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Published November 25th 2018
Christmas Tree Farm family memories
When I was a kid, we had a sparkly silver tinsel tree. While it was special and exciting to bring out from storage, it was the same old thing every year. Our trusty tree had pride of place in front of the silent Vulcan heater whose services were not required for another 6 months. Lying on the linoleum floor to keep myself cool, I watched the annual Christmas specials on TV in cold locations where families traipsed off into the forest to cut their tree and drag it back home, or head down into the main street, donned with beanies, gloves, bulky scarves and Michelin Man size jackets as they spent ages in frigid temperatures looking for the perfect tree whilst snow would silently flutter around them. Bing Crosby would reliably appear in amongst all that too, serenading about a White Christmas as the blaring sun shone outside.
Photo Credit: Montrose Christmas Tree Farm Facebook Page
I dreamed that one day I would experience a real Christmas tree - and I did. I lived in Europe for ten years and each year, I mimicked the northern hemisphere rituals I had watched as a child dressed in shorts, singlet and thongs – or barefoot.
I've been back in Australia for the last fourteen years and I have had to tweak the ritual a bit – well quite a bit. I now drive down to the local Christmas Tree farm with my kids and we pick out our real Pinus radiata Christmas Tree.
As with all new rituals, you don't get it right first go. I didn't have the benefit of generations of tradition and knowledge. It's also very different picking a tree in Europe because they don't use Pinus radiata. In Europe, they use fir and spruce species but these trees don't love our climate and are not fast growing here like the Radiata pine.
Firstly, my Christmas tree stand that I had bought overseas for slim trunked and svelte species of fir or spruce did not fit the meaty Dwayne Johnson trunk and bulk of a pine tree. To solve this problem I had take the meaty tree back outside for a few rounds with a bow saw. Once I had the trunk trimmed to fit the base I discovered that the tree was still too weighty for the disproportionally small stand. I rushed out to buy a stand that could handle the tree.
Once the tree was finally up I was too tired to dress it and sent my complaining and grumbling kids to bed who insisted they couldn't wait til tomorrow. (Hello, Scarlett did, tomorrow is another day). The next morning we discovered some tiny cute spiders. I think it's a good thing if you find critters in your tree. This means the tree hasn't been sprayed so no nasty chemicals. If you're worried about creepy crawlies, give your tree a shake before you bring it inside. There are some clear advantages with having 5 kids. At least one has no problem handling spiders so that child was charged with collection and extraction. The spiders were safely rehomed far in the back garden.
So here are some tips for buying a Pinus radiata Christmas Tree:
Before you leave Measure your space for the tree at home. Some trees look small at the farm but all of a sudden become big at home. Pretend you are a tree, stretch your arms out and stand where it will be standing. It saves looking for the tape measure. When you get to the farm, measure yourself of your child against potential trees. Remember to check the space in the car, you have to bring it home too – with the children. It's a long way home from them woods (or farm).
What to look for in a tree Short strong branches to hold your Christmas decorations, avoid long wispy branches unless you have lightweight decorations made of paper or wood or plastic. I have lost some of my heavy glass baubles.
Walk around the tree and check for uniform shape and symmetry. Inevitably there is often one side of the tree that is a bit awkward. Place this side facing the corner or wall. The parent veto vote needs to be used if you can't all agree on a tree.
Look at the peak of the tree, will it handle your angel or star? This can wake you up in the middle of the night when it topples off.
Remember, before you leave buy an adequate tree base.
Before you bring it inside the house, remember to shake any critters out of your tree. Have a dustpan and brush handy and make sure one of the kids cleans the needles out of the car, also check for spiders that fell out of the tree on the journey home.
Once the tree is in the base, make sure it is balanced and standing straight. This is when you may discover it has a crooked trunk and you spend some time making it look straight before you secure it. Everyone charged with holding it steady are not to let go and walk way once secured – wait! Release slowly so you can catch the tree in case it is off balance and topples over. If it doesn't give it a little shake to check it will remain standing.
Water immediately. Have a few jugs and watering can sizes handy as the angle you need to tip the water vessel to the base of the tree could be quite sharp and the water ends up all over the floor. Oh, have a towel ready as well and a broom. There will be more pine needles on the floor.
You can also buy Christmas trees in red pots at your local nursery but it is nowhere near as much fun. These tend to be Picea glauca which is one of the northern hemisphere tree species. If you can keep it alive you can use it in subsequent years.
If you buy a precut tree, ask if it has been freshly cut that day. Look for bright green flexible pine needles. Still nowhere near as much fun as going to a farm.