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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Interested in learning how to apply natural or "organic" techniques to control a variety of pests of edible and ornamental plants, including diseases, insects, rodents, deer, and weeds. Find out which methods do and don't work in the home orchard, and ornamental and vegetable gardens. Feel free to bring sample pests and lots of questions. Leave the workshop with information on how to protect your landscape from unwanted herbivores, using the most environmentally sensitive and effective products available. This hands-on workshop will take place at Jim's home/office where he has many edible and ornamental plants to evaluate. Portfolio

For more information visit the New England Wildflower Society website.

Natural Pest Control
Saturday, July 12,
11:00 am-1:00 pm Chesterfield, MA
Course Code: HOR3404
Leader: Jim McSweeney,
Arborist and Horticulturalist Fee: $26 (Member)
/ $32 (Nonmember)
Limit: 20

Sunday, December 15, 2013

If you are interested in learning how to naturally perserve the food you grow or glean then check out my latest article. I have over 2 decades of experience in natural food presevation. I share with readers the 3 EASIEST ways to perserve food, with virtually no extra work.

see above link

Monday, November 18, 2013

Want to know how to make your landscape look great in the fall/winter? I have just written an article on the top 5 fall/winter interest plants for the landscape from my own gardens. Think about seed heads, bark, berries, textures, wildlife benefits, etc... Anyone can make a garden look good in the spring. But we live in your houses for 12 months a year. Why not landscape with that in mind? Enjoy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sustainable plant choices for the landscape

I have just written an article on the best plant choices for the landscape. If you are looking for plants with the following characteristics edibility, beauty, good for insects. Enjoy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

While the garden season is almost over there is still a lot to do. See link above for some timely tips.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I just published an article on 2 pests (one disease & one insect) that are causing real problems to the home gardeners and local farmers. One is a recent introduction to the U.S. (2008) and the other has been around for a long time. This is the same disease that killed all the potatoes and subsequently the people of Ireland in the mid-1800's. See link for more info.

Friday, June 7, 2013

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 add organic matter to the soil. If the problem is nutrition, drainage, pH, disease & insect problems, etc… the solution often can be solved with the addition of organic matter."
Soil needs organic matter for the following reason: moisture retention, aeration, microbial life, slow release fertilizer, etc….
So now you know it, how do you do it? Most people know about composting (see my composting blog for more details but as a busy parent this can be too much work for too little return. Here is what I often do (you will not read this stuff in a book but it really works):

1) When you and the kids pull weeds just lay them back down on their side on top of the soil. They will die, become mulch and slowly return the nutrient they have taken from the soil.
2) Have the children rake up piles of your grass clippings and put them down as mulch. Providing you do not wait until the grass is 2' tall it will have few weed seeds. By the fall it will be semi-decomposted and ready to be worked into the soil.
3) Add some leaves (ground if possible) to the beds. If it's a perennial bed add them to the top as mulch & if it's a veg bed use as a mulch then work it in in the late fall.
4) Keep all plant matter in the bed. Why take the peony stalks away only to bring in bark mulch later? Why not just chop your bean stalks back into the soil or save them for a springtime mulch?
5) Cover crop (for veg gardens only). A cover crop is a seed of an annual plant that you broadcast onto the soil. It grows very quickly & then you turn it back into the soil. My favorite is buckwheat which i just pickup at Hadley Garden Center.

Part of the reason these kinds of tips will not be in Martha Stewarts next book is because it can look a bit dishelved. So if you are aspiring to be on the front page of Better Homes and Garden the above tips are not for you. But if you are a laid back Hilltowner and a busy parent who is trying to grow some stuff it will look fine to you. And have noticed that your 8 year old pile of vegetable scraps has amounted to only one and a half wheelbarrows of soil during this time (this was me)? If so then try the above 5 tips to increase the organic matter of your soil.

Jim McSweeney M.C.A, M.C.H.
Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC
Cell (413) 559-1905

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pruning raspberries
5 Steps

Perhaps no other small fruit commonly found in the gardens of the Hilltowns and Valley mystify their owners as do raspberries. There is no shortage of information out there on how to prune these thorny canes. As a professional and homeowner I can tell you I am often perplexed on how to prune them after reading one of the numerous tomes written on the subject. I will attempt to simplify the process with the below 5 steps.
The steps below assume that you have "summer bearing raspberries" as opposed to "fall bearing raspberries." Even if this is not the case, the below system will work fine.

1) Get the right tools- Loppers on the left & hand pruners on the right.

2) Remove all canes that are dead.

If they fruited last year they will be dead or virtually dead this year. Cut them out at the base (1-2" above soil).
This is a simple task your kids can help you with. They might find hand pruners a bit hard to use so let them use loppers.

