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Planting by the signs and other age-old knowledge

ruth poole greenhouse


"She is kind but doesn't suffer fools," says Jane Waller (r) friend of Grandview Road gardener Ruth Poole (l). Visit Poole and other vendors at the Jasper Farmer's Market every Saturday through October from 7:30 a.m. until noon at Lee Newton Park.

    On a sunny morning last week, Jane Waller’s greenhouse off of Cove Road was a humid hub of activity and conversation.   
    Waller and Ruth Poole, a native Pickens resident and a treasure trove of old timey gardening knowhow, were seated among dozens of flats of starter seedlings labeled “tomato,” “squash,” and “okra,” batting dialogue back and forth between themselves and two others.
      Waller’s relationship with Poole began 20 years ago, and in that time has blossomed into what could easily be called a mutual admiration society, with Waller looking to Poole as a mentor and Poole seeing Waller as a dear friend and companion. 


    “I went to the [extension office] 20 years ago and I wanted milk goats,” Waller said, whose self-assertive, larger-than-life personality leaves nothing to speculation. “I went to ask [county agent] Rick Jasperse what he knew about them and he didn’t know anything, but he said there was a woman in Pickens County who had milk goats and her name was Ruth Poole. Me and my six-year-old boy went to her house and knocked on the door and she showed me her goats and showed me how to milk them and gave us a nice glass of goat’s milk. I fell in love with the woman and we’ve been friends ever since. Basically she’s the person I want to be when I grow up.”
    Poole is as no-nonsense as Waller, and that quality, along with Poole’s compassion and dedication to the simple life of gardening and farming are what have kept Waller hanging around for so many years.
    “Her priorities are all straight,” said Waller, who owned The Flying Sheep yarn shop in downtown Jasper before it closed. “She says don’t be in the house if you can be outside. She is kind but doesn’t suffer fools. She enjoys sharing what she knows about growing things and she’s as bossy as I am.”
    Poole grew up in the west end of Pickens, in the Jerusalem community with a mother and father who sustained their family of nine by farming until her father took up work as a butcher later in her childhood. 
    “They’d always been farmers,” Poole said. “They sold cotton, corn, hay, peanuts, popcorn, and peas. Back then people grew almost everything they had. We had cows, hogs, and chickens, so we got our milk and butter and meat and all that. You didn’t have to go to the store much to buy anything but coffee, flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda.”
    Poole, now a staple at the Jasper Farmer’s Market, said as a child she was anxious to find out everything there was to know about gardening and tending to the livestock; she said she never learned how to crochet or quilt like her mother because “I guess I just never had the time. I was too busy doing other things.”
    Poole helped on the family farm until she was married, after which she met a woman who impacted her life in much the same way she is now impacting Waller’s.
    “After I got married I had this wonderful friend and she told me everything I knew about planting,” Poole said, going on to explain some of trade secrets revealed to her that can only be learned by doing, including the ancient practice of using the astrological zodiac to determine the best time to plant, commonly called “planting by the signs.”
    “I’d be going to plant and Fanny would tell me, ‘No, the signs ain’t right,’ Poole said as she pulled out her planting calendar with the best planting dates circled in green and the “okay” dates circled in yellow. “In two or three days she’d say it’d be a good time to plant. Things will come up and do okay anytime, but I’ve come to find that if you plant by the fertile signs they’ll do better. If the sign is in the loin or in the breast those are best times to plant. Feet are good for things that grow under the ground. Fanny used to say that anything in the bowels won’t bear fruit but it will just bloom, and it’s true.”  
    Through years of conversations with Waller and with her own family Poole is keeping old traditions like this alive another generation, including other practices that have become uncommon such as cooking with plants like lambs quarters and polk salad, or refusing to use pesticides on her garden.
    “We always say if it ain’t fit for the bugs to eat it ain’t fit for us to eat,” Poole said.
    Now Poole’s age keeps her from gardening like she used to, when at her peak she would put up 500 cans a season, milk the goats and churn her own butter. After her sons moved out and Poole began sitting with the sick and elderly she had to give up the goats that brought her and Waller together so many years ago. Still, she keeps a positive attitude and stays busy outside with a more modest garden. She continues to can a few items like peppers and jelly, and takes her excess to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.
    “It will be sad when I can’t do anything, but my son said when it gets to that point he’d get a chair and bring me out to the garden so I can watch them work,” she said laughing. “I don’t know why I love it so much I just do.”

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