Sunday, March 9, 2014
Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in Raymond is a winter wonderland.
In the winter solstice celebrations of Scandinavians and other North European peoples, the decorated evergreen symbolizes the life-force that persists even in the dead months of the year. All I know, is that in my household it does not truly feel like the holiday season until the Christmas tree has been decorated. Perhaps even more fun than decorating the tree, however is the adventurous morning visiting a local Christmas tree grower to pick out this year’s tree. At Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm, a family operation in Raymond that has been selling pre-cut and cut-your-own trees since the mid-1990s, you can drink hot chocolate and nibble on a maple lollipop while finding that perfect evergreen. One feels as if they walked onto the set of White Christmas or that it would be perfectly normal for a family to stop and sing a few lines from Lydia Maria Child’s “Over the River and Through the Woods”.
In 1993, Sharon and Dewey Lloy purchased their 50 acre parcel with the intention of operating a Christmas tree farm. In 1998, they began sugaring. The tree and maple operations were developed so Sharon could be a stay-at-home-mom and generate part-time income (her husband has a nonfarm job).
For anyone wondering, running a Christmas tree farm is a year-round affair. In the spring, the farm will start planting trees as soon as the ground thaws, and from there maintenance continues through November. The average Christmas tree takes 8 – 10 years to mature to market stage. Balsam Ridge sells Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, and Blue Spruce. The Blue Spruce can take even longer to mature.
Hannah Lloy cutting down a tree.
According to the Maine Christmas Tree Association, during the time the trees have to mature, the farmer faces challenges including too little or too much sun or rain, destruction by rodents, insects, disease, hail or fire, and overgrowth from bushes, vines and weeds, or theft from the field.
The farm practices interplanting to maintain a supply of harvestable trees. Because the farm is a growing operation, Sharon explained “We will plant a tree in between trees at a marketable stage so we keep a rotation of trees going so when one is cut we already have one that has been started next to it.” According to Sharon, they try to plant more trees than they actually sell each year. Currently, the farm has approximately 10,000 trees growing on a portion of the 50 acres.
Sharon’s tips for caring for a tree – If you are not going to put it in the stand right away just make a fresh cut (about 1/4 inch) before you do, because it will start to seal within an hour or so of when cut. Cut trees drink a lot of water, especially in the beginning. For more tips on caring for your farm-grown Christmas tree check out the National Christmas Tree Association’s site.
Disposing of your Christmas tree – Sharon shared that some customers will set it up in their snowy backyard and use it for kids projects like creating bird feeders out of pine cones and peanut butter. If you live in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Yarmouth, Falmouth, or Cumberland you can sign up with Garbage to Garden and they will recycle your Christmas tree.
Maple fudge in the sugarhouse/gift shop.
The Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm is located at 140 Egypt Road in Raymond. The farm is open seven days a week: Monday thru Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to dusk. Choose & Cut Trees are $40.00 and Premium Pre-cut Balsam Fir trees are priced at $6.00/ft. ranging up to 10 ft. In the farm’s sugarhouse/gift shop, they offer their own homemade confections of maple butter, maple cream, candy, assorted maple coated nuts, maple syrup, and perhaps best of all maple cotton candy (produced with real maple sugar). Visitors can purchase hand-crafted wreaths and even help design them. For more information contact the farm at (207) 655.4474 or visit their website here.
Hannah carting the tree back to the parking lot.
Three generations of the Hanson family - Megan with husband Eric, two-and-a-half year old son Connor and grandfather Reed with their family tree.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.