The collection or the harvest of the flowers is carried out as follows:
1. Manually: the flower head is torn off by shifting the stalk between the fingers and pressing the fingers briefly, as is still the case in Egypt today.
2. With a rake similar to the one that is used for blueberry and cranberry harvests. The following systems exist:
a. Meyer: Tubes with a multipronged fork with a mobile cutting device (scissors) on top. No stalk-free product is produced.
b. Sartorius: Sheet steel appliance with filed-off teeth. Long stalks are obtained.
c. Central Germany: Rake with 20 prongs, 14 cm width, thorn body 65 mm in length at intervals of 6 mm.
d. Heeger : Rake with 20 peaked thorns with 110 mm length each at intervals of 5 mm, 10 cm width. The device is completely open at the top.
e. Checo: Quadratic sheet box that has a grip at the upper part. Below the aperture lie peaked teeth at intervals of 5 mm.
In the salt steppes of Hungary a device is used in the form of a toothed shovel is used, similar to a potato harrow, that must be operated with both hands because of its size (see
4. With special rakes, that are pushed by humans (Figure 5.8.1) or — the next larger size
5. With mechanized harvesters.
At first, with simple devices 50 to 100 tons of chamomile drug were harvested per year. After 1950 the hand combs, common until then, were replaced by pushcarts (Figures 5.8.2 and 5.8.3). As of 1950 the first cultivation attempts were started. The quantities could then be increased rapidly. The functional pushcarts were pulled by horses or motor (Figure 5.8.4).
For the formerly common solar drying, approximately 35,000 racks were brought outside in the mornings and back to the storage area in the evenings. Temporarily more than 5,000 persons were working the harvest and processing during a season. A further increase of production, however, was only possible through the use of harvesters (Figure 5.8.5); the first prototype of modern harvesters was used starting in 1971 (Figure 5.8.6). This Argentina harvester was working effectively. By 1974 production already amounted to 2000 tons.
For this large-scale production, hand picking is not suitable, a mechanization of the chamomile harvest was established for economic reasons. The Linz harvester (variants I to III) developed in the former GDR proved workable on larger cultivation areas, but it is no longer manufactured. In Slovakia chamomile harvesters are used with good success, too.
Furthermore, it should be considered that the chamomile harvest lasts only a few weeks so that improvements can only be tested during the following season. The cultivation of chamomile is relatively specific in comparison to other agricultural crops. Therefore, the machine manufacturers do not show great interest because of low demand.
Depending on the collecting method, the yield varies. With a manual harvest it amounts to 0.75 kg fresh drug (0.15 kg dry drug) per hour, 4 to 5 kg fresh drug in 6 to 8 hours. With the Heeger device the yield can be increased to 2.0 kg fresh drug per hour (0.4 kg dry drug). The Slovakian machine was constructed to collect 800 kg fresh drug per day.
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