Monday, November 30, 2009

Tagging a Christmas tree for cutting is a wholesome tradition
11/19/2009 11:01 AM EST
By Bryan RourkeJournal Staff Writer

A tree is tagged with a colorful ribbon early in the holiday season.
The Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers

Don’t just get a Christmas tree. Get an experience.
This is what Eric Watne says. He’s the president of the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association and the owner of Clark’s Tree Farm in Tiverton. Every year he has a recurrent conversation with customers.
“How much are your trees?” they say.
“The trees are free,” Watne says. “The memories are $45.”
You’re not just buying a tree, farmers say; you’re having a family outing.
“My farm is like a park with a stream through the middle and a covered bridge,” says Ron Rossi of Rossi Tree Farm in Cranston. “If it’s a nice day, people will walk around for hours. They’ll find their tree in the first 10 minutes and then walk around 18 fields.”
In some places, such as Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, people can have coffee and a meal, and buy baked goods, honey and jam made on the premises.
“Buying a Christmas tree on a farm is a whole experience,” says Jan Eckhart, owner of Sweet Berry Farm. “People won’t get that experience in a parking lot.”
What people may get in a parking lot is often unclear. They may get a tree that could have been cut weeks earlier and shipped from Canada. It won’t last as long in the stand, and it’s not as environmentally friendly.
“It’s one thing if you’re buying roofing materials from Canada that will last 30 years, but a Christmas tree lasts three weeks,” Watne says. “The cost and gas to ship it is wasteful.”
’Tis the time to tag. Pick your preference. From late October to early December, people pay their respects to local tree farms, and pay their local farmers for a tree of their choice, which they’ll mark with a tag.
The idea is simple. Before you need your tree, you take your time selecting it. Ideally, you do this when the weather is nice, and the selection is large.
“Some people don’t want to be the last one going to a clearance sale and picking through all the sweaters that no one else has bought,” Watne says.
Tags placed on trees reserve them for the purchasers to claim at their convenience.
“You do it before the hectic holiday season begins,” Eckhart says. “It’s one more thing they can check off their list.”
But tagging a tree shouldn’t be seen as a task or a chore.
“It becomes a family tradition,” Watne says. “People drag their kids away from the Xbox and they mope around a bit and buy a tree.”
Actually, it’s not that simple — the choosing, not the moping. There are three general species of Christmas trees: spruce, fir and pine. There are dozens of varieties within each. And each tree within each variety of each species will look a little different — in size, shape, color, fullness.
You’ve got to make a choice. And the choice has got to be yours.
“People have different perspectives of what an ideal Christmas tree is,” Eckhart says. “A lot of that is influenced by what they had growing up.”
The “ideal” tree is a function of familiarity and nostalgic longing. A husband and wife who agree on everything may disagree on a tree if he grew up in a spruce household and she grew up in a fir family.
“There is a lot of verbal interchange,” Eckhart says. “You eventually get a summary decision. Or someone makes a major ruling.”
Sometimes customers ask farmers to settle disagreements. And farmers know not to.
“They ask me and I stay out of it,” Rossi says.
Sometimes customers attempt to resolve their indecision by leaving a particular farm and visiting a few others.
“They’ll spend an entire day looking at thousands of trees on four different farms,” Watne says. “I think that’s utterly ridiculous.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find an ugly tree on a Christmas tree farm, Watne says. But last year Watne found one and put it in his house.
“One of my daughters cried,” Watne says. “Maybe I’ll sound like a Scrooge, but why would I stick a tree in my house that I could sell when I could stick a tree in my house that no one would buy?”
Actually people do buy “ugly” trees, which are disguised as wreaths and garlands. But even an ugly tree is salvageable.
“Once you get them decorated, they’re all beautiful,” Watne says.
So pick your preference. Spruces have stronger branches that can hold heavier ornaments, but they also have sharp needles. Firs and pines have weaker branches and soft needles, and a stronger aroma.
But deciding what you want before you get to the farm is a waste of time.
“People will come for one type of tree and leave with another,” Rossi says. “They read articles and see pictures. They think they want a Fraser fir and leave with a white spruce.”
For the record, white spruces are not white.
“They’re green to blue,” Eckhart says. “Why they’re called white, I don’t know. Nothing is simple.”
Well, cutting the tree down is pretty straightforward. All the farms will cut a tree for you, unless you ask to do it yourself.
“It’s usually the men who want to do it,” Eckhart says. “I think the women are smarter. They just want it cut and wrapped. The men want to go into the woods, cut the tree, throw it over their shoulder and drag it back. It’s primordial.”
It’s also not as easy as it looks.
“I’m happy to hand them the saw and let them do it,” Watne says. “You have to lay on the ground. It’s generally a little wet. And some people get halfway through and lose enthusiasm.”
That’s just as well.
“Some cut on an angle,” Rossi says. “So I have to cut it anyway to straighten it out.”
Okay, so let’s say you’ve picked a tree and cut it.
“I’ve been asked how much a tree will grow after it’s been cut and in the stand,” Eckhart says. “They want to know how much bigger it will get by Christmas.”
Remind yourself not to ask a farmer that question. A cut tree doesn’t grow. But it does live, sort of.
Keep plenty of water in the stand, and keep the stand away from a radiator.
“Make a fresh cut of the trunk before putting it in water,” Eckhart says. “Trees should be treated like flowers.”
The following article appeared in the Providenc Journal Sunday edition - Page 1!
(Pictures did not transfer to the blog for some reason)

