The Zizamele Farmers Co-op has been growing. The number of Lemongrass farmers has increased from the original 14 to 19. The heavy summer rains at the beginning of this year gave the crops a big boost and we are now expecting our biggest harvest ever. Having improved the yields we now have to ensure that we don’t lose the crop to mould. Half the harvest from the end of last year was, frustratingly, lost to mould.
Thus far, the farmers have been experimenting with a range of ‘home-made’ drying methods around their homesteads. With so much humidity in the air during these summer months, we have realised that we need to get a little more sophisticated with our drying methods!
Through our research we found the building plans for a vegetable solar dryer, a tunnel that sucks through wood smoke, and a greenhouse developed by the DBSA for vegetable farmers in PE. The most cost-effective and easiest one for us to begin experimenting with was the solar dryer. Our local inventor, JP, got to work again and whipped one up in a couple of days! The first experiments with this drying structure have been very successful with the Lemongrass drying in just one day. The structure helps to concentrate heat from the sun through clear UV plastic and from its position on a slope, it allows the through flow of wind, further shortening the drying time. The optimal temperature at which to dry the grass is between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius. The lemony smell of the grass dried in this solar dyer is stronger and more deeply fragrant than when dried over a longer time hanging inside the huts. We hope that if we get the grass dried quickly, the mould won’t have a chance to set in.
We have also been experimenting with dipping the grass in a mould-resistant solution of salt and lemon juice. Once dried, the grass needs to protected from mould setting while the crop is waiting to be transported to Cape Town. We were concerned that the salt and lemon juice solution will affect the taste of the product but a quick rinse with plain water was enough to remove any trace of saltiness.
So the solution to the mould problem seems within our grasp. Our next big challenge is to find cost-effective transport. If there is anyone out there with a truck going from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town, with a little bit of spare room, please let us know!!!