It was a good year for growing Christmas trees, local growers Richard and Karen Zeitler reported last Saturday.
“The trees are definitely larger,” Richard said of the Zeitler’s offering in their second year of sales. “They grew well with the moisture we had.”
The Zeitler Tree Farm off Highway 171 on Apple Drive (near the Kickapoo Orchard) continued to draw customers in the sunny mild weather on Saturday. With smiles and saws, happy families headed out in search of the perfect tree and in most cases it appeared they were finding them.
It was much the same down the road at Hillcrest Orchard in Rolling Ground at the intersection of Highway 171 and 61. While some customers were busy cutting their own trees, others took freshly cut trees from a large selection in the parking lot outside the salesroom. Inside, the customers were sipping hot apple cider and eating cookies while they chatted with Hillcrest manager Terre Van Herren, who was busy assisting customers and working behind the cash register.
Both the Zeitlers and Van Herren seemed entirely pleased with the situation on Saturday.
Richard Zeitler explained some of the time and effort involved in growing the trees and trimming them before they’re ready for sale. He noted that first three- to five-year-old trees must be obtained from nurseries and planted. Although this year, he planted three-year-old trees that thrived in the moist summer weather, he hasn’t always been so lucky. When he planted 1,400 trees in the drought year of 2012, 90 percent died.
The trees grow for 10 years before they can be harvested for Christmas trees, like they were on Saturday. When you figure in the five-year-old seedling Richard bought and planted 10 years ago, it means the tress being cut down Saturday were 15 years old.
The Zeitlers feature three varieties of trees Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir and a hybrid-cross called Canaan Fir, which is a cross between a Fraser and Balsam.
Fraser Fir’s greatest advantage is needle retention. Kept properly hydrated, a Fraser Fir can last up to two months or more. While Balsam lacks the needle retention of the Fraser, it has the fragrance and an excellent shape and coloration.
The Canaan Fir has some of the qualities of both trees featuring better needle retention than the Balsam and more fragrance than the Fraser.
To hear Zeilter describe the trees, it’s pretty apparent that he’s a Canaan Fir admirer. He noted the Canaan is the best selling of the three varieties they have. While the Zeitlers have some cut trees on hand, most customers, as in 98 percent, prefer to cut their own trees with saws provided by the Zeitlers or sometimes with chain saws they bring from home.
Hillcrest Orchard also offers customers the chance to cut their own tree or select a cut tree. They have Fraser, Balsam, Spruce, as well as White and Scotch Pine.
Van Herren seemed as happy as everyone else on the fine day. Yes, she acknowledged, with a bit of a twinkle in her eye, there were just a couple of weekends left before the season ended for another year. The last day for the orchard’s salesroom and the Christmas trees will be Sunday, Dec. 21. Hillcrest’s holiday hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Zeitler Tree Farm will be open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 20.
In addition to their Christmas trees, Hillcrest still has a good selection of apples on hand and they’re selling them at a discount of two-for-the-price-of-one.
Among the apples remaining for sale are Cameo, Golden Russet, Gala, Macintosh, Empire, Red Delicious, Cortland and, yes, there are Honeycrsip apples as well.
In addition to apples, the salesroom has some good bargains on winter squash and lots of interesting canned delicacies. There’s also maple syrup, sorghum and locally produced Apple Blossom Honey from Blue River. There’s even some popping corn.
So why not shop locally and get your Christmas tree and more on the orchard ridge. In addition, to the Christmas trees at Hillcrest and the Zeitlers, the Sunrise Orchard salesroom on Highway 171 is still open. Many Christmas tree shoppers are also getting lunch and refreshments at the nearby McCormick’s Rolling Ground Bar and Grill.