|Jeff Pelletier of Windham Farms hoists a last-minute tree at his Christmas tree stand on Route 111.
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- O, Christmas tree.
If ever there was an unsung MVP of the post-Christmas season, it’s you. By Dec. 26, some of us are already plotting your demise, cursing your prickly needles as they pierce our feet through our socks after having gathered, undetected, in clusters under throw rugs, conspiring to clog our vacuum cleaners.
In the midst of all our holiday hubbub, there has been you, standing tall, star-topper beaming, lights twinkling, heirloom ornaments dangling.
But starting today, the annual tradition of undecking the halls and kicking you to the curb begins in earnest.
So before all that happens, let’s pause for just a moment to consider just how this Christmas tree tradition began, why it persists and what our beloved trees mean to our local economy — after all, New Hampshire is right up there among the top 18 states when it comes to Christmas tree farming, accounting for about 82,000 trees this season.
How did tradition begin?
Glad you asked. Because 2010 happens to be the 500th anniversary of the first-ever decorated tree, which was set up in Riga, Latvia, according to that country’s national tourism site. It’s also a factoid being touted by the National Christmas Tree Association here, Urging us as a nation to get on board and show some love to this timeworn tradition.
Because without the annual decking-of-the-tree tradition, there would be no need for the N.H. Christmas Tree Promotion Board, of which Nigel Manley, director of The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, is a member. The Rocks is a 1,400-acre preserve that not only grows and sells lots of Christmas trees but also is all about educating the public on the value of “real” versus artificial trees.
The Rocks is owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and grows about 52,000 trees. Of those, about 3,500 are cut each year and sold in retail tree lots across Southern New Hampshire each Christmas season, said Manley.
“Not only do we sell them locally, but we sell about 300 trees and 700 wreaths by mail order each year. We hit every state, including Hawaii and Alaska,” said Manley. It’s that diversification that helps keep profits up among Christmas tree vendors, who are feeling the pinch of this post-recession economy just like everyone else.
“For those who still believe that there’s something wrong with cutting down trees for Christmas, I have to remind them that it’s farming. Being a conservation society, I do a lot of educational programs here. I explain to people that we plant trees that are about 4 years old and grow them for another six to nine years, so that most trees that go to market are between 10 and 13 years old,” Manley said.
Helping the local economy
“People get worried because we’re cutting down trees.
But I say to them: If a farmer grows carrots, do you feel bad when they pull carrots from the ground? Our farms are sustainable. Although we cut anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 trees a year, we plant between 6,000 and 8,000.”
And the good news for tree growers in New Hampshire — and everyone who benefits from the trickle down of a good economy — is that tree sales were up this year. In terms of profit, the N.H. Christmas Tree Promotion Board estimates it’s a $4 million industry for trees, wreaths and garland.
“We could have sold another 2,000 trees here. I think in this economy, some people who might have given up on trees in the last few years were actually buying trees again because they felt good about how things were going. There was really a positive feeling among consumers this year,” Manley said.
Paul Onessimo, who spent his first season as a Christmas tree salesman at Shady Hill Greenhouses and Nursery in Londonderry this year, said he saw the same spirit among tree buyers. Trees were moving off the lot starting on Thanksgiving weekend, and business remained steady right through Christmas.
“It’s hard to say what the trends are, since this is my first year, but here we sold more Fraser firs than balsams.
People seem to like the Frasers because they’re a little more compact, and the needles don’t drop like they do on balsams,” said Onessimo.
By Dec. 22, there were only a few dozen trees left on the Mammoth Road lot out of the estimated 1,000 trees sold this season, and owner Ron Hill said he wasn’t expecting to have any leftover trees.
“Frankly, we haven’t had any unsold trees here for the past two years,” said Hill — a point of pride for any tree salesman worth his weight in pine needles. Having leftovers is a tree-selling faux pas; no one wants to feed a tree into a chipper if they can sell it for $40.
That’s why Jeff Pelletier, who has been hustling Christmas trees for Windham Farms along Route 111 for the past 17 years, only brings in about 10 trees at a time during the week leading up to Christmas.
“And I’ll sell every single tree I bring here,” said Pelletier.
“I’m here until Christmas Day.
That’s when everyone stops for the centerpieces and wreaths.”
Getting rid of your tree
Since recycling leftover trees isn’t a huge problem for retailers, the question of what becomes of a spent Christmas tree really falls to consumers.
Fortunately, many towns in the state offer curbside pickup of Christmas trees for a limited time. Depending on where you live, you can check with your town offices or transfer station for specific dates. Most town websites include Christmas tree recycling information.
However, if you live someplace without a recycling program, you’ve probably seen dried out Christmas trees rolling like odd-shaped tumbleweeds through your town for weeks after they’ve been dragged to the curb, for lack of a better place to toss them.
If that sounds familiar, try contacting the N.H. Fish & Game Department, which in some regions has a state fisheries habitat restoration program, using recycled Christmas trees to make fishfriendly habitats.
You can also load your tree up with peanut-butter coated pinecones rolled in bird seed and “plant” it in your back yard, creating a makeshift bird feeder to help wintering fowl through the coldest months.
If you still aren’t sure where to recycle your Christmas tree, log on to www.earth911.com, which provides a clearinghouse of state-by-state information about making sure your Christmas tree lives on in one form or another long after the twinkling lights are packed away for another year.