Timber!

Cut your own Christmas tree this year. Here’s the who, what, where, and why of the Valley’s tree-farming tradition.



Timber!

 

According to historical accounts, it was in 1851 that Mark Carr noted a growing demand for cut Christmas trees. A savvy entrepreneur from Hunter in Greene County, Carr promptly loaded two wagons with balsam firs, hauled them to the town of Catskill, loaded them aboard a steamboat, and shipped them down the Hudson to New York City. Carr set up shop at the corner of Vesey and Greenwich streets, and was pleased to find that his fragrant foliage sold faster than the snow flies during a Hudson Valley blizzard.

Carr’s enduring legacy is that there are now dozens of Christmas tree farms throughout the region. Often located on rolling hillsides along country roads, these farms offer freshly cut trees, or you can cut one down yourself. And note the use of the verb “cut.” Lest you harbor any fantasies of doing the Paul Bunyan thing with an ax: Christmas trees are sawed, not chopped, down. While many customers tote their own saws (you know how we guys are about tools), most farms are happy to lend you one before sending you off on your lumberjack-style adventure.

Of course, the thrill of searching for the ideal evergreen is what lures us out into the fields in the first place. “I can’t think of a more meaningful way to begin the season,” says Susanne Warren of Stone Ridge, who each year launches a search for the perfect tree with her husband, David, and their three children. Last year, they opted for a Douglas fir, which works well for children (since firs — like pines — are soft woods and easier to cut than other types of trees). “It’s funny, though,” says Susanne. “We always rove around for an hour, but then come back to one of the first trees we saw.” Six-year-old Mattison did the sawing honors (with just a little assistance from dad’s steady hand). “You should have seen his smile as the tree fell with a little whoosh,” says Susanne.

In an effort to make your tree-cutting trip a true holiday excursion, a number of farms offer refreshments (hot cider and cocoa are popular) and special events.  Some have gift shops and farm markets, and many offer holiday wreaths, roping, and other decorative greenery. Most farms open for business right after Thanksgiving. But Carole CrimiVaroli, co-owner of Mountain Fresh Farms in Highland, Ulster County, believes the Christmas spirit can emerge at any time. “Our first customer came in mid-October,” she says. “Her daughter was coming back from the service in Germany, and she wanted to have Christmas before she left again.”

 

Caring for Your Tree

The staff at most tree farms will wrap your tree in netting and load it onto your car for you. But you should also bundle it in a plastic or cloth tarp to keep it from drying out and protect it from road salt.

When you get your tree home, shave a one-inch section of bark from the bottom   and place the tree in a sturdy stand with plenty of water. If cared for properly, a fresh-cut tree should last five weeks. When it is time to dispose of your tree, check www.realchristmastrees.org for local tree recycling information.

 

To Kill a Christmas Tree?

Many people think that it is cruel to “kill” a tree by cutting it down. But that is a misconception: Christmas trees are actually grown as crops, just like corn or wheat, and are meant to be harvested. They’re only grown to be used as Christmas trees; if people stopped buying them, tree farmers wouldn’t raise them. The trees also help prevent the earth-warming greenhouse effect by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases, and by emitting fresh oxygen. In fact, one acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirements for 18 people.

Some people opt to buy a “living” Christmas tree that can be replanted after the holiday. If this is your preference, you should avoid purchasing a tree potted in very dry or hard soil, which can indicate that it hasn’t been watered properly. Jennifer Jorgensen of Poughkeepsie’s Solvang Farm cautions that a living tree should never be kept in inside for more than seven days. She also advises customers to dig the hole for the tree before they want to plant it. “These are the two biggest mistakes people make. They forget to dig the hole, and then the ground is frozen. Or they leave it in their house too long, the tree goes into shock, and then dies when it goes outside again.” N

 

Which Tree For Me?

 

The four most popular types of Christmas trees in New York are Douglas and balsam firs, white spruce, and Scotch pine. In general, firs are often considered the best species — they tend to be uniform and symmetrical, and have long-lasting needles.

 

Douglas fir: Blue to dark green, these  needles have a sweet fragrance when crushed. 

 

Balsam fir:  Native to the Valley, this variety has a dark green appearance with short, long-lasting needles. It keeps its pleasing fragrance throughout the season.

 

Fraser fir: These branches turn slightly upward; the tree has good symmetrical form and needle retention — and a great aroma. 

 

Blue spruce: Good symmetrical form; with a dark green to powdery blue hue.

 

Scotch pine: It has short, dark-green needles (which can be painfully sharp) and thick branches. Won’t drop its needles even when dry.

 

White pine: The long, light-green needles last throughout the season, but there is little fragrance. Branches can be too dense for large ornaments.

 

Cut Your Own

Here is a selection of mid-Hudson farms where

you can cut your own Christmas tree

(call for directions and days/hours of operation):

 

Dutchess County:

 

Bilmar Nurseries

Pleasant Valley, 845-635-3206

Need a nine-foot tree? They’ve got ’em — in six different varieties. Wagon rides and refreshments, too. 

 

Solvang Farm

Poughkeepsie, 845-473-0224

Cut-your-own and fresh-cut trees available, as well as table centerpieces and kissing balls.

 

F.W. Battenfeld & Son

Red Hook, 845-758-8018

Horse-drawn wagon rides, refreshments — and Santa

visits — make this farm a good choice for families.

 

Primrose Hill Farm

Staatsburg, 845-889-4725

Over 100 years old, this family farm has six tree varieties, plus wreaths, gifts, and carts for hauling your tree in from the fields.

 

Orange County:

 

Forevergreen Christmas Tree Farm

Westbrookville, 845-754-8282

Tag trees now — they have Scotch pine,

Norway and white spruce — and cut later.

 

Fox Ridge Christmas Tree Farm

Warwick, 845-986-3771

Choose from seven types of trees, as well

as wreaths and garlands.

 

Pine View Farm

New Windsor, 845-564-4111

Balsam, firs and spruces; candy canes

and live animals will amuse the kids.

 

Ulster County:

 

Mountain Fresh Farms

Highland, 845-795-2260

Five types of trees, plus horse-drawn wagon rides,

a petting zoo, and outdoor fireplace.

 

Marshall’s Tree Farm

Accord, 845-626-4059

This farm has trees ranging from tabletop to

cathedral size; other holiday items also available.

 

Putnam County:

 

Hardwick Tree Farm

Mahopac, 845-528-5814

Near the Taconic, this farm grows fir trees — and serves cookies and cider after you make your choice.

 

Columbia County:

 

Heller’s Farm Partnership

Germantown, 518-789-3550

Mostly Douglas firs, this family-run spot also offers homemade preserves, maple products, and gifts.

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