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Harvesting Guérande salt takes place every summer days when the optimum conditions are met.
Flower of salt comes from a surface crystallization while the coarse salt is collected at the bottom eyelets.
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Good salt workers have always been considered to be honest and hard-working. The salt works were always owned by the upper classes (clergy, noblemen, Duke of Brittany, the King), with the salt workers' salary (a word which comes from "salt") being largely inferior to the value of the product, which itself generated power and taxes.
Storage difficulties, combined with the variability of harvests, led to important price fluctuations, which resulted in difficulties for the profession up to the 1970s and the arrival of the plastic sheet.
Up to then, the job was a family one, with each member having a role. The marshes were populated with all generations who contributed together in the works. The decline during this period obliged our fathers to cultivate larger areas, and it was not unusual to see works of 100 to 120 "oeillets". Women went to work elsewhere, and the children and older people deserted the sites.
Sales of flower of salt, which had long been used to salt sardines, declined following the closure of the local canneries.
The job was therefore hard and poorly paid. New sales methods, installed by a few visionary organisations, and developed in particular by beginner salt workers, combined with the mechanisation of some tasks, led to better remuneration and the redevelopment of the profession.
Today, the average works has 50 to 60 "oeillets", and many tasks are delegated.
Happily, there is a large revenue difference between mediocre producers and true "paludiers", whether or not they were originally salt workers.
The profession leaves a great deal of free time from October to January, but imposes enormous constraints during harvesting.
The "vasières" (primary ponds) are cleaned during the winter, often with excavators.
The usual work of cleaning and preparation begins - depending on the weather - in January, with cleaning of the "cobiers" and the other channels and peripheral areas.
Next, comes the dressing which consists of removing mud from the "fares" and rebuilding the bridges.
The "ademes" and finally the "oeillets" are cleaned, with bridge building, cleaning and discharging which takes place once the salt crystallisation begins (at the beginning of June).
All these successive tasks are dictated by the weather, as each one must take place once the water reaches a certain salinity level. Depending on the weather, they can take between 2 ½ months and 5 months work.
Winter is a quiet period, but there is always something to do, such as cleaning the "vasières" (where the excavator can't go), rehabilitation work or exceptional maintenance every 10 to 20 years.
"Bennage" - revision maintenance for the "fares" which clog up with sediments, known as "les coques" - takes place every 10 years.
"Chaussage" to remake the "oeillets" is carried out every 20 to 30 years.