Go out on a limb; cut your own Christmas tree

There is a scene in the comedy movie Christmas Vacation when the Griswold family trudges through deep snow to chop down a Christmas tree. The outing nearly results in the kids getting frostbite. After the huge tree is hauled into the front room and Clark cuts the rope around the tree – its massive branches spring out and crash through the house’s windows.

Hopefully, such disasters don’t plague families who cut down their own Christmas trees at u-cut farms around Kitsap County.

Many households skip purchasing a pre-cut Christmas tree or artificial one. Instead, they go to a Christmas tree farm, scout out their favorite tree, and saw down it down – an experience that creates a lasting memory and one far more pleasant than what the Griswolds endured.

Here are some of the u-cut tree farms around Kitsap County:

Olmsted Tree Farms– Poulsbo

Each holiday up to 1,000 families cut down their Christmas trees at Olmsteds, 17526 Clear Creek Road NW.

The farm with 8,000 trees on 10 acres features a sleigh for taking family photos, a small pond and Christmas decorations. Visitors are treated with warm drinks and popcorn. On chilly days the farm’s bonfire is popular.

“Everyone who comes here is in a great mood. They are in the Christmas spirit. They want to find the perfect Christmas tree,” said Kassie Olmsted, who for 21 years has run the business with husband Josh.

Kids are big fans of the place. “They love it. They are super excited and run around the fields and get a couple of servings of hot chocolate and popcorn. Even if it’s in the pouring rain they can’t hide their excitement,” Olmsted said.

Like other Christmas tree farms, the staff at Olmsted see many of the same families every season. “Some families tell us they have been coming to Olmsted’s for their Christmas trees for 20 years. It’s pretty amazing.”

Hubert’s Christmas Tree Farm – Bremerton

Visitors entering Huber’s Christmas Tree Farm at 4601 Seabeck Highway NW drive up to a red and white chalet with candy canes. People are given a map showing the location of trees across the 128-acre spread that sits on Hubert Noble ridge and looks out at the Olympics Mountain range.

As families look over at Christmas trees, they may spot Santa buzzing around on an ATV greeting kids with candy canes.

The farm has 53 fields boasting nearly a dozen types of Christmas trees that are rotated on a 12-year basis. A smaller part of the acreage is devoted to growing timber for commercial sales, said Randy Billick, the owner along with his wife Karen.

There are several attractions around the farm to visit, said Billick, a former fire chief in Central Kitsap. The Noble House features Christmas music and is warmed by a fireplace. Visitors can sip hot apple cider while looking over a series of photos that portray the growth process of the Christmas trees.

Outside the Noble House is a wooden sleigh, ideal for families to take a group photo suitable for Christmas cards. Folks can also hop on a tractor-driven hay wagon and tour the upper ridge of the farm.

Santa’s Workshop is in a large red barn that contains a number of backgrounds for photos – an old Western town, a Bavarian village and antique tractors. There is also a big over-stuffed chair where Santa sits to take photos with excited kiddos.

Raising a Christmas tree is not easy as planting a seedling and letting it grow. “It takes 8-12 years to grow a Christmas tree,” Billick said. “We have to worry about aphids, fungus and weeds. The trees also need to be fertilized and sheared as they grow.”

There are times efforts are required to ensure the crown can hold the top ornament. That involves attaching sticks around the center branch to ensure it grows straight. Trees also need to regularly be manicured. “If trees were not sheared, or cultured, they would be a mess,” he said.

Also, the bottom branches need to be hand-clipped so the tree will have a bare trunk to fit into a tree stand, Billick said. “Each tree is touched at least 6-8 times a year. We work on the tree about 10 1/2 months out of the year.”

Even with all of that attention, not all of the trees make it. They plant 6,000-13,000 trees a year at the farm but only 4,000-5,000 survive, Billick said. Drought is the main enemy. Not long ago when the Northwest had a string of 100-plus days without rain, the operation lost over 50% of its new growth.

