Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Trees: Nature's Gift by Emily VanLaeys

One of Our Baby Trees

Last summer Mark and I attended the annual Summer Farm Tour and Meeting of the Christmas Tree Farm Association of New York. The convention was held at the Stokoe Farm in Scottsville near Rochester. Never before had I seen so many acres of Christmas trees of different sizes and varieties! My husband and I attended this meeting and the January CTFANY convention because we bought a small parcel of land last December, with the intention of designating a section to the growing of Christmas trees. This was Mark's idea for a retirement plan in lieu of the pension plan we don't have. Last spring we planted our first 250 trees, of which about 130 remain. After having dealt with freeze-burn, root-rot, drought, deer, and predator insects, we have a newly gained respect for the farmers who have provided us with beautiful trees every Christmas of our lives.

The CTFANY meetings have taught us that Christmas tree farmers are, on the whole, a wonderful group of people who support each other in their endeavors. They share a common goal to successfully grow and sell fresh Christmas trees, and to keep alive the tradition of cutting and decorating real trees. They are eager to help new growers get started, and to make sure we know all of the ins and outs of the business.

When you go out to buy a tree this month, you probably have no idea how much care was involved in the production of this best-loved Christmas tradition. The perfect cone-shaped tree does not happen naturally. Each tree is sheared to create that particular Christmas tree shape we want to see in our living rooms, decorated with our favorite ornaments. Each tree requires the right amount of moisture so it doesn't die from root rot or drought. It requires proper fertilization, weed and insect control, and protection from predators. We heard stories of farmers losing $10,000 worth of trees to the deer in a single winter.

Knowing this, why would you want to purchase a made-in-China plastic tree? Not only do you support a hard-working farmer when you buy a real tree, but you contribute to the environment in a positive way. The 400 million Christmas trees that are continuously growing on US farms provide over 500,000 acres of wildlife habitat, renewed air, and green space.

For every Christmas tree harvested, one to three trees are planted the following spring. Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and may contain metal toxins such as lead. If you're allergic to fir trees, a Concolor Fir should work well for you.

This year Christmas tree enthusiasts are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the first decorated tree used in the celebration of Christmas in Latvia and Estonia. So if you haven't put up a fresh tree before, this is the year to participate in this ancient custom! You can start a family tradition of going to a "Choose and Cut" farm, squabble over which one is the best tree for your home, throw snowballs at each other, and have a cup of cocoa after tying your tree of choice on the top of your car. My daughter, turning 25 this month, says that our annual trip to a local tree farm is one of her happiest growing-up memories. In about 8 or 10 years the seedlings at "Mark and Em's Tree Farm" will be ready for cutting and you can make memories with a trip to visit us on the top of Dog Hill Road in Maryland, New York.

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