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Pining to cut your own Christmas tree

Shiels family cousins watch as Patrick Shiels chops

Shiels family cousins watch as Patrick Shiels chops down their chosen family tree at Carter Christmas Tree Farm in Miller Place. (Nov. 6, 2010) Credit: Photo by Jesse Newman

A few strokes of a red-handled bow saw were all it took to put the Shiels family of Rocky Point in the mood for Christmas.

As mom and dad, Lynn, 42, and Patrick, 41, dragged their just-cut 6-foot Scotch pine to the Carter Tree Farm sales shed, sons Justin, 8, and Brandon, 4, and several visiting cousins pranced alongside with grandma Mary Shiels, everyone in high spirits. The wide grass path that edges the vast grove of 5,000 evergreens was quickly traversed.

"It's like a day in the country, a little adventure for the kids," says Lynn. The children paused to scope out one of the farm's "Charlie Brown" trees - small, not- so-perfect specimens that sell for $5 or less.

"Maybe we'll come back again for one," says Mary. "We could put it in your room and make popcorn garlands for it."

HUNTING FOR TREES

Keeping homespun traditions alive - especially in this high-tech era - can promote lasting memories. A number of Long Island Christmas tree farmers go all out with extra attractions to entice customers by enhancing one of the most iconic of holiday experiences: cutting your own Christmas tree.

Acres of lush evergreens are inviting destinations where entire families can wander in search of the perfect Scotch pine, Norway spruce, Douglas fir or other species.

"This is one time that even teenagers are eager to go anywhere with their folks," says Ed Dart, who runs his own U-cut tree farm in Peconic. "And they're very discriminating about which tree to pick."

One of Dart's signature touches on his farm is a "Wall of Fame," where he posts annual snapshots of his customers, some of whom have been coming for many seasons. Says Dart, "I get a hoot out of watching their glee when they find their photos from years back."

WHERE TO GO

Many live-tree farms have amenities such as use of saws, free hayrides and on-site refreshments such as hot chocolate and cookies for families famished by the hunt. Most have plenty of "elves" who will help cart your tree back from the field and encase the branches in netting before tying it down to the roof of your car.

Guide: Cut your own Christmas tree on Long Island

U-cut Christmas tree tips

Colorado blue spruce and Douglas fir trees range from 2-foot tabletoppers to 14-foot ceiling scrapers.

-Cut your tree as close to the ground as possible.

-Once home, make another cut a few inches higher before securing the tree in a stand.

-Keep the cut base in a container that always has water.

-A lower room temperature will help keep the tree fresh.

-After Christmas, recycle the tree by setting it up in the backyard as a refuge for birds, or break off larger branches to use on perennial beds as mulch. Smaller pieces can be used as kindling in the fireplace or wood stove.

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