Hubert’s has been in business for 61 years. The farm sees up to 800 families come through the entrance daily. Typically, a family will spend two hours choosing their tree and visiting the farm’s attractions.

Five Springs Team Farm – Olalla

This tree farm at 3263 SE Five Springs Lane is a u-cut operation that started in the 1970s. The farm covers 100 forested acres with eight dedicated to Christmas trees. Each season the farm sells about 200 Douglas, Noble and Turkish firs. “It’s part of family traditions to come out here, put boots on, and go out in the forest,” owner Doug Kingsbury said.

“It’s fun to see the customers from year to year and be part of the Christmas season,” he said. “Young families with kids bring their dogs out with them.”

Custom wreaths are made and hot cocoa and cider are offered. There is a pile of candy canes for kids and dog treats for four-legged family members.

Those who cut their other trees are assured of getting a fresher one than those sold in store parking lots, Kingsbury said.

“Trees sold at big box retailers like Home Depot were cut for a month before you bought them. They dry out sooner and won’t last as long in your house – needles will drop, they begin to wilt, and the smell tapers off,” Kingsbury said. “The fresher a tree is, the longer they last.”

The Wreath Works – Port Orchard

Holiday atmosphere abounds at The Wreath Works at 15384 Glenwood Road SW. Two 16-foot Nutcrackers overlook the farm. Customers can warm up with peppermint-flavored hot cocoa and hot cider, along with enjoying candy canes.

“When people come to get a Christmas tree they are in a good mood and excited,” said owner Phil Hunter, who runs the business with some family members. “What makes me happy is hearing some six-year-old running across the field in a high-pitched voice saying, ‘Daddy, daddy I found the perfect tree!’ That’s what motivates me; the excitement and glow you see on the kids.”

The 20-acre tree farm sports 11 types of Christmas trees. Douglas, Noble and Grand firs are the most popular. Turkish, Nordmann, Fraser, Balsam and Korean firs are also available. Families choose trees that range from 3-14 feet tall, with the most popular size being around 7 feet. Trees are priced $9-$12 a foot. Staff can flock trees to give the appearance of freshly fallen snow on the branches.

There are plenty of Christmas extras. “We have Christmas music pumped through the farm. You can hear it everywhere you go. It’s the atmosphere that people love.”

As the name indicates, wreaths play a big role at Wreath Works. “We have lot customers that come to buy wreaths and don’t buy trees from us. There is a percentage of the population that has artificial trees, we know that, but they still want them to have the smell, so they buy our wreaths,” Hunter said.

Wreaths are made on-site and feature hand-tied bows. Wreaths range from one to five feet in diameter and are shipped worldwide; a recent one was mailed to Scotland.

Ornaments are another draw. The gift shop carries over 1,500 ornaments. Getting an ornament “is as much a tradition as buying a tree. People buy ornaments for their kids or grandkids every year,” Hunter said.

The tree farms around the county all have their regular customers. Take Larry and Cindy Mikelsen, who have been coming to Wreath Works practically since it opened. While raising their two kids, the Port Orchard couple came to the farm every year to find a Christmas tree. The annual trek continues to this day, long after their children moved away.

Larry Mikelsen recalled: “When the kids were small, we would all go out there as a family. It was a big outing the kids looked forward to. It gave them a chance to run around and be involved in getting the tree. Of course, you can’t cut the tree down until you all stand in front of it and take a picture. When we got the tree home then we decorated it together and it was ‘our tree.’”

The Wreath Works land has not always been a Christmas tree farm. Previously, the acreage was used to help celebrate another holiday – Thanksgiving. Hunter’s grandparents used to run the largest turkey farm in the state.

Other farms in county

Suyematsu Farms – 13610 Manzanita Road NE, Bainbridge Island. 206-842-1429

Alpine U-Cut – 11100 SW Lake Flora, Bremerton. 360-271-1985

Bacon’s Christmas Tree Farm – 9381 W. Belfair Valley Road, Bremerton. 360-275-3162

Christmas Traditions Tree Farm – 9904 Sidney Road SW, Port Orchard. 360-340-2010