Hunt begins at Tiverton farm for ideal Christmas tree
01:00 AM EST on Sunday, November 29, 2009
By Steve PeoplesJournal Staff Writer

Kathy and Matt Poirier, of Somerset, and their son Matthew, 5, talk to Emily Watne, 15, who was giving rides on Sparky, a Welsh Shetland pony at Clark’s Tree Farm in Tiverton.
The Providence Journal / Kathy BorchersNicholas Aprea cuts down a tree at Clark’s Tree Farm on Main Road in Tiverton.
Journal / Kathy Borchers
TIVERTON –– The little girls run ahead, disappearing among the tangles of Frasers, Canaans and spruce.
“Come back here!” David Herfert shouts, a half-hearted request he knows will be ignored.
The Herfert girls are on a quest.
Mackenzie trots through the heart of Clarks Christmas Tree Farm, a red Santa’s cap covering her blonde locks. Olivia, two weeks shy of her 3rd birthday, tries to keep up.
It’s 27 days before Christmas, and these girls have waited long enough.
“We always do it after Thanksgiving,” explains their mother, Kim, holding the Tiverton family’s newest addition, 1-year-old Kennedy. “The kids get so excited. They listen to Christmas music year round.”
The Herferts were among dozens of families that braved Saturday’s biting winds to search out the perfect tree at Clarks, a quaint tree farm with the little red gate off Main Road that offers customers free pony rides, hot cider and reggae holiday tunes.
Rhode Island’s tree farms are now entering their busy season, when weekends will bring carloads of excited children and parents willing to spend between $45 and $70 to preserve this American holiday tradition, despite the poor economy.
“Whatever they cut back on, people still get a Christmas tree if that’s their tradition,” said Eric Watne, who has operated Clarks with his wife and two daughters for the last five years.
But the number of Christmas tree farms in Rhode Island has fallen significantly in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And sales are down nationally.
The Ocean State featured 60 such tree farms in 2002, but just 49 in 2007, according to the most recent federal census of agriculture. This year, the number has dropped to 34, according to a list provided by the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association.
While sales data wasn’t available for Rhode Island, national sales of “cut Christmas trees and short-rotation woody crops” totaled $384.6 million in 2007, down nearly 4 percent from $399.8 million in 2002, according to the USDA survey.
Watne, who also serves as the president of the R.I. Christmas Tree Growers Association, said his farm probably would have died when it was up for sale five years ago. His wife was the real estate agent with the listing, and most of the interest came from developers who likely would have subdivided the 8-acre property.
“I feel like I have to keep this thing going,” said Watne, who has a day job working for Fannie Mae.
In addition to development pressures, Watne said that some local growers took a hit in recent years after state officials determined that that live trees could create fire hazards in some public buildings.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” he contended. “Live trees, unless they’re totally dried out, they’re not going to leap into flames.”
The issue has created considerable debate between artificial tree producers and farmers.
The Web site for the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association, for example, offers a section on “Fake Tree Facts.” It includes a color photo of an artificial tree fire that engulfs a home.
But the American Christmas Tree Association, based in West Hollywood, Calif., fights back on its Web site, saying “U.S. fire departments responded to more than 200 home structure fires annually from 2002 to 2005 that began with Christmas trees.” But the Herfert family isn’t concerned about economic trends or fire safety statistics.“It’s the cardinal sin of Christmas,” Kim Herfert says of buying an artificial tree, as she trails her giggling children. “That wouldn’t compare to the scent, the feel of doing this.”
And after nearly half an hour of weaving through rows of trees, Mackenzie has accomplished her mission.
“We found it! We found it!” she shouts, standing alongside a pudgy 7-foot Fraser fir.
Fifteen minutes later, longtime farm worker Nicholas Aprea, of Newport, has used a handsaw to cut the tree and tie it to the roof of the family’s SUV.
“Merry Christmas,” he says to baby Kennedy, who waves back.
The Herferts maneuver down the dirt path, through the red gates and toward home. They plan to spend the evening decorating their new tree.
More information about Christmas tree farms in Rhode Island can be found at:
The following educational opportunity came across from the RICTGA website:

