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With Christmas just around the corner, New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Art Brown headed for a tree farm in Warren County to remind folks that the words "Jersey Fresh" can apply to Christmas trees.

With help from state Assemblyman Leonard Lance and Warren County Freeholder Michael Doherty, Brown sawed down a 14-foot Norway spruce at Hidden Hollow Farm in Washington Township, Warren County, to kick off the holiday season.

Visiting one of the Garden State's many "choose and cut'' Christmas tree farms not only provides the perfect tree, but Brown noted it is an excellent opportunity for an outing that provides family togetherness in a year when it is particularly important.

Hidden Hollow Farm owner Kathie Enz echoed Brown's sentiment, explaining that "just coming out and spending time with the family" is one of the biggest benefits of a trip to the country to select a Christmas tree.

"When you're a child it's very exciting," Enz said of the annual trip to a Christmas tree farm. "It's something they always look forward to, it's a happy day. You don't get that from an artificial tree."

In fact, Enz feels so strongly about "fake'' trees that she has a sign she posts at her farm for all to see when they arrive. Regarding artificial trees, the sign states: "No life, no charm, no fragrance, no memories."

A trip to a Jersey Fresh Christmas tree farm "is all about making memories," said Art Charlton, Director of the Warren County Department of Economic Development & Tourism. Picking the perfect tree is something the whole family can share in doing, he said, noting many Christmas tree farms also offer hot cider, hay rides and other activities that add to the festive spirit.

Enz serves hot apple cider to the families that spend a day in the country while buying a fresh Christmas tree. Enz also sells wreaths, ornaments, decorations, artwork from local artists and other gifts in a 200-year-old barn converted to a shop on her farm, which is tucked away on a hillside off Spring Lane.

Charlton said the two dozen or so choose and cut Christmas tree farms in Warren County are a convenient drive from anywhere in the New Jersey - New York metropolitan area. Moreover, the trip offers beautiful scenery and opportunities for shopping, dining and outdoor recreation.

Brown noted that growing Christmas trees also helps to keep agriculture in the Garden State, and land that cannot be used for other crops often is suitable for Christmas trees.

"It is one way of keeping the land open,'' Enz agreed. "It is the Garden State and we can grow just about anything. There's no reason for us to be buying Christmas trees for Michigan or Massachusetts or Canada," she said, adding, "They're certainly fresher" when you buy them locally.

Christmas trees are an important part of the Garden State's agricultural bounty. In fact, of the million or so live trees New Jerseyans buy each year, about 600,000 are grown right here in the Garden State.

About 1,100 farms around the state grow Christmas trees, and many offer the choose-and-cut experience that creates family memories. Also participating in the tree cutting were agriculture officials from Warren County and students from the Phillipsburg High School FFA, who helped haul the sizable tree out of the field after Brown, Lance and Doherty finished their work with the saw. Assemblyman Lance said the students are "the future of farming, and farming does have a future."

The tree will grace the courtyard of Warren Haven, Warren County's publicly run nursing home in Mansfield Township, where it will be decorated for the enjoyment of the Warren Haven's residents. The tree-cutting trip was an opportunity for Brown to show the importance of Christmas trees in New Jersey's overall agricultural economy.

"Our Christmas tree farmers treat the trees just like any other crop," Brown noted. "Christmas trees are planted, sheared and cultivated for harvest in the fall. Wherever a tree is cut or lost to insects, diseases, wildlife or other factors, two or three new seedlings are planted for future harvest.

"In addition to providing the seasonal greenery we've all come to love, Christmas tree farms also provide greenbelts throughout the state that refresh the atmosphere and provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and migratory birds," Brown added. It has been estimated that one acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.

Moreover, a trip to the country to cut a Christmas tree is a memorable family outing that helps keep farmers in business, and spreads economic ripples to other area businesses, including restaurants, stores and gas stations.

The New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers' Association's "Jersey Fresh 2001 Choose & Cut Christmas Tree Guide'' lists 95 farms throughout New Jersey where patrons can select the perfect tree. The guide includes information about the attractions at each of the Christmas tree farms.