3) Remove all canes smaller then the diameter of a pencil.

4) Thin out remaining canes to a 6-12" spacing from one another. Leaving the stoutest healthiest ones.

5) Reduce height of canes with topping cut to approximately 4 1/2 feet.

The photo below shows a row of raspberries at my farm: thinned & topped.

When it comes to bramble fruits, less is more. That monstrous tangled rats nest of a bramble patch that you fear treading into will yield less fruit then a spartanly pruned row of orderly canes. The above 5 steps are the most important things you can do to help you get a good berry harvest. But in conjunction with this do not forget to mulch, irrigate, trellis & fertilize, all topics for a future article.
Good luck!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I have the first of a "how to" video series professionally made. This one is on apple tree pruning.
see before and afters below...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Roots and taxes.

People often ask me "when can i start planting my vegetable garden?" The short answer is now. The soil temp in my gardens has reached 50 degrees. While under the black plastic (I use to heat up the soil) has a soil temperature of 60. All vegetable gardeners should own their own $10 soil thermometer. In general we reach these soil temperatures around April 15th, tax day, hence roots and taxes.
The majority of crops you would plant at this time of year (potatoes, lettuces, kale, spinach, beets, carrots radishes, etc...) will germinate at these soil temps. See link for exact soil temps...

But... if you see many days of cold wet weather coming, hold off on planing. Because cold wet weather for to many days will often rot the seed. I will plant this weekend because next week looks warm (60) and dry. Plant a victory garden this year, feed your family and thumb your nose at the corporate agro business!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Northampton Gazette did an article on the Elm Project. see link below

Gazette Contributing Writer
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Once the dominant tree species in Massachusetts, a healthy mature American elm is a relatively rare find these days. That is why scientists from the Nature Conservancy are on the hunt for the few remaining mature elms in New England with hopes of propagating traits that have protected them from the devastating Dutch elm disease.

“You can go into the forest now and see hundreds of American elm saplings, but they rarely live past five years due to this disease,” said Kim Lutz, director of the Connecticut River Program for the Nature Conservancy.

Three years ago, Nature Conservancy ecologist Christian Marks began a project to restore the American elm to Connecticut River floodplain forests using a population of disease-resistant trees.

To accomplish this, Marks travels throughout New England to locate mature healthy elms. His team then harvests 15 to 20 branches from each tree in the spring before the leaf...
Pruning Blueberry Bushes

April is a great month to get the family out into the landscape. There are all the obvious things to do like rake the leaves you missed in October, pick up fallen branches & cut any perennials back to the ground. But the pruning of shrubs is not quite as obvious of a chore. Many kinds of shrubs can be pruned at this time of the year but our native blueberries thrive with regular pruning. Pruning is one of those subjects that often can cause a state of paralysis to even the most seasoned gardener. But when it comes to blueberries, fear not. It is so simple that even your child can do it (providing you tell her her goat can stay near by).
Just follow the 4 steps below:

1)Get the proper pruning tools. If you have shrubs of any kind you need the following (see image left to right): a folding saw, lopper and hand pruner. All of these I purchased locally in Conway at the family owned and operated Oesco. The long handled loppers are good for kids. Fingers are away from blades and the long handles give them the leverage to cut sizeable branches.

The image below shows a blueberry bush that has not been pruned for 5 years. It has dozens of branches that are too old to produce much in the way of quality fruit. The interior is cluttered with deadwood and the canopy is filled with branches rubbing against one another.

2) Remove any dead, dying or diseased branches.
3) Remove 1/3 of the oldest branches. Cut the stems at the base as low as possible. Your children can keep up with the brush pulling to clear you an area to work in and to see your progress.
4) Repeat next year.

The bush should now be: a) narrow at base, b) open in the center, and c) free of vegetative clutter

If you do this to your blueberry bushes every year or so you will find them producing at least twice as much berries then they did in the past.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The below story is an excerpt taken from a podcast done by WAMC in Albany, for the full story see link at bottom.

A large tree in a small Berkshire town may hold the key to finding the cure to a disease that has deforested suburban landscapes for decades.

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

Jim McSweeney, a certified arborist from Chesterfield, Massachusetts, is standing with a pole saw under a massive elm tree along a sidewalk in Great Barrington. He’s taking of the samples of the twigs and buds that haven’t yet formed into flowers in the early spring.

McSweeney is contracting with the Nature Conservancy to take samples of select, large elm trees across the Northeast. Ecologist Christian Marks said that they are after survivors of Dutch elm disease.

Dutch elm disease is caused by an invasive fungus carried on the backs of beetles that feed on the twigs and bark of several elm species. Introduced from Europe in the1930s, the disease destroyed elms and shady streetscapes in the United States throughout the following decades. The streets of Albany were historically famous for their impressive elms.

