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broodings from the burrow

December 4, 2016

virtual advent tour: day 4
posted by soe 4:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2016Welcome to Day 4 of the Virtual Advent Tour!

My 20th annual tree-trimming party is today, which meant we spent Saturday buying groceries, cleaning, and, most importantly, buying a Christmas tree.

My family and Rudi’s both share the tradition of having live trees. Rudi’s family, though, living in a city as they did, bought their Christmas tree from a lot.

An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm

I grew up in a large town that was, to the east, surrounded by farming communities. So when Christmas rolled around, my folks would head to the farm to cut down a tree. Please note that I don’t say that I went to the farm; I so loathed the trekking up and down the hillsides hunting for the perfect tree that by the time I was six or so, my parents had found it a far less painful experience for everyone if they dropped me at my grandparents’ house for the duration of the trip.

However, when it came time for me to have a tree in my own apartment, there was never any doubt in my mind that I’d head off to the farm to cut one down. And, we did, right to that same tree farm I’d whined about visiting 15 years earlier.

An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm

When we moved to D.C., it was more challenging. People get really pissed when you cut trees down in their yards in the city, and it’s a crime to cut them out of the parkland nearby. So the closest living trees are at least a 45-minute drive, often further. The first couple years we compromised by buying a tree at the farmers market. But after that I was back to wanting to get the tree ourselves and we set aside the first Saturday in December as our day to do so.

I do tend to prefer to pick out my tree quickly. One year the farmer told me I hadn’t even gotten a walk out of it (to be fair, we did cut down literally the first tree we came too). But some years, a speedy choice is more challenging, and this year was one of those.

An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm

We’re onto our third tree farm of the region, and we’ll probably have to move on from this one next year. (The first one gave up farming trees, and the second one had a few in-between years where they didn’t have trees the size we needed.) Clagett Farm is located in Maryland and is owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who operates it as a nonprofit.

The most important thing when picking out any Christmas tree, be it artificial, still growing, or at a tree lot, is the dimension of the space it’s going into. You don’t want a tree that’s going to crowd up against your ceiling, and you don’t want one that’s going to encroach too much on the space around it. So know roughly how tall your ceiling is and how wide your desired location is.

Too Short Too Tall
Too short…
Too tall…

A lot of the trees at Clagett are still growing, so they’re shorter than I would like. (I’m somewhat flexible, but have a strong preference against being able to look down at the top of my tree.)

The second-most important thing to consider is how heavy your ornaments are. If you’re decorating with lights, popcorn strings, and yarn ornaments, it doesn’t matter what kind of tree you come home with. You’ll be fine. If, however, you’ve got lots of heavier ornaments, you’ll want to be pickier. Around here, almost everyone grows some combination of four trees: Norway and blue spruces and white and Scotch pines. Occasionally you’ll see firs, but less frequently than they grew in New England. White pines (on the left) have long needles and very supple branches. Scotch pines (on the right) have pointier needles and less flimsy branches, but they’re still going to bend under heavier ornaments, like we have. Spruces are very prickly, particularly the blue variety.

An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm

This year, the Eastern seaboard had the added challenge of drought. At the tree farm my parents went to this year, the farmer said he’d lost thousands of dollars of trees. The mid-Atlantic region fared slightly better, but we still saw a lot of trees that looked like these.

Too Dead An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm

Ultimately, though, we did find a tree — a blue spruce. It’s got a definite backside, and there’s a bare patch that we’re going to have to work to cover by dangling ornaments through it. And it’s shorter than we would have liked. But it’s got strong branches and fits well within the parameters of the space.

An Afternoon at the Christmas Tree Farm

(This is a recreation. We realized as we were walking back to the barn that we should have taken a shot of one of us sawing down the tree. I started the process, but ran into trouble with the dull bow saw, so Rudi finished it off for me.)

After last year, when our tree had severe leaning issues (I tie it up just to make sure it won’t fall if the cats get too curious or gravity gets too strong), we made sure the base was flat, going so far as to get one of the farm hands to level it off for us with his chain saw. And because Dad and I had just measured their stand, I knew we’d need 8.5 inches of branch-free space at the bottom, so we lopped off those there, too. Then we fastened it to the roof and drove back home.

Currently our tree is sitting in the hallway, relaxing in a bucket of water, waiting to make its debut later today. We’re all very excited.

Check back here tomorrow for the next stop for the Virtual Advent Tour. And if you’re interested in taking part in the tour, badges, details, and sign-up info can be found here. We’d love to have you participate.

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