We went off on an excursion to a cardamom estate yesterday during our Small Science class. Virtually ofcourse, but highly enjoyable nevertheless. The cool breeze, swaying trees, scudding grey clouds framed the background of our visit to Shameema Farms in Peermade, Kerala.
We have been studying “Where our food comes from” in Small Science and learning about food, its constituents, how it is grown, farming, harvesting, pesticides etc. Had it not been COVID times, this would have been the right time to go visit a farm to actually see the process of farming. But a virtual visit was the only possibility. The one advantage of a virtual visit was that we could leave the confines of urban Chennai and travel to Kerala to our student Rafan’s family farm.
Rafan’s dad kindly took us around the farm showing us plants, pods, soil and the machinery through his mobile phone. We learned about the entire lifecycle of cardamom farming. Planting is done in sections using new shoots from existing plants. The fertilized soil is left fallow during April and May until the rainy season in June/ July. The cardamom plant takes almost 18 months to give the first yield and 3 years for a proper harvest. He showed up the beautiful flower and the plump green cardamom seed pods.
Abu Rafan explained how there are approximately about 4-5 harvests in a year starting from July and going all the way to December. The best harvests are the middle ones. The children were astounded to know that the entire process of planting and harvesting is completely manual and there is a skill involved in recognising the seed pods which are ready to be harvested.
Abu Rafan told us that the cardamom plant is very delicate. It can be easily mowed down by strong winds and rain. He showed us how a bunch of plants had broken due to a recent storm. The plant is also very vulnerable to fungus and great care has to be taken to protect it from insects. Rats and frogs apparently love to eat the seed pod. Snakes abound.
In the distance we could see tall tree trunks covered with pepper vine. Abu Rafan zoomed in to show us the pepper pods - a new experience for our students.
The children were busy asking questions in the chat box of Google Meet - “How much water is required?” “What insects come to the plant?” “What pesticides do you use? Don’t they harm the soil?”
We then moved onto seeing the machinery involved in processing the cardamom pods. The pods are dried at high temperatures for 14-16 hours and then rolled in a drum to remove extra stems and leaves. Thereafter the pods are packed and ready to go to the auction site. Abu Rafan explained how auctions take place since that was a burning question for the students along with the economics of the cultivation.
Later Rafan shared some beautiful pictures of the wildlife at the estate - a shield tail, stingless bee and eye catching birds. This was a wonderful experience for our students especially those confined in their homes during COVID times. A little innovation and out of the box thinking can still make science learning highly engaging despite current constraints.