An unaffected tree can live for hundred...

photo taken by Tom Zetterstrom

For the full story & pod cast vist...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Climbed in Great Barrington yesterday. 3 trees. The 3rd and final tree of the day was likey planted when the house was built, 1787 the year our constitution was written! Albany Public Radio was there along w/ a few newspapers. The pics were taken by professional photographer & tree lover Tom Zetterstrom of Elm watch. Pete, my employee, will be climbing the next few days and by the weekend the trees bud will be to far open to gather anymore sample for the year.

in the above photo...
Try to find the long tailed lemur in the canopy, rare in these parts

Monday, March 25, 2013

Elm Project, Day 6

Climbed a 100+foot elm down along the Ct. River banks in W. Springfield. Had a view of the river, stripped cars, a bald eagle, massive cottonwoods, Eddies Auto and a guy from the local news w/ a camera who looked awfully out of place. Got some choice pollen. Street value of this stuff is big time.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Nature Conservency Article, Elm Project

An article has just been written and posted on The Nature Conservency's website about the collaboration between us and them. See link below. Tomorrow I climb a 300 yr. old elm in Hatfield, MA

Friday, March 22, 2013

I teamed up last year with the Trustees of the Reservation. To design and install a native sustainable landscape for a new property they had acquired. Check out the link if it sounds of interest.

Mature Tree Preservation (sugar maple)

Today I worked on perserving some old historic sugar maples. Part of the old Graves homestead in Williamsburg MA. Last fall we organically fertilized & mulched the trees. The clients are committed to perserving the historic aspects of the landscape and we have worked on dozens of mature sugar maples on the property. The client, looking towards the future, has been replanting with trees more likely to be able to handle the future changing environment.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Elm Project with The Nature Conservency

Elm project w/ Nature Conservancy. In a few weeks I will begin a project w/ the N.C. trying to increase the genetic diversity of our native elms. I will be climbing the tallest elms in W. Mass and getting pollen from the highest braches.
The branches will be sent to Ohio for the pollen to be crossed w/ other elms of great size, vigor & dutch elm resistance. Hence a tree which will stand up to a myriad of future challenges. Stay tuned for more details.

Today (3/20/13) was my first day teaming up w/ The Nature Conservency. Climbed 3 HUGE elms in N. Conn. Had to get pollen from the highest braches, 100+feet. 3 down, 21 more to go in the next 9 days. I can believe they pay me to do this!

Views. red tail hawk leaves its nest in a dead cottonwood. flood plains of the Ct. river. frozen corn stubble defies the gusts. horse & sulkie trot, while red tail cries and circles, ice chunks float down the river. sprigs of green to ignorant to know any better poke through last nights snow. swollen buds raining down trillions of pollen seeds. spring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Garden Chores

While my hemlock are bending under the weight of snow, there is no shortage of garden prep work you can be doing now.

5 garden things to do on a cold snowy late February day (when you kids are home from school again because of snow!)

1) Peruse thorough seed catalogs. Not only do some make for good reading (Fedco is my favorite ) But it will give you the opportunity to learn a bit more about the culture of growing specific favorite plants.

2) Start seeds. This is a great thing to do with kids. You have not capitulated on getting them that Golden Retriever they have been asking for but what about giving them that…eggplant they have been asking for. Ok, they never asked for it but think what fun for the whole family it would be. This morning my daughter Priya (5 years old) was scooping the soil into the planting cell. My son Forrest (8 years old) was labeling all the plant tags. And I was sowing the seeds.

3) Planning the Orchard. Who would not want a few peach and apple trees in there back yards? Even the smallest back yards (providing you have some sun) can accommodate some of the dwarf varieties. People are often surprised to find out that I grow over 20 kinds of fruits in my back yard here in Chesterfield MA. Apple, apricot, plum, peach, pear, asian pear, persimmons, cherry, strawberry (June and ever-bearing), currants, blackberries (thornless and thorny), raspberries (early, mid and late), blueberries (early, mid and late), grapes, hardy banana, hardy orange, paw paw, watermelon, cantaloupe, beach plum & kiwis. All are organically managed.
If you are looking for locally grown and totally funky fruit check out Steve in Southampton at Tripple Brook Farm
Slightly less esoteric, but great quality is a family run nursery in upstate NY that I often use, Cummings Nursery

4) Design a cold frame or small green house- Have you been picking spinach, mesclun, chard, kale, etc… over the last month. I have and not with to much work either. At its simplest, with a few old recycled windows, scrap 2x4's and the carpentry skills of Bob-The-Builder you are on your way to 4 season gardening.

4) Plan to incorporate more edibles into your landscape. Why not have a plant do double duty, look beautiful and feed your family?