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A bit of earth Christmas tree lots for charities drying up

  • Published Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at 10:51 a.m.

Shopping for a Christmas tree

When buying a cut tree for Christmas, look for one that has a healthy green appearance and few brown needles. Needles should be flexible and should not fall off when you run your hand over the branch. Raise the tree a few inches and let it fall on the cut end; very few (if any) green needles should fall off. (It is normal for brown needles to be shed in this way.)

Caring for a Christmas tree

Remove about one inch of the trunk before putting the tree into its stand. This cut should be straight across, not angled. Do not shave off the tree’s bark to get it to fit into the tree stand; find a larger tree stand instead. Most of the water is taken up through the bark, so shaving it off will seriously limit water movement.

If you want to buy your tree right away and put it up later, you can set it in a bucket of water on the north side of the house, out of the sun.

Once the tree is in the stand in the house, start it out with warm water. You will notice that the tree takes up a lot of water the first few days; monitor the level to make sure the water never gets below the bottom of the tree or you’ll have to make a fresh cut again. It’s not necessary to add anything to the water.

The tree should be in the coolest place possible to last the longest possible time, away from heating vents, fireplaces, television sets and sunlight.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” the song goes, and when I think of Christmas tree farms and Christmas tree lots – as with so many good things – it seems as if we’re watching the lyric in action.

For those of us who do know what we have, it’s sad to hear of the closing of yet another long-standing Christmas tree lot – this time, the Knights of Columbus bower of boughs that was on West 13th Street and Mount Carmel. The Knights had been selling trees since the 1950s.

“It was too much labor for not much money,” Paul Eck of the Knights of Columbus Council 4118 told me, echoing the other organizations that had given up on trees long before the Knights did. Eck didn’t sound very happy. In 2010, another council member had told me that the lot was “pretty important to our group,” with a loyal core of customers who liked buying their tree where they knew the money would go to charity. Now those families will be looking to supplant that particular tradition this year.

“Everybody’s got them cheap,” Eck said of the proliferation of stores that sell trees, “so we’re doing other things in our time to make money for our charities. ... It was a hard decision. We’ll see how it goes.”

There are still a handful of Christmas tree farms in the area, and a handful of lots where non-profits sell cut trees for charitable causes. But a representative of each type of seller used the term “dying” in speaking of the status of things.

“Our supplier used to send trucks down to the Wichita area for quite a number of Boy Scout lots and other non-profits operating them, but that is now down to only a few,” said Bob Wellemeyer of Boy Scout Troop 692, which sells trees in Derby.

“It is sad they are becoming a dying thing, but we will continue to operate as long as we have our loyal customers coming back to get a real Christmas tree.”

And Susan Grelinger of Windy Knoll Tree Farm in Derby e-mailed me: “We are becoming a dying breed. Most Christmas tree farms have owners that are well past 65! The younger generation apparently are not interested in owning a tree farm.”

But there is also new life. Seedlings were planted this year for a new Christmas tree farm five miles east of Augusta – Cardinal Creek Farm. Since it will be a few years before any of the trees can be cut, the farm this year will have cut Christmas trees for sale, and also will have outdoor ice-skating on synthetic ice and hayrack rides and a gift shop. Admission is free, but ice-skating costs $3, plus $2 to rent skates. (The synthetic ice is a Teflon-type material that is a bit slower than ice and not as slick, so it’s easier to stand up on, manager Zac Yarnall said.)

The Christmas section of the farm, which holds camps in the summer, will have its grand opening from 1 to 8 p.m Saturday. The address is 396 SW 110th, Leon. Not all online maps are accurate, so Yarnall recommends checking the map at www.cardinalcreekfarm.org or its page on Facebook. The phone number is 316-323-4609.

At another farm, Pine Lake Christmas Tree Farm in Derby, Glen Goering tried something different and planted Virginia pines five or six years ago. This year the trees are 5 to 6 1/2 feet tall, and for the first time a handful of them are ready to go to homes as Christmas trees. They have soft needles, a slightly more narrow shape than other Christmas trees and a nice fragrance and are ideal with lightweight decorations and small lights, the farm says.

“I’ll plant some more,” Goering said, even though the Virginia pines have proven delectable to deer. “They look really nice.”

This was also a good year for Christmas-tree growing, and it’s a good thing: Goering planted 4,000 seedlings in the spring – the most ever – to make up for devastating losses of seedlings in the two previous drought years. At least 75 percent of the seedlings made it this year.

“So I’m real pleased,” Goering said. “If I live long enough, we’ll have a good harvest in a few years.”

Here is the list of non-profit Christmas tree lots that contacted me when I put out a call for them, as well as area Christmas tree farms. By this count, there are only three Christmas tree lots left in Wichita. There are five Christmas tree farms in the area. All are open for the season. Garden centers, as well as grocery stores, home improvement stores and other retailers, also have cut trees for sale.

Christmas tree lots

•  East YMCA Men’s Club. The lot has moved this year to 21st and Woodlawn, in front of Larry Bud’s Sports Bar & Grill, 2120 N. Woodlawn. Trees start at $27. Proceeds go to YMCA programs. Hours: 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. weekdays, noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20 or while supplies last.

•  Blessed Sacrament Men’s Club, 3800 E. Douglas (parking lot south of the church). Free delivery, and Boy Scouts pick up trees after Christmas for a minimum $5 donation. Varieties: Scotch and white pines; balsam, douglas, fraser, Nordmann, grand and noble firs; Colorado blue spruce. Also sells wreaths, garland and firewood. Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

• Boy Scout Troop 579 at All Saints Catholic Church, 3205 E. Grand (just east of Harry and Hillside). Hours: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

•  Boy Scout Troop 692 in Derby, just west of the Verus Bank at the corner of Madison and Rock Road in Derby. Varieties: fraser and balsam firs; white and Scotch pines. Hours: 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

• Augusta Lions Club, 316 W. 7th (Highway 54), in the parking lot of the Augusta Ace Home Center in Augusta. Varieties: Scotch and white pines; balsam, fraser and douglas firs. Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Proceeds go to community projects in Augusta.

Christmas tree farms

• 4C Christmas Tree Farm, 11229 Creed, Wichita; 316-684-0464

• Pine Creek Farm, 994 N. Meridian, Newton (closer to Goessel); www.pinecreektreefarm.com, 620-367-2606

• Pine Lake Christmas Tree Farm, 6802 S. Oliver, Derby; www.pinelakechristmastrees.com, 316-258-0088.

• Prairie Pines Christmas Tree Farm, 4055 N. Tyler Road, Wichita; www.prairiepines.com, 316-722-1145

• Windy Knoll Tree Farm, 15630 E. 47th South, Derby; www.windyknolltrees.com, 316-733-0918.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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