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|Mischt for Fuel
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
In Bessarabia, "Mischt" was a very important
fuel source, since we were not near a forest from which
to obtain firewood. "Mischt" was the byproduct
from cows and horses - the manure that collected in
the barns and animal pens. These areas were always kept
well-bedded with straw, of which we had an abundant
supply. When the manure was cleaned out on a regular
basis throughout the year from the areas that housed
the animals, the underlying bedding of straw was also
taken up and became part of the raw "Mischt. "This
raw "Mischt" was carted outside and collected
in a pile called a "Mischt Haufa" or simply
"Mischte" toward the rear area of the farm
yard. Here it was left until the weather became dry
and hot enough to turn the raw "Mischt" into
blocks of dried "Brennmischt. "Often the "Mischte
Haufa" would become quite warm, even to the point
of steaming as the mixture began to rot.
In the early summer, the manure that had been collected
over the winter in the "Mischt Haufe" was
ready to be further processed into "Brennmischt".
It was taken and spread quite thickly on the ground
in an area known as the thrashing square which was a
hard-packed dirt area in the back section of the farm
yard. Every family farmstead had one of these thrashing
areas. At harvest time this area was used to thrash
grain by use of stone-rollers pulled by horses.
The raw "Mischt" was spread out evenly about
4-6 inches thick on the thrashing square, then was "batschat"
(beaten down) with any available device to compact it.
The method used depended on the amount of manure to
be compacted, the implements available, and the custom
of the family. Mostly this process was done by human
strength, although some families also utilized horse
power to get the job done. The compacted end product
was referred to as "Brennmischt".
After compacting, the "Mischt" was left to
dry sufficiently until it could be cut into blocks that
would hold together. Some folks cut the "Mischt"
into squares, others cut it into rectangles the size
of a large brick, like my folks did. The "Mischt
"blocks were generally referred to as "Mischt
Batza. "After cutting, the "Mischt" "Batza"
was piled up into a "Kopitze" (a stack) that
was generally a somewhat round pile 6-8 feet high and
4-5 feet wide. As the "Mischt" "Batza"
was stacked up, plenty of spaces were left in the stack
to allow moisture to escape, since even by this time
the "Mischt" was not entirely dry.
Before thrashing time, as weather and work schedules
permitted, the "Kopitze" was dismantled, and
the" Mischt" was taken and stacked in a "Mischt-Schopf"
which was a shed used exclusively to store dried "Mischt".
Because there was a lot of straw in the "Mischt",
the blocks held together and were fairly easy to handle
when dry. The straw also enhanced the amount of burnable
energy that was contained in the blocks of "Mischt".
These blocks of "Mischt" could be counted
on for burning quite a while in our mud-brick furnaces
that were our means of heating our houses. Poor folks
who had no animals to produce "Mischt" went
out into the pasture to collect dried cow paddies (cow
pies) - these also burned well due to the residue of
grass and hay from the feed of the cattle. Cow paddies
did not burn nearly as long as blocks of "Mischt",
but they did burn hot and many housewives preferred
them as fuel for their cookstoves. Many times my mother
sent me out to the pasture to collect dried cow paddies,
as she found them a practical source of hot fuel for
her fire. To the end of our stay in Bessarabia (until
1940) we had mud-brick ovens and stoves. Metal stoves
that burned coal or wood were nearly unheard of, as
such stoves and their fuel were far too expensive for
most villagers to afford. Despite their source, the
"Mischt Batza" burned clean and did not smell
at all. They did leave a bit of dust behind when not
handled carefully. My "Oma" Opp had an old
blanket called a "Mischt-Placht" that she
used to keep her floors protected from the "Mischt"
dust. The "Mischt-Placht" would then be stored
in some place out of the way when not in use.
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns
on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his
childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences
of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945
before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the
reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).
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