. The dried capsules are rubbed by hand or with a rough coir matting or with a piece of wire-mesh and winnowed to remove other plant residues and foreign matter. They are then sorted according to their size and colour. Since green capsules fetch a premium price in foreign markets, it is essential to retain this colour as far as possible. For this purpose, various methods have been tried. Soaking the capsules of freshly harvested green cardamom in two per cent washing-soda solution for 10 minutes before drying to less than ten per cent moisture level and storing in gunny bags lined with two layers of polythene helps to preserve green colour effectively for 6-9 months. Similarly, bleached cardamom constitutes a distinct trade quality. Bleaching is done by exposing the dried capsules to the action of sulphur dioxide produced by burning sulphur.
PEPPER (Piper nigrum L.) is one of the most important and the earliest known spice crops of India. It is a perennial climbing vine belonging to the family Piperaceae and is indegenous to the west coast of southern India. Pepper cultivation is mainly confined to Kerala,Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and to a limited extent to Assam and West Bengal. Very recently, pepper has been cultivated successfully in Andhra Pradesh and the Andamans. Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Cambodia are the other pepper-producing countries. The black pepper and the white pepper-producing countries of commercial are the dried and processed berries and have a very prominent place in the world market. Pepper is used as a flavouring agent for food-stuff and also carminative. The alkaloid piperine forms 5 to 8 per cent by weight of the seed and the volatile pepper oil forms 1 to 3 per cent of the unripe berries.