Summertime

left to right from the top: Chaucer students get stuck into Plot18 during the holidays, apples growing at LEAF, the Bee Project at LEAF, blackberry picking.
left to right from the top:
Chaucer students get stuck into Plot108 during the holidays, apples growing at LEAF, the Bee Project at LEAF, blackberry picking.

“Summertime…” says the George Gershwin song “….and the living is easy.” With the summer we’ve been having there have certainly been some days when just sitting down and enjoying the sun and all that’s alive around you has without doubt been the most sensible thing to do. That said there’s still been plenty of work to do on the various plots and allotments PXI is involved in – Plot107 has produced loads of fruit this year, especially rhubarb and gooseberries despite the fact its all got a bit overgrown in places, and now we’ve teamed up with Chaucer school to work on the neighbouring Plot108 we’re hoping to be even more productive next year as we also hope to use it as a base for some out of school youth work.

As well as the work in Parson Cross Park, we’ve been busy down on Herries Road at LEAF and at Plot64. The new plot is still taking time to get into a productive state again, with loads of weeding and digging out still to be done as well as avoiding disturbing wasps nests! Even so it’s gradually beginning to take shape and hopefully by next season we’ll be looking to plant.

At LEAF we’ve been busy with some enthusiasm from some of our younger volunteers over the summer helping to do much needed work harvesting, weeding and replanting. The bees are also doing really well there and continue to busy themselves with storing up and making honey. We’ve also had time for some social time, last Saturday LEAF threw “open house” and invited people round for tea, using food made from stuff grown on our various allotments – in the end about fifteen people came and made their own pizzas in the pizza oven before sampling a range of pies, cakes and crumbles.

Soon we’ll be looking to the apples and pears and other “hard fruits” and hopefully be working once again alongside Abundance (the Sheffield urban harvesting group http://growsheffield.com/abundance/  ) and starting some more jam and chutney making and cooking sessions at Mount Tabor and at the Cross at Yew Lane. So enjoy the last few weeks of summer, and look forward to the seasons to come.

Welcoming Visitors

Cooking and filming at LEAF
Cooking and filming at LEAF

Last  week at LEAF we were visited by a film crew who were making a documentary all about local food production and community approaches to food. It was a good opportunity to show why I in particular enjoy being at LEAF so much when I get the opportunity to be there – it’s not just about the food growing, important though that is, it’s also about being community.

Now being a community, just like being a family isn’t always easy, and there are times when people fall out – sometimes over little things that are easily patched up, and sometimes over things that are much harder to heal and move on from, but the mark of any community (and family) is in how much it is able to forgive each other and move on. Now forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, and it doesn’t mean the hurts will always disappear but it does mean that we learn to understand each others faults and failings and therefore try to find ways of moving on beyond them. In the bible it says “…love each other deeply, because love makes you willing to forgive many sins.” (1 Peter 4.8 ) – obviously this isn’t the slushy romantic love of cinema screens and soaps operas, this is a deep unreserved love for our fellow human beings that has almost limitless powerful opportunities to heal and build.

But back to the film – the crew we there all day doing interviews with people and filming as Kadeja cooked a wonderful Iranian style omlette all made with ingredients from the plots including the eggs from Garys chickens – all in all its about as local as you can get, and delicious too!

You can read more about the film project at: https://www.facebook.com/LocalFoodRoots?fref=ts

In addition to the film crew, PXI also welcomed visitors from the Anglican Diocese of Manchester last week who are currently travelling the country to gather stories about how the governments “austerity” politics is adding to the effects of poverty in communities up and down the nation. They paid a visit first to the “food bank” we run at Mount Tabor and then in turn came to visit LEAF before spending time at St Leonards church in Longley.

Runner Beans on offer at LEAF
Runner Beans on offer at LEAF

This week as the sun continued to bear down on us we opened up two new beds to plant some Yacon and Okra – but before we did it was time to harvest a decent yield of runner beans and offer them to the public. We’d had at least one taker before I left at lunchtime – I do hope they enjoyed them.

