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Tips for Christmas tree cutting do-it-yourselfers

  • <br/>Chestnut Mountain tree farm in Hatfield.<br/>
  • <br/>Chestnut Mountain tree farm in Hatfield.<br/>
  • <br/>Chestnut Mountain tree farm in Hatfield.<br/>
  • <br/>Chestnut Mountain tree farm in Hatfield.<br/>
  • Back view of man dragging Christmas tree
  • Chestnut Mountain tree farm in Hatfield.

I had visions of skipping through fluffy snow, swinging a dainty ax. I would expertly fell a pretty balsam, while sleigh bells rang faintly in the distance. My classmates would gaze at me with adoration, since I, their new champion, had procured the perfect tree.

My mom, game for anything involving fresh air, agreed to help me out. One snowy afternoon she brought me, my brother and a rusty old saw into the woods, with our dogs leaping around us.

I pointed out a tree, growing wild and un-groomed, and we began to saw. And struggle. And strain.

And struggle some more. Somehow, the tree at last toppled, and we dragged it through heavy snow to my mom’s pickup, loaded it into the truck bed, and transported it to my school. When it finally stood in my classroom, it was lopsided and uneven — nothing like the magic, Nutcracker-at-midnight tree of my dreams.

Fortunately, if you want to cut your own tree in western Massachusetts, it’s easy to find the idyllic experience I had only in my mind’s eye. Not only can this become an annual activity for your family to forge beautiful, classic memories together, you will be supporting local growers.

Also, the fresher your tree is, the more likely it will last through the holiday season without drying out and shedding needles all over your house.

Before heading to the fields, though, there are some decisions to make at home.

Type of experience

Tree-cutting farms offer a range of experiences. There are no-nonsense tree fields, where you can be in and out quickly. If you just want a fresh local tree, that’s the way to go. But, if you want a family adventure, there are tree farms offering hayrides, popcorn, walking trails and gift shops.

Those can be wonderful winter outings; they can also be places where you’re trapped for hours because your kids refuse to leave.

So carefully consider what experience you’re seeking. Think too about the age of your kids — does your toddler really want to be in a cold field for 90 minutes?

Tree types, growing

Christmas tree farmers grow many tree varietals, and they all have different characteristics to consider and prioritize. The type of needle, how likely the needles are to stay on the branches, how soft the needles are, piney aroma and color are factors to consider.

Balsam firs and Scotch pines are usually the most popular, but other types often grown are Douglas fir, Fraser fir and white pine. Make sure your farm has the type of tree you want.

You may also wish to find out if pesticides have been used on the tree. Some farms advertise their trees as being no-spray, and if you have pets or young children that will chew on branches, this is something to consider.

Size and cost

Before you buy, measure the height of the ceiling in the room where the tree will stand. Then, subtract the height of your treetop ornament and the height of the tree stand.

You will then have the height of the tree you need. Abide by your calculations! Trees look much smaller in an expansive field, under the wide open sky, than inside your home, and you don’t want to have to chop off branches and trunk in your driveway.

Gauge the desired width as well. Then, call ahead to confirm availability and cost.

Trees I inquired about for this article ranged from $30 to $120. Check to make sure the farm you are visiting has trees in the size and price range you’re budgeting for, and confirm their hours.

This is a seasonal business, and farmers do sell out. Keep in mind that some farms will let you tag (claim) your tree in advance.

Farm services

Don’t make my mom’s mistake of relying on an old saw. If you need cutting tools, make sure the farm provides them. Other services to inquire about are hauling the tree from the field to your car, shaking (shaking tree to remove all loose needles), drilling (drilling a hole in the trunk so it can take in more water), baling (wrapping tree for transport) and assistance loading into your vehicle.

Caring for tree

Once home, the tree will do best in a stand with plain old water. I’d always heard of people adding sugar, or copper pennies, to enhance longevity, but those are myths.

According to the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association, the tree stand should be able to hold one quart of water per diameter inch of tree trunk, and the water level should be well above the bottom of a tree. Not only will this keep your tree alive longer and less likely to shed, but a hydrated tree is almost impossible to ignite. Nonetheless, always make sure that open flames and heat sources such as space heaters are nowhere near the tree.

Recycling your tree

When the holiday season has concluded, do not try to chop up and burn your tree in a fireplace or woodstove.

The sap it contains can cause chimney fires. The tree can be composted, mulched or chipped. You could put it in your yard to use as a bird feeder.

Or, bring to a recycling center. Many recycling centers in Massachusetts accept Christmas trees; visit the Earth911 website, http://earth911.com, to find the one closest to you.

Related

Area tree farms at a glance

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NORTHAMPTON — The following is information on some of the Valley’s many local tree farms: • Chestnut Mountain Tree Farm, 126 Mountain Road, Hatfield. (413) 687-1806. www.chestnutmountaintreefarm.com. Open Friday – Sunday, Thanksgiving through Christmas. Hayrides to fields on weekends only. Walking trails. Also offering wreaths, cordwood, hay and syrup. • Cranston’s Farm, 372 Baptist Corner Road, Ashfield, MA. (413) 628-0090. …

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