1 We arrived at Jones Family Farms early on a bright clear day.
2 A welcoming sign points the way.
3 Here's a site map showing the layout of the Christmas tree fields.
4 Here's Philip Jamison Jones - but everybody calls him Jamie. He's the sixth-generation member of the family to work on the farm, and a 1998 graduate of Cornell University with a degree in plant science. With him is his wife Christiana, who also works on the farm. Jamie gave us an excellent tour, taught us about the different tree varieties, and helped us cut ours down.
5 Here Jamie talks about the Douglas Firs, one of the most popular Christmas tree species. They are nicely shaped, hold their needles well, have a wonderful aroma, and are grown all over the U.S. This particular tree is about 8-9 years old and will be harvested either this or next year.
6 Jamie explains that there are often brown needles at the interior of the trees. That's because the needles have not been exposed to sunlight and cannot photosynthesize. They won't spoil the look of the tree because they'll be covered by the fuller green exterior branches - all perfectly natural.
7 After we've selected our tree, Jamie cuts it down with a hand saw. It helps if you bring along a tarp so you can slide the tree to your vehicle.
8 This is Fernando, a worker on my farm, helping to load a Balsam Fir onto our truck.
9 A beautiful field of large Blue Spruce. In the background you can see the southern edge of the farm.
10 Here Jamie shows us the new growth on this Fraser Fir. Christmas trees grow about a foot a year, and it takes about eight years for a tree to mature enough to be harvested. These are 4-5 years old and will be cut in another 3-4 years.
11 Jamie and Fernando in an established field of Douglas Fir that are about seven years old. These trees will be harvested next year.
12 The Blue Spruce again. In the wild they can grow up to 75 feet tall, but the tallest they grow at this farm is about 13 feet. By contrast, the Norway Spruce just placed in Rockefeller Center is 85 feet tall - a truly enormous tree!
13 This is one of the Blue Spruce we cut down for the front entrance to my farm - it's about 14 feet tall.
14 Jamie cuts off the bottom branches so the tree will fit in a tree stand.
15 These are the Frasers - another very popular Christmas tree species. They are native to North Carolina.
16 The Fraser Firs have an open growth pattern, and their coloring makes them distinct. The needles are dark green with a silvery underside. They can be tricky to grow, since they require well-drained soil.
17 To the uneducated eye, all Christmas trees may look alike - but not to experts like Jamie. To him they're like people, each with its distinct characteristics of height, shape, growth pattern, and color.
18 After you cut and pay for your tree, it's taken to the barnyard area to be baled, or wrapped.
19 The Howey Christmas tree baler - this Michigan company has been making Christmas tree harvesting equipment, including balers, since 1967. The baler compresses the trees by as much as two-thirds into a sausage-shaped bundle.
20 Another view of the Howey baler, which looks ferocious. We are looking into the interior of the funnel that the trees pass through.
21 Taking the large Blue Spruce off the truck.
22 Feeding the spruce into the maw of the baler.
23 But first, Brian Morrissey attaches a claw that grabs onto the trunk of the tree, then hooks the claw to the chain.
24 The tree passes through the baler, then proceeds along a conveyer belt.
25 It's hard to see, but inside the baler there's a can of string riding on a track, whirling around and around and wrapping the tree as it passes through. None of the branches or needles get damaged along the way.
26 Nearly finished with the baling.
27 Here you can actually see the green string. Not only is it well protected, but a wrapped tree is much easier to transport and carry into your home.
28 Each year Jones Family Farms creates a pewter ornament that is given to everyone who purchases a tree. This year's ornament features a tractor Jamie's grandfather purchased in 1947, a John Deere B.
29 It celebrates a tractor that has been in daily use on the farm for nearly 70 years.
30 If you don't want to go into the field, you can choose a tree that's already cut. This barnyard holds Blue Spruce.
31 And this one Fraser Firs.
32 Thanks and kudos to our friends at the Jones Family Farm - Jamie, Brian, John, Guillermo and Samuel.
33 I love these simple and beautiful graphic designs.
34 One of our big Blue Spruce, arriving home.
35 Here it is in place, still unadorned, at the entrance to my farm.
36 With beautiful lighting, bare trees are transformed into festive symbols of the holiday, and cheerful beacons to visiting friends and family.