By Ed Lentz

Fields of corn or wheat, pastures dotted with cows, or idyllic farmsteads with a historic barn are images that many may have of farm life in Ohio. But Ohio agriculture is more than agronomic crops and livestock.

Christmas tree farms are another type of agriculture that thrive on the fertile soils of Ohio. They provide a source of income on smaller acres of land than the larger grain or livestock farms.

Christmas tree farms are an example of land production that is sustainable and renewable. They provide a long-term rotation away from grain crops, provide habitat for wildlife, and protect soils from erosion.

Once Christmas is over, trees can be recycled as kindling, firewood, mulch, or placed in ponds for fish habitat.

There are about 500,000 acres in production for Christmas trees in the United States and much of it preserves green space. There are about 21,000 Christmas tree growers in the United States and more than 100,000 people are employed full- or part-time by the industry.

It can take as few as four years or as many as 15 years for a Christmas tree to reach 6 or 7 feet in height. Growth rate depends on environmental conditions and tree species.

The average growing time is seven years, and this time is often occupied with fighting heavy rain, wind, hail and droughts. Trees have to be pruned on a regular basis to get the desired shape by selling time. And in this area, trees have to be protected from deer.

Pine, spruce, and fir are the most common conifers used for Christmas trees. Conifers are trees that have cones as fruiting structures and leaves that are described as needle or scale-like.

Pine trees may be identified by having needles in clusters that may be long or short. The number of needles in the cluster is one way to identify the pine species.

Spruce trees have individual needles attached to the stem. The needles are sharply pointed and easily roll between your fingers.

Fir trees also have individual needles that are attached to the stem. However, fir needles are soft, flat and cannot be easily rolled between your fingers.

Christmas tree lots and local tree farms have several species of each conifer type that often include the following:

• Scotch pine — known for the contrast between its blue-green needles and orange-red bark. It has good needle retention with strong branches. Needles are 1 to 3 inches long in bundles of two.

• White pine — greener needles than scotch with a soft, glossy look. It has very good needle retention but weaker branches for decorations. The tree is known for a pleasant holiday scent. Needles are 2½ to 5 inches long in bundles of five.

• Norway spruce — fair needle retention with dense and strong branches. Needles are dark green and the tree has a traditional holiday scent.

• Blue spruce — fair needle retention with strong branches. Needles are prickly and silver-blue in color and the tree has a strong, pungent scent.

• Fraser fir — excellent needle retention and thick branches for heavy decoration. Needles are green above and silver below and the tree has a medium evergreen scent.

• Canaan fir — a type of balsam fir that has good needle retention and medium branches for decorations. Needles are dark green on both sides and the tree has a strong evergreen scent.

There are many Christmas tree lots in the communities in our area. However, you may want to select a tree directly from a farm. Harvesting a tree from a local farm will guarantee that your tree is fresh and it should easily last through the holiday season.

Hancock County is fortunate to have Kaleidoscope Farms, a Christmas tree farm near Mount Cory. Kaleidoscope is known as one of Ohio’s best Christmas tree farms. Their Christmas trees have been selected as grand champions at the Ohio State Fair.

They also donate trees to troops overseas by participating in the Ohio Christmas Tree Association’s “Operation Evergreen” — trees are packaged with decorations and letters of gratitude expressing support for those defending our country.

Kaleidoscope Farm has activities that can be enjoyed by the family while selecting the perfect tree. Operation times and programs at the farm may be found at https://kaleidoscopefarms.wordpress.com/

A real tree may be something to consider for your holiday season. Selecting that special tree at a local farm and decorating it later may become one of your family’s cherished Christmas memories.

Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at lentz.38@osu.edu.

Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.

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