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Image: Susan Ridley

1. THE LOWDOWN

1  Oregon’s rank among Christmas-tree-producing states

$120m  Annual sales of Oregon trees

7.2m Trees projected for 2015 harvest 

90 Approximate percentage of Oregon trees bound for other US states—half to California

528 Growers licensed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture as of 2014

7-12 Average age, in years, of a six-foot tree at harvest

$30 Maximum price, in 2014, for a six-foot Douglas fir at area U-pick farms

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2. HARVESTING BY HELICOPTER

Olympia-based pilot Doug Uttecht can move more than 1,000 bundled trees in an hour from Oregon farms. The “insane” speeds of up to 80 miles per hour—necessary for last-minute harvests that maximize piney freshness—require exceptional skill. Uttecht carefully monitors the swaying 30-pound hook at the end of his line: “The swing starts fast, but by the time it reaches [the field worker hooking the trees] it should be almost stopped. You don’t want to swing the hook and clock the guy with it.”

3. SPECIES POWER RANKING

Winner 
Doug fir, prized for its fragrance and soft, blue-green needles, requires just seven years to harvest—no surprise it makes up nearly half of Oregon’s annual crop.

Loser
The high-altitude noble fir sweltered through this summer’s heat, with needles turning an early (and unmarketable) red.

Dark horses
According to Bryan Ostlund of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association: “Nordmann and Turkish firs have everything you want: disease resistance, needle retention, and heavy branch structure for ornaments.”

4. ONE PORTLANDER'S CHILDHOOD ON A TREE FARM

"My father, a Pennsylvania hobby farmer, trimmed each tree branch with a machete, starting with the whorl at the top and working his way around, shaping the trees into perfectly imperfect cones. He’d hope for a hard, lasting frost—if not snow—by Thanksgiving, to freeze the ground. It kept the fields less muddy, more picturesque. Then he’d start lining wagonloads of trees against makeshift fences for customers unwilling to cut their own. In the garage, my sister and I would prune trees too large or deformed by deer, then use a pedal-powered clamp to make wreaths we’d sell to buy our Christmas presents.”

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5. WHERE TO PICK

Merrywood Farm
A shooting location for Pendleton Woolen Mills’ 2013 winter catalog, the forested Oregon City estate vends reasonably priced firs and spruces—U-cut, pre-cut, or we-cut by the “Men of Merrywood.” merrywoodfarm.com

Historic Kirchem Farm
Established in 1890 near the banks of the Clackamas River, the Kirchem family farm offers all-natural, spray-free trees, along with free wagon rides and hot chocolate. historickirchemfarm.info

Hagg’s Tree Farm
Santa makes a few early visits to Hillsboro, perhaps to take advantage of Hagg’s self-serve economy lot (nobles starting at $10), shake-and-bale service, and holiday bazaar. haggsfarm.com

Quail Creek Ranch
Just south of Northwest Portland’s Skyline Ridge, find 20 acres of hand-trimmed trees including Nordmanns, grands, Frasers, and Serbian spruce.
(Bonus: an on-site hike to Quail Creek Falls.) qcrxtrees.com

 

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