After the morning at LEAF, I moved on to the quiet garden at Cross at Yew Lane, where the raspberries this year have done really well. Another two pounds almost today to add to the full tub we’d already picked and shared on Sunday with visitors to “The Gathering” which is a small christian group that meets regularly there.

There were more Raspberries on Plot107 when Angela was up there today – lots of weeds still to cut down but as the site for our main fruit crops its been doing well this year at least as far as the raspberries and gooseberries are concerned. For some reason the rhubarb has not done as well, and the strawberries have largely failed due to us allowing them to get shaded out by other stuff – a new plan will be needed next year for them.

Stories from the Plots

The story of the lost keys
The story of the lost keys

I’ve been in a bit of a reflective mood recently looking at some of the things we do in PXI and why we do them, but as I’ve done that I’ve also learned a number of lessons from life on the allotments.

1. A few weeks ago our plots at Parson Cross Park and at Norwood looked really overgrown – the weeds had grow tall and parts were like a jungle, all because we’d neglected our work there for a month or so – it amazing how quickly neglect can overwhelm a situation.It the same with other things in life it’s amazing how quickly situations worsen, relationships suffer, and problems mount if we neglect dealing with them. I met someone the other week who got themselves into a load of debt (thousands of pounds) just because they’d tried to ignore the situation and so the interest was added on, the debt grew and a problem that had started smaller had grown and grown until it was almost overwhelming. Thankfully this person had now seen a debt advice worker at an advice centre and bit by bit the debt was being brought under control – it will still be a struggle, there are rarely any easy solutions, but at least the problem is being managed again, much like our overgrown plots.

Our relationships with each other and with God can also be a bit like that, in the Bible, Paul tells members of the early Church “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4.26) – in other words don’t let arguments, disagreements, and fall outs drag on – because the longer they do the more other things grow up around them making it harder to apologise, forgive or rebuild the relationship.

Likewise our relationship with God can also get neglected when we don’t spend time in conversation with “him” – that’s why we pray. Prayer is no more than our ongoing conversation with God, there’s no right way to do it – no special words needed, just an honest recogition of how we feel and where our friendship with God is. Thankfully whatever our relationship with God is like “he” is always ready to listen to us.

2. Story telling is one of the ways we learn truths about life, Jesus used stories a lot when he taught his followers about God.  This week we went to Plot 64 to do some more clearance work and to try and start making space for the first beds we hope to prepare. In the end we had to leave in a bit of a rush because of one of those mini family crisis you get when you’ve got kids – so Angela put on the padlock and we were ready to go. It was only then we realised that we’d lost the keys somewhere so now we were locked out of our allotment and inside the allotment compound, and still we needed to rush home. Thankfully a kind allotmenteer opened the site gates so we could leave and deal with our family crisis – but still we had no idea where the keys were. We searched through the bag we’d taken to the plot – we emptied out our pockets, and every compartment in the car – but no keys! Later we went back to the plot with a ladder so we could climb over the hedge and on to the plot to find the lost keys – we looked all over the site and then we found them – what joy, what relief  the keys were lying there, and all our worries about buying replacements, the cost of a new gate and so on were gone. That same sense of joy that we had in finding those keys, is how Jesus says God feels when someone he hasn’t heard from in ages gets in touch as wants to become friends (You can read the bible story in Luke 15.8-10) ….

Enjoy the sunshine – and may God bless you.

Taking Time Out

Nasturtiums, Peas and Beetroot on Plot107

Well it looks like summers finally arrived (even if only briefly according the the forecasts) and is was lovely to spend a good portion of my day today on the plot – and it needed it! The recent wet weather had made everything grow and especially the weeds, so despite the heat it was a case of being down on my knees pulling up weeds of all different varieties. Weeding is one of those gardening tasks of course that never seems to end, it’s a bit like painting the proverbial Forth Bridge,but staying on top of them is important to allow growing and breathing space to the plants as a gardener you want to do well – and there was no shortage of those as well today. From the bright and colourful Nasturtiums, to the harvesting of 4llbs of Broad Beans, the reward of tasting lovely wild strawberries, and cutting some chives for tonights tea, this years harvest is well underway – and all because of that space to grow and the nurturing that goes with it.

