Tree farms make COVID adjustments
ADDISON COUNTY — The holidays are here, and while Christmas tree farms and retailers have had to make some adjustments for COVID-19, county residents looking for fresh Vermont-grown greenery will have plenty to choose from.
Vermont has 70 Christmas tree farms on more than 3,600 acres, according to the 2017 USDA census, and the state’s Christmas tree industry is worth more than $2.6 million.
In our part of the state the local tree farms where you can cut your own include, among others, the Sinclair Family Farm in Ripton, Nutcracker Tree Farm in Cornwall, Vermont Trade Winds Farm in Shoreham, Purinton Family Tree Farm in Huntington and Werner Tree Farm in Middlebury.
Local growers have spent months planning for a COVID-restricted season — and developing contingency plans in case of a rapid change in public health conditions — and they’re hoping customers will take advantage of extended hours and creative alternatives to some of the usual fare.
WERNER TREE FARM
Werner Tree Farm in Middlebury, for instance, planned to be open on four different days before Thanksgiving.
“We’ve never done the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” said Marketing Director Amanda Werner. “But we wanted to give people a chance to get in earlier and avoid the crowds.”
In normal years Werner is closed on Mondays, but this year they’ve added semi-private appointments — up to two parties with half-hour time slots — for customers who are not comfortable with shopping in public.
They’re also offering curbside service and are exploring in-town pickup in Middlebury as an option. To make an appointment or arrange a pickup, call 388-7781.
Werner encourages customers to come during off-peak hours (typically weekdays), if possible, to help thin crowds.
The farm will look largely the same on the outside, Werner said, although pre-cut trees on the racks will be more spread out.
Inside the shop, which will be limited to 10 people at a time, things will be very different this year, Werner said. The farm hopes to bring back its popular toy train setup, and its cocoa and cookie offerings in 2021, but for now its focus is on providing as much physical space for customers as possible, so they can complete their transactions without having to wait in line.
Customers will likely find a sign-in sheet inside the shop door, a new state requirement meant to aid contact tracing, should it become necessary.
The farm will regularly disinfect door knobs, saws and high-touch surfaces, but customers are encouraged to bring their own hand saw to cut trees, if they have one.
Despite the pandemic the farm is hoping to actually increase its retail sales this season, Werner said, although overall sales are expected to be down because fewer churches, restaurants and inns will be buying trees this year.
The farm asks that customers follow all state health guidelines, including wearing masks and observing physical distancing protocols. Customers are encouraged to check the farm’s website, wernertreefarm.com, to get the latest updates and guidance before visiting.
In Starksboro, the horses at Russell Farm have been getting plenty of exercise in anticipation of sleigh rides this year, and they were scheduled to get new shoes just before Thanksgiving.
In addition to pre-cut and cut-your-own Christmas trees and wreathes, Russell Farm offers horse-drawn rides to the tree lot, which last 30-40 minutes.
Co-owner David Russell anticipates a decrease in sales this year, but the farm has made every effort to make things easier for its customers during the pandemic.
This year, because of COVID-19, the farm has added a booking system to its website to help avoid crowding at peak times. Priority will be given to those who have booked appointments, Russell said, and customers are asked to show up 10 minutes in advance of their time slots.
In an effort to provide more flexibility for families, the farm has also extended its schedule to include Wednesdays through Fridays, 12 noon-4 p.m., and will be open on weekends as usual, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To make up for the fact that the farm’s cabin will be closed to the public this year, the Russells plan to have three or four campfires going nearby, where customers can enjoy complimentary hot cocoa.
The farm has developed thorough disinfecting protocols and intends to follow all state public health guidelines to keep its customers safe.
“We’ll be wearing masks, and we ask that our customers help us stay open by also wearing them,” Russell said.
For more information Russell Farm’s offerings, visit therussellfarm.com, or call 453-2208.
Caring for your tree
If you get a Christmas tree a little bit earlier this year, UVM Horticulture Professor Emeritus Leonard Perry offers some helpful tips for keeping it at its best.
• As soon as you get your tree home, especially if it was pre-cut, cut about a half-inch off the base, to open up the water vessels in the trunk. Cutting at an angle or removing more than a half-inch is not necessary, unless you’re trying to shorten the height of the tree.
• Place the base in a large bucket of warm tap water (which is absorbed faster than cold water). Avoid adding substances such as bleach, aspirin, lemon-lime soda or other preservatives, which may shorten tree life.
• Avoid trimming the sides off the base of the trunk — this is where the tree takes up its water.
• Make sure your stand is properly sized for tree. For every inch of tree trunk diameter, your stand should be able to hold one quart of water.
• Sometimes trees need some time to adjust to indoor temperatures and to begin drying out before they begin to “drink water.”
• Keep trees away from heat sources and doorways. Use wire to anchor especially tall trees to a wall or ceiling.
• Check the tree stand daily and add water as needed. Indoor heating systems can rapidly dry out trees.
For more information, visit tinyurl.com/yyqnsetv.