Hilltown Families


In the Academy-winning award movie “La grande bellezza, ” a Mother Teresa-like elderly nun is asked why she only eats roots, and she answers “because roots are important.” And how they are! In Western Massachusetts, we are very lucky to be able to harvest locally grown root vegetables in abundance. But again that age-old questions of storage comes up. Good thing that Jim is at hand to offer some nuanced insights into effective storage that will lead to some happy full plates over the coming months!

Most homeowners are probably gardened out by this time of the year. But if you do a few simple chores now it will give you a leg up come spring. See Jim’s list of four to do this September to minimize your headaches next spring. You might even unearth some embedded learning in the process!

You might think it to be a new trend, but Goatscaping is in the news because it’s effective and it works! In “The Garden Plot” this month, Jim takes us to the heart of the summer smash hit that has people talking, goats munching, and weeds disappearing! He gives valuable and considerate insight into maximizing the power of the goat in your garden that will last long beyond when the buzz settles, leaving your kids with valuable lessons.

“The greatest fertilizer is the farmers footprint” captures the essence of Jim’s column on garden chores this month in “The Garden Plot.” By now you’ve either beaten the planting deadline or have not. If you have….Congratulations!!! Now the real work starts. The core necessity is not any high-minded science but merely to pay attention to your garden. Notice how it grows, where are the weed hot-spots, how is the hydration, and a few more things.

Give your kids tasks and get them involved in the family garden, exercising their own skills of observations and taking pride in their chores. In a family garden there is visible pay-off, which boosts a child’s confidence and sense of being able to influence change and growth. Learn together and share the experience… and at the end of the day, fresh veggies for your family dinner!

This week in “The Garden Plot: Growing & Caring Tips for the Family Garden & Landscape,” you are introduced to multiple embedded multidisciplinary learning opportunities via woodland gardens. Also known as shade gardens, Jim outlines 5 steps on how to grow a successful and cohesive garden. What truly makes this garden grow is to involve the whole family and to plan ahead!

It’s been a long cold winter, but longer still for our insects and plants as they struggled to remain robust in the face of the chilly temperatures. Read about the impact this past winter has had on your immediate landscape in our monthly post, “The Garden Plot,” and use it as a catalyst to plan, plant and learn about growing a landscape that is resilient and can thrive year after year with your kids!

Got the gardening bug? You can begin to plant in your gardens, even if you’re living in the Hilltowns! This month in “The Garden Plot,” Jim shares his top five recommended seeds you can plant now in your family garden. After two decades of gardening in the Hilltowns, Jim knows which seeds are most likely to germinate fastest in the cold, wet, early spring, New England soil. Check out is his and get dirty!

Teaching moments are found everywhere, especially in our gardens and natural surroundings. This month in “The Garden Plot,” Jim writes about climate change and the changes to insect populations this brings. What changes might this bring to our landscapes and abilities to grow crops? Challenge kids to think of the many examples of species that Jim outlines to better understand their adaptability and possible changes – there are lots of possible choices to examine…

Preserving food from the fall harvest not only will supply your family with local food all winter long, but it can also support your children’s learning in chemistry and biology. Get the family involved and take a look at these three easy ways you can put up food in your home kitchen…

In “The Garden Plot” this month, Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Jim McSweeney, shares five plants to include in your home garden that add beauty in the colder months while attracting wildlife…

This month in “The Garden Plot,” local landscape designer and Hilltown Families contributing writer, Jim McSweeney, shares his “Big 3” – three attributes to consider when adding or removing plants from your family garden…

It might be September, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to neglect your family garden! This month in “The Garden Plot,” Jim share five suggested garden chores you can do with your family before the first freeze and the first snow fall…

Are you growing blueberries, tomatoes and/or potatoes in your home garden this summer? Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Jim McSweeney talks about the bug & blight challenges of these home crops in “The Garden Plot: Growing & Caring Tips for the Family Garden & Landscape.” He shares not only organic ways to deal with these threats, but also ways families can find the teachable moments…

Skip using a water sprinkler to water your gardens…. sprinklers were meant for lawns, and for cooling off the kids! Here are some tips on how and when to water your newly planted garden, and how your kids can help!

Environmentally sound garden practices for the family garden One of the major keys to a successful garden is the incorporation of organic matter into the soil every year. I remember taking a soil class at UMass 15 or so years back and hearing my professor say, “the answer to almost any question I ask this semester will likely be to add organic matter to the soil. If the problem is nutrition, drainage,… Read More

5 Simple Steps for Pruning Raspberries Picking ripe raspberries straight off of their canes and popping them into your mouth is a summer delight that kids can carry with them into adulthood as fond memories from their childhood! But perhaps no other small fruit commonly found in Western MA  gardens mystify their owners as do raspberries. And there is no shortage of information out there on how to prune these thorny canes!… Read More

Pruning Blueberry Bushes April is a great month to get the family outdoors and getting their landscape ready for the spring. Families can rake the leaves missed in October, pick up fallen branches, cut perennials back… But the pruning of shrubs is not quite as obvious of a spring chore. While many varieties of shrubs can be pruned at this time of the year, our native blueberries will thrive with regular pruning…. Read More

5 Gardening Tips for Late Winter Spring is just around the corner and planning your garden with your kids while there’s still snow on the ground can be both fun and educational.  There’s no shortage of garden prep that you can be doing right now. Here are five things you can do to plan and prepare for your gardens this summer: SEED CATALOGS: Gather your kids around and peruse thorough seed catalogs…. Read More

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