The white gold of the Batschka
From hemp fibers, one of the oldest cultivated plants, fish nets and clothing were already manufactured in
ancient times. Those during Turkish times already familiar with hemp cultivation received in the Batschka a
new upswing when the German colonists from southern Germany brought hemp seeds with them in 1756. The profound
humus grounds and the predominantly continental climate are ideal conditions. Until then it was commercially
marketed or for one's own use as a raw material however many tasks were necessary.
The high nutrient claims of the hemp to the ground required an intensive ground preparation. The repeated use of the fields and the gathering of stable manure in the fall, the dung with artificial fertilizer before sowing the seeds in May was essentially taken for granted to achieve a good yield. After this expenditure no further work was done until the harvest. The thick growth of hemp up to two meters high in good years let no weeds come up through the shade of the ground. From this natural fight against weeds the succeeding cultures profited and led to the economically increased yield.
In August the ripened hemp was cut with the hemp knife, a right-angled sickle-like hand tool, by hand just above the ground and put up in bundles to dry in piles of ten bundles. The hemp cutting was done mostly by women paid daily. Her wages consisted of one of the ten cut bundles. After the work was done the farmer drove the day workers from pile to pile. Loaded a bundle on the wagon and drove the day's work to the sale in the hemp factory. In this way the day workers were able to convert their wages in natural produce to cash.
After the cutting the farmer could sell the hemp as raw product to the hemp factory. One further possibility existed that the farmer transferred the processing of the hemp to the hemp factory and then sold the hemp himself twisted into braids and tied up into hemp balls. The greatest result was ultimately with the third variant which is with his own processing up to the market ripe raw fiber.
In August or September the cut hemp was laid in the hemp water to "Reetzen"?. In the ground hole, a pond laying at the village's edge, the hemp bundles were fastened to one another in a row, weighed down with clay and held so long under the upper surface of the water until the fibers loosened from stalks. So the hemp was "gereetzt?". When this process ended after about 10 days the hemp was freed from the clay, the bundles washed and driven onto the adjoining grassland with a horse and cart. The wet hemp bundles were cut up by women and spread out to dry on the meadow. The dried hemp was stacked up in the yard of the farmer's property to an open-sided barn. Now the hemp breaking was the next work task. Also although this work was predominantly carried out by women working for daily wages, some construction workers went in October when the construction work stopped, with his wife to break hemp. In craftwork the hemp top was beaten in an upwards movement of the upper moveable parts of the crumbly hemp stalk with wood and broke up the hemp into small parts and the fibers of the stalk separated. The chopped up hemp stalks, called "bulkeserisch Brechoune", warmed the room as burning material in the winter in this wood poor region. The fibers loosened from the stalks were steamed in the next work task. The fibers were pulled off in tufts with a board imbedded with nails. They were so to say combed. The braids twisted into hemp balls bundled the hemp now came as raw material for sale.
The felt steamed out, called Bulkes "Werg", was turned into thick yarn and among other things weaved into horse covers. The horse cover lay like a soft coating on the seat of the farm wagons and served as well for the carriage as well as for the horses for protection against the wet and cold.
The hemp as raw material was also found for the manufacture of textiles for the household for diverse uses. It was spun on long winter evenings in the room on the spinning wheels, spooled, wound, and laid in ropes brought to the linen weaver. The linen weaver stretched the rope on the wooden frame, received and strengthened the yarn for the following weaving process. So the towels were weaved in the necessary width, coarsely made. From one of about 30 centimeter high posts cloth spun outdoors that was exposed to and influenced by the sun and by pouring water over it was kept wet, formed a crease-resistant, bleached and soft cloth that served as a towel, sheet, or straw sack. The straw sack was not filled with straw, but with the soft dried surrounding raffia found immediately inside the corncobs. Naturally there were already mattresses used as the underbed. The overbed, covers, called "Tuchent" and "Bettziech" were filled with down collected over the year from some geese.
The ropes spun of hemp cord were made into diverse objects for everyday use in the household and in agriculture. So one of the hemp ropes served to tie up the cow and horse at the feed trough in the stable and to lead them to the watering place in the yard. Cords spun from ropes served in different lengths for varied fastenings in everyday life in agriculture. When bringing in the grain harvest the floor of the horse wagon was loaded down with sheaves and one long rope made for it was pulled front to back, firmly lashed down and with it the load was secured on the trip to the farmer's properties.
The trade treaty between Yugoslavia and Germany in the '30's of the past century made possible the export to Germany large amounts of Batschka hemp estimated to have great value. Throughout the year the farmers could sell their products to the merchants of the hemp market in Hodschlag about 30 kilometers from Bulkes at good prices. At this time some industries existed in the village which were both working hemp factories until 1945. At times the hemp boom had an annual output of 120 railway cars from both hemp factories.
A Bulkes Hemp Water Anecdote:
The hemp reetze? had to be postponed in the early spring depending on the seasonal volume of work in the fields and the weather. To press the hemp under the water surface for a long time the men then stood up to their chests in the water and shoveled the clay from the floor of the ground hole on to the hemp bundles. As the farmer, the Johannspatt?, wanted to send his people into the hemp water in the spring, they drew his attention to the fact that the water at this time of year is still cold. The good Johannspatt held his "Hochelstecke" (Gehstock, walking stick) in the water and said to his people: "Des Wasser is zum Hanfreetze nimmi zu kalt." (The water is never too cold for hemp reetzen.)
(Heinrich Hoffmann, Translation: Bradley Schwebler)