It being so hot and sunny it was also good to just take some time out from the work and relax and reflect – friends and regular followers of this blog will probably know about my interest in re-discovering “monastic rhythms” and exploring ideas of “new monasticism” for me the plot is as much a part of the monastery garden (alongside Quiet Garden at the Cross at Yew Lane) and as such it is about providing a space where we can be nurtured and grow just like the plants around us. And so it was that I found myself sitting and reading “Cave, Refectory, Road” by Ian Adams late into an the afternoon.

Adams identifies three spaces key to a “spiritual” life;

  • the Cave. This is that place of quiet, often solitary – where we take that essential time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with all its joys and sorrows, its burdens and its rewards, this is the place that we rest, this is the place we try to draw close to the “more” that we sense almost instinctively that we know there is to life – we may each call that “more” something different, for me the “more”is God as shown to us by Jesus.
  • the Refectory. Here we meet with others in community, our friends our family our neighbours – this is where we share hospitality, it is the place that gives us our stability.
  • the Road. The road calls us to live our lives shaped by our contact with others, to become public over private.

…. and so I sit, now showered and home from the plot, to spend more time in solitary reflection and, strangely, I find my mind turning to a scene in Christopher Nolans “Batman Begins”. It’s the scene where Bruce Wayne having returned from a time of personal challenge decides to confront his fear of bats, he does this by venturing into the cave of his boyhood terrors and standing as the bats fly around him – gradually as his fear is overcome – the cave that in the past held only fear and terror, has become not simply a refuge but the place of growth and power. Caves it would seem are not always dark and damp, nor are they simply places to fear, they can be places lit up with insight, where fears and worries can be overcome, and where new insights can be gained. ….. And so back to the cave!

“The journey to knowing God must include the discipline of coming to know yourself, and that risky journey invariably starts in silence” Ian Adams “Cave, Refectory, Road”

“When’s it going to stop!”

“When is it going to stop!” it feels like the British obsession with talking about the weather is being well and truly fuelled by all the rain and wet we’ve had this year -the wettest June on record (that is since 1910) seems to be being followed by a pretty wet start to July as well. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18678659 While all us gardeners appreciate the value of rain to help the garden grow, once it gets this much it obviously starts to cause its own problems.

It’s a year since we got the keys to Plot107 – and its seen some real changes in the allotments in Parson Cross, of course we’ve had to say goodbye to Fay who helped so much in the early days, but now we’ve set up our own Community Garden Group with Mick as chair of the group, we are already planning various activities to try and improve the site still further such as a big tidy up of what use to be the compost pile in the bays at the top of the site, more work to make the poly tunnel or more useable space, and improvements to the communal area, including using the large containers as a shelter for when the weather is wet. There are still about 40 plots available if people are wanting one, so if your interested contact Ceri Ashton (Allotment Officer with Sheffield Council) on 01142734771.

But meanwhile, the rain continues to pour – hosepipe bans have turned into flood warnings, drainage from the plots has become a bigger issue for some more than getting water onto them, “When’s it going to stop!” is what many people affected by this very wet spell are already crying out. Life can be like that too I guess, we can seem to overwhelmed by event after event, difficulty after difficulty – at times it feels like our lives are just being flooded with problems, at times like those it’s hard to look for the glimpses of sunshine behind the clouds – at times like those the most honest thing to do is to cry out to God “When is it going to stop!” There is something of this in the bible story of Job. In the story Job goes from having everything to having nothing, in fact almost worse than nothing – so much that at one stage he says to God that he would rather be dead – certainly someone at a low point…. despite this Job keeps his faith in God, and its in those difficult and dark days that we need to keep faith, it is perhaps when we need God the most.