Christmas Tree Management Short Course Scheduled Ricky M. Bates Associate Professor of Horticulture Department of Horticulture, Penn State
Penn State’s 2010 Christmas Tree Management Short Course will be held at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center in State College, PA, Wednesday February 10 and Thursday February 11. Sponsored by the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Horticulture, the course attracts Christmas tree growers from over 12 states and Canada.
The course is designed to help growers adopt the latest pest control, production and business management practices. Core and Category pesticide re-certification credits from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture will be available to those attending the course. This year’s program represents a broad range of topics and highlights conifer pest and cultural management and farm business management.
A sampling of this year’s speakers and topics include:
• Mel Koelling (Michigan State Univ.) - Fraser fir management, Tips for managing a successful farm
• John Ahrens (Conn. Agric. Experiment Station) – Vegetation management update
• Rich Cowles (Conn. Agric. Experiment Station) – Controlling scales on Christmas trees
• Tracey Olson, Cathy Thomas, Sarah Pickle, Sandy Gardosik, Rayanne Lehman (PDA) – Hands-on, intensive pest management workshops
• Rick Bates (Penn State) – Best Management Practices (BMP’s) for Christmas tree farms, Nordmann fir research update
• Eric Lorenz & Kerry Hoffman Richards (Penn State) – Worker protection standards
• Tracey Harpster (Penn State) – Pesticide safety
• Andy Beck (Penn State) – Christmas tree information resources
Plus several other speakers and topics.
A registration fee of $185 includes all educational sessions, instructional materials, breaks and lunches for Feb 10 and 11. Registration for one day is $105. A complete agenda and registration forms will be mailed shortly after Christmas. Registration deadline is Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. If you do not receive a registration form or need additional information, please call the Christmas Tree Management Short Course office at (814) 863-7713 or e-mail Rick Bates at A block of rooms have been reserved at The Ramada Inn and Conference Center at a special rate of $61. Reserve a room at a by calling (814) 238-3001, and indicate you are attending the Christmas Tree Short Course. Room reservations should be made by January 11, 2010 to receive the reduced rate.
Dave Despot