Many offer their customers a wide selection of decorations, wreaths, poinsettias, tree stands and ornaments to complete their tree selection and are on Santa Claus's list of scheduled weekend visits during December. Some choose?and?cut farms also offer balled trees that can be replanted after the holidays.



CHRISTMAS TREE TIPS

TIPS FOR THE TREE HUNT

If you are planning to cut your own tree, check the "Choose and Cut Christmas Tree Guide" issued annually by the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers' Association. The guide will help you find a farm that's nearby and grows your favorite kind of Christmas tree, in addition to giving you travel directions, the hours of operation, and any other seasonal items available at each location. Remember to dress comfortably and warmly. Christmas trees are grown in fields or on hills and mountains, so always wear low?heeled shoes or boots.

Select a tree with the height, shape and density that best suits your needs. Think about where it will be located in your home and the kind of ornaments you have (large and heavy or small and light?weight).

Remember, in the field, the sky is the ceiling so trees always appear smaller than they actually are!

For best needle retention, select a pine ?? Austrian, Scotch, white and Mexican border ?? or a Douglas, concolor or Fraser fir. Colorado blue spruce has very good needle retention while Norway and white spruce hold their needles moderately well.

SETTING UP A CUT CHRISTMAS TREE

Proper care must be given to all species of Christmas trees in order to keep them fresh, green, moisture?laden and safe throughout the holiday season.

If you're not going to set up your freshly cut tree immediately, put in a container of water in a cool, shaded area sheltered from the wind. Before bringing it indoors, cut off an inch from the butt end to help the tree take up water more readily. When you set your tree up, use a tree stand that holds one to two gallons of water and fill it as soon as you set up the tree. Keeping a tree stand filled with water will prevent needle drop and prolong the tree's freshness and color. Freshly cut trees can absorb up to a quart of water daily, so check the water level a couple of times each day.

Keep your Christmas tree from drying out by putting it in a cool location inside your house away from drafts. NEVER put it near a heat source, such as a fireplace, radiator, wood stove or television.

Keep your holiday a safe and enjoyable one. Avoid combustible decorations. Discard frayed light strings and those with worn spots and use only U.L. approved lights. Turn off the lights when you go to bed or if you leave the house.

AFTER THE HOLIDAYS

When the holidays are over, recycle your Christmas tree! Many county and municipal governments coordinate the chipping of Christmas trees, but they can also be placed in your yard where birds can use them. Another reuse for Christmas trees is to create dunes that control beach erosion. For proper Christmas tree disposal, check with your municipality.

SETTING UP AND PLANTING YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE

If you buy a balled and burlapped (dug) tree so you can plant it in your yard after the holidays, keep it in an unheated, protected enclosure, such as a shed, garage or basement, or on the northeast side of the house for several days before it's brought indoors. This conditioning process lessens the physiological effects of rapid temperature and humidity changes, which the tree would otherwise experience.

Before bringing the tree indoors, put it in a waterproof container, such as a washtub. To stabilize it, put sand or gravel in the container around the root ball. Keep root ball moist. A 5? to 6?foot tree may take as much as a quart of water daily.

It's best not to keep a dug tree indoors for more than one week. After its decorations are removed, gradually introduce it to the colder temperature by first placing it in a cooler, sheltered area for several days.

The hole where the tree is to be planted should be dug to a depth of about 18 inches before the ground freezes and the excavated soil stored where it won't freeze. When planting the tree, don't remove the burlap and strapping until the tree has been positioned in the hole with the top of root ball level with the ground. Then fill the hole halfway with the excavated soil, cut strapping holding the burlap on the tree, roll down the burlap and fill in the rest of the hole.

If the root ball is covered in plastic, handle it the same way except that, before planting, cut slits on the bottom half of the plastic to insure drainage and root penetration. Water it thoroughly and put mulch on top of the bare soil.

CHRISTMAS TREE TRIVIA

- The first Christmas tree dates back to 16th century Germany.
- The first commercial tree lot opened for business in 1851 in New York City.
- Top-selling trees include the Balsam fir, Douglas fir, noble fir and Scotch pine.
- One acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.
- For each harvested Christmas tree, two to three seedlings are planted in its place.
- Franklin Pierce, 14th president of the United States, was first to display a tree in the White House.

For the location of Christmas tree farms, click here.
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