May 2007
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Grover Poole Welcomes a Gift of Seed Cane

  A neighbor offered Grover Poole a gift of seed cane. Poole graciously accepted and then went about planting cane the way he did when he was a boy.
By Jaine Treadwell

Grover Poole got an offer on the church steps that he didn’t hardly see how he could refuse.

A friend asked him, real casual like, if he knew of anybody who needed some seed cane. He had bedded cane for a man who decided he didn’t want it. So, he had some to give away.

Poole is well known around Pike and surrounding counties for the fine cane juice that he grinds every fall.

In a good year, he might grind as many as 800 gallons of the sweet sippings and friends and neighbors and lots of strangers will "just happen by."

It’s funny how many friends a man has when he’s got a mule at the cane mill.

Last year’s drought played havoc with Poole’s cane patch. His cane made and it was good and sweet. There just wasn’t enough of it.

"I don’t plant cane like we used to," he said. "I just cut it back and leave the stubble in the field and cover it with fodder so the cold won’t kill it. I’ve been raising cane off the same stubble for about 12 years now.

"My daddy wouldn’t do that. He’d leave the stubble for a couple of years, then he’d move his cane patch to another place. But, I’ve had good luck with mine."

But the offer of seed cane gave Poole the chance to revisit the "good ol’ days" when there was nothing but work to do.

Pulling a little dirt over the seed cane wasn’t all that much work for Grover Poole. He only had one long, long row to cover. His other cane will spring forth from the stubble that he left in the field from the last years’ cane crop.  
"I told the man that I’d like to have the seed cane," Poole said. "I wanted to see what it would do. How it would make."

So, Poole went out with a middle buster and made one long, long furrow to lay the seed cane down, right next to the stubble he depends on year after year.

"I plowed about four inches deep, maybe a little more," he said. "Cane is like corn; its roots go up instead of down. So, the deeper you plant it the better chance it’s got at making a good root system."

Poole went from one end of the long, long, row to the other laying the cane in the ground. Then he went back with a scoop and a hoe and covered it with dry dirt. He found that the long, long row was even longer when he had to shovel dirt than when he was laying the cane in the furrow.

He pulled out a handkerchief, wiped his forehead and stirred a few memories from the time when there was nothing but work for him to do.

  Cane is like corn in that its roots come out from the top. The deeper the cane is planted, the better the chance it has of making a good root system.
"When I was a boy, my daddy could always find more work for me to do," he said, laughing. "If there wasn’t plowing, planting or gathering for me to do, he’d have me cleaning off fence rows. Every morning when I got up, I knew I had a job to do. Back then, work was just about all there was to do."

Cane patches were as necessary on the farm as a rooster in the hen house.

"Everybody had a cane patch," Poole said. "Most folks didn’t have any money to speak off and, if you didn’t have a cane patch, you wouldn’t have no syrup. Syrup was used as sugar and you didn’t want to be without something sweet all year long."

Fall was the sweetest time of the year, with cane juice to drink and syrup makings all around the communities. But there was also a lot of hard work to be done.

"We’d cut down the cane and tote it to a place where Daddy had dug out a big hole about a foot or better," Poole said. "Then, we had to put in the cane and cover it with dirt to bed it down. Now, that was hard work but we didn’t know any better."

Poole paused in his thoughts and then laughed as he remembered.

"Daddy always went to town on Saturday and me and another fellow were working for him for wages," Poole said. "He told us when we got all the cane cut and hauled that we could take the rest of the day off.

"Well, we got it cut and in the bed and I knew that we always covered it up, so me and this other fellow covered it good with dirt."

When Poole’s dad got home he was stunned to see the bed with "the cover" over it.

"He asked me why we covered the cane before it rained on it. He said it would dry rot if it didn’t have moisture on it. So, I had to go back and get all that dirt off all that cane. It was a lot harder getting it off than it was putting it on. But that was a lesson I’ll never forget."

In the fall when the cane was taken off the bed and readied for the mill, Poole said they would often bundle some of the cane in quilts or cotton bagging and stack it.

"That way we could have cane to make syrup way into January," he said.

The hard work in the fall paid off in the sweetness that followed, but in the spring, there was nothing sweet about planting cane.

"Most of the time, we’d have to clear fresh ground for the cane patch," Poole said. "We’d have to find a wet spot for the patch because cane has to have a lot of water. Then, we had to make the furrows and then haul the seed cane to the patch."

Because the fodder wasn’t stripped before the cane was bedded, it would have to be stripped. Then the cane was laid in the rows and covered with dirt.

"Talk about hot, dusty, dirty, backbreaking work, the cane patch was it in the spring," Poole said.

But not on this day of the gifted seed cane.

It was already stripped and ready for the furrow. All Poole had to do was lay it, end-to-end, and then shovel dirt over it and leave it to the Good Lord to put some water on it. In the fall, the cool nights will bring the sweetness to the cane. Poole will come along and cut it. Then he will hitch his Percheron, Donna Gayle, to the cane mill. Together, they will grind cane juice for all of his many friends and neighbors who enjoy the fruits of his labor - which isn’t nearly so hard these days as it was when he was a young boy on the farm.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.