Cardamoms and Cloves in Sri Lanka
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Mansoor Akbarally
Posted on: August 16, 1999

I am very intertested in growing cardamoms and cloves on a commercial scale. I was wondering if you can give me some information on average yields, best methods of growth etc. For your information I am in Sri Lanka, in a tropical climate.

Cardamom is native to Sri Lanka and is grown commercially there. The variety ‘Minor’ (also known as ‘minuscula’) is the favoured variety for spice and oil extraction. The native variety ‘Major’, known as ‘Long Wild Cardamom’ is found growing wild and though it is cultivated also, it is not as desirable or as valuable as the ‘Minor’ variety.

Cardamom grows as a bushy herb 2-4 metres tall. It produces large underground rhizomes or rootstocks and dense clumps of leafy stems. It flowers in April and May, and sets fruit in October to December. It can be grown from seeds or from selected rhizomes. The seeds take 2-3 months to germinate. Plants are set 3-4 metres apart in a monculture or mixed with black pepper or coffee. Plants mature in 2-3 years.

White cardamom is the bleached fruit. In Sri Lanka, a sulfur fumigation process involving alternating drying and soaking over 10 days yields creamy-white fruits. For the green spice, the fruits are dried in trays in a heated chamber. Yields are typically 40-80 kilograms per hectare.

Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, syn. Eugenia caryophyllus) also grows in Sri Lanka. It is a small evergreen tree growing up to 15 metres tall. It is propagated by seeds which germinate in 12-14 days. The germination of the seeds diminishes very quickly and it is important to sow fresh seeds separated from their pulp. Seeds are planted 20 centimetres apart in the shade. When seedlings are one year old, water is held back to harden off them. When 15-24 months old, the seedlings are transplanted to the field, spaced 7 metres by 7 metres.

The first harvest occurs in 4-7 years. Trees reach peak yields at 20 years of age, and can last up to 100 years. The spice is the flowerbud which is gathered before it opens and flowers. Careful drying results in a top quality product of good colour and is not too brittle. The average tree produces more than 3 kilograms per year, with yields reaching up to 18 kilograms.

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