Nutmeg is an evergreen tree, which grows to a height of 60 feet. The tree yields two spices - the dark coloured nut and the bright red mace that covers it. The tree originally from Indonesia, thrives in warm, humid conditions with abundant rainfall - 150 cm and more. It grows well on clay loam, sandy loam and red laterite soils, up to an altitude of 1300m above the sea level. The tree cannot withstand heat and needs the cover of shady trees. Water logged conditions also inhibit its growth, and so does wind. This makes it an ideal intercrop in coconut, clove, coffee or arecanut plantations.
Nutmeg trees start flowering in the third year, and are thought to reach their peak yield in 20 years. The yield varies from tree to tree with the average yield being around 1500 nuts /tree/year and 1- 1.5kg dry mace/tree/year. But there are high yielding varieties that yield up to 10,000 nuts a year. The trees will continue to produce fruit until the 90th year or more.
Nutmeg and mace contain many chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidant, disease-preventing, and health-promoting properties. The nut contains trirnyristin and many essential volatile oils. Nutmeg also has many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines for its anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, digestive, and carminative properties.
Nutmeg is by no means easy to grow. It is in fact endemic to the Indonesian islands, from which it spread to other parts of the world. Indonesia, remains the largest producer of nutmeg in the world, but the nuts from the Carribean island of Grenada are preferred more in the international markets for their quality. India produces around 12,000 tonnes of nutmeg a year, with Kerala accounting for more than 90 percent Nutmeg cultivation concentrated in the Thrissur, Ernakulam and Kottayam districts.
Different varieties of nutmeg are available, with plants varying in growth patterns, size and shape of the nuts, the quality and quantity of the mace etc. Trees bearing over 10,000 fruits a year regularly, with nuts weighing 10g each and mace 1g/fruit can be selected as mother trees.
Nutmeg trees can be either male or female. When seeds are planted, around 50 per cent of the saplings will be male and they will bear only negligible quantities of fruits. Moreover, there is no foolproof way of identifying if the plant is male or female before it starts flowering. So planting seeds for establishing a nutmeg plantation is a risky business for farmers. Hence farmers should opt for vegetative propagation using budded or grafted plants. At the same time, it should be kept in mind that male trees are needed for pollination. An ideal plantation should have male-female trees in the ratio 1:10.
Planting is usually done at the start of the rainy season. The pits are dug at a spacing of 9m x 9m. Male grafts should be planted at equal intervals, maintaining the 1:10 ratio. The pit must be of 75cm height, depth and width. It is filled with potting mixture containing 5kg cow dung or 5kg vermi compost, 300g of bone meal and other manure. The plants should be placed in the pit in such a way that the bud faces the west. Care should he taken so that the roots are not disturbed and the pit should be filled with soil up to the collar of the plant.
Adequate mulching should be provided after planting. Temporary shading should also be provided to protect the young plants from the scorching sun. During the summer months, the plants should be watered daily -5 litres for saplings and 25 litres for trees that are 10 years or older. In addition spraying Bordeaux mixture once in a year would help prevent fungal infections. Flowering will start after 3 years.
The fruits have a ripening period of around 9 months. The fruits split open when they are ripe and have to be handpicked on a daily basis, before they fall on the ground. The mace decays rapidly once it comes into contact with the earth and may be lost completely if not collected in time.
Appropriate drying facilities are required for processing nutmeg. In Kerala, the nuts, are usually dried in the sun, and hence their quality suffers. The problem is complicated by the fact that, the harvest season in the State coincides with the rains, increasing the chance of mould formation. Not surprisingly, despite being a major producer of the spice, Kerala isn't famous for Nutmeg The high levels of aflatoxin in the produce from the State, makes it unwelcome in the premium markets of Europe.
The Spices Board is taking steps to remedy the situation by forming nutmeg farmers' associations, which can ensure that the produce is processed to the required quality.
Original post was published here (http://www.kochukudynutmeg.com/)