Welcome to the jungle

Plot107

Walking to Plot107 this week was a bit like a jungle trek with weeds on unused plots at head height. It’s frustrating trying to keep your own plot free from weeds when there’s neighbouring plots stacked high with them and ready to spread seeds across the site – meanwhile the recent weather has been ideal not just for weeds but for lots of produce on the allotments.

This weeks also been good for fruit on the plot – managed to harvest the first of the gooseberries (which made a rather lovely crumble with custard, thanks to my wife Angela and her cooking skills!) and the wild strawberry plants are putting up loads of their mini strawberries. Not to be outdone though the cultivated strawberry plants are also well down the line of producing fruits. I must admit I always enjoy being able to pick and eat a strawberry straight from the plant – it reminds me of past trips to PYO (Pick Your Own) strawberry fields, I used to like the one in Ecclesfield but now the only reference to it being a farm is the name of the pub there!

As the tennis at Wimbledon has started this week as (not that I’m a huge tennis fan) it made me think about how we associate Strawberries in particular with something that somehow seems to say “English summertime”, weather its strawberries and cream, or strawberry jam on scones with butter, they just seem to shout out a particular picture of “English middle class-ness” – but on looking up facts about strawberry production for this particular blog post, I was hit by the figures on world strawberry production and harvest.

In 2010 the world production of stawberries was over 4.3million tonnes, now that’s a lot of strawberries! And the biggest producers of strawberries in the world? ….. USA (1.2 million tonnes), Turkey & Spain(0.3 million tonnes), Egypt, South Korea & Mexico (0.2million tonnes)

I can’t compete with that …… still I bet mine taste nicer!

Strawberries and Gooseberries on Plot107

 

 

 

“Many hands make light work”

Weeding on Plot107

With all the rain, and the sunshine in between the last few weeks have been good for the weeds on all the plots in Parson Cross, so we were very grateful on Plot107 for the offer of help from a group of students from Sheffield University Chaplaincy when they offered to spend a day working with us on the plot. Thankfully the weather stayed fine and we were able to clear the remainder of the overgrown part of our plot as well as building three new beds ans planting them with onions, peas and beetroot.

At the start of the day one quarter of the plot was up to shoulder high with a variety of weeds including thistles, docks and others – but after only a few hours of work not only was the area completely cleared but we’d also built three new small beds and planted them up. We also spent a bit of time slashing back the weeds from some of the unallocated plots that were starting to block the path down to Plot107. If anyone is wanting a plot they really should contact the Sheffield Council allotment office and ask about Parson Cross park – although the plots aren’t full allotment size, most are big enough and as far as I’m aware taking a plot here wouldn’t mean your name coming off the Councils main allotment list. To be honest those of us already growing there are really keen to see the other plots taken as soon as possible – so even if you don’t want a plot for yourself but know someone who does, why not get in touch. As well as families, the plots can also be taken on by local groups, there is already a couple of under fives nursery plots, and one cared for by Chaucer School, as well as our PXI plot – so maybe your youth group, tenants association or similar want to take on a plot?

Lunchtime on Plot107

Of course the great thing about plot life is that it is never all about work, and yesterday was no different there was plenty of opportunity for conversation and joking around, as well as the opportunity to share lunch together. There’s something about eating together that helps to build friendships, perhaps that’s why feasts and suppers feature so often at different places and times in the Gospel stories about Jesus – whether it’s wedding feasts in Cana, loaves and fish near Galilee, or the Last Supper in the Upper Room in Jerusalem – and so perhaps as we sat and ate and joked together in the middle of Parson Cross yesterday we also were a small part of that tradition.

I also can’t finish this blog without a thank you to Claire and everyone who sponsored her in the Sheffield half marathon – together they raised a wonderful £115 to support the work of PXI in Parson Cross – thank you and may God bless you.