Christmas seems to arrive earlier each year. Store displays of yuletide decorations go up as soon as Halloween is over or sometimes even sooner.
While these Christmas displays may seem premature, this year they offer a helpful reminder to make plans to visit a CT Grown Christmas tree farm. Many farms have opened earlier than usual in anticipation of another year of strong demand for real Christmas trees.
The COVID-19 pandemic drove a spike of visitors to Christmas tree farms in 2020 and 2021, as people were more determined to create an enjoyable holiday experience at their home. Christmas tree farmers never could have anticipated this surge in demand, since growing a Christmas tree is a lengthy process; it takes five to 10 years for a seedling to reach maturity.
Farmers have to be cautious about how many Christmas trees are cut, since cutting too many immature trees in one season can have a ripple effect for years to come. Last year, some farms took steps such as shutting down early or restricting their cut-your-own options in order to prevent overharvesting. CT Grown farms expect a stronger inventory this year, but those who visit early will have more to choose from.
“We have plenty of beautiful trees and with more than 400 tree farms located throughout Connecticut, consumers will be able to find the perfect tree – folks should check the website or call ahead to check on availability,” said Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. “We encourage people to learn more about the varieties available, pick up a wreath, poinsettia, or other seasonal product to help decorate your home, and enjoy the special holiday celebrations going on at CT Grown Christmas tree farms.”
Can I pick out a tree now and cut it later?
Buying a Christmas tree requires careful timing; some farms allow tagging to choose a tree early and cut it later. Tagging enables you to visit the farm, select your tree, and place a tag on it. This tag lets farm staff and other visitors know that the tree has been reserved and should not be harvested.
Check with the farm ahead of time to see if they allow tagging, since some farms only allow same-day harvesting.
What you’ll find at a CT Grown Christmas tree farm
Cut-your-own farms invite you to stroll through the stands of trees and find the perfect specimen for your home. They usually provide you with a saw to fell the tree and sleds or carts to tote it out of the fields for purchase. Farms also have special equipment to shake off loose needles and wrap up the tree, and staffers are often willing to help you secure the tree to your vehicle.
Farms may also sell a variety of other seasonal items, such as wreaths and poinsettias, as well as tree accessories like stands, garlands, and even commemorative ornaments.
Christmas tree farms don’t just want to sell you a product; they work to create a memorable and enjoyable experience your family will want to revisit year after year. On any given weekend, you might discover that the farm is offering hay rides, hosting food trucks, providing family photo sessions, serving seasonal refreshments like hot cocoa and sugar cookies, or bringing in Santa Claus for a visit.
CT Grown Christmas tree varieties
There are several varieties of Christmas tree that grow in Connecticut. This guide can help you decide which type will best suit your needs:
- Balsam Fir: A dark green tree with long-lasting needles and a distinct fragrance
- Blue Spruce: Distinguished by sharp needles, which necessitate careful handling but can be useful if you need to keep pets at bay; has strong branches and good needle retention, but is not very aromatic
- Canaan Fir: Has similar characteristics to balsam and Fraser firs, with good needle retention
- Concolor Fir: Known for its longer needles, good needle retention, and strong scent
- Douglas Fir: One of most popular Christmas tree options, with a dark green hue, dense branches, soft needles, and a lovely fragrance; its branches are less robust than other options, making them better suited for light ornaments
- Fraser Fir: Features a blue-green appearance, strong branches, good needle retention, and a pleasant aroma
- Norway Spruce: Dark green and well-shaped, but with poorer needle retention
- White Pine: A good choice for those in need of a taller tree, with soft needles and good needle retention; drawbacks include minimal scent and weaker branches
- White Spruce: Well-shaped with a bluish green color; needle retention isn’t as strong, but is better than other spruce options
Tips for tree selection and care
Before you head to a CT Grown Christmas tree farm, measure the height of the room where you’ll place the tree and the width of the doors you’ll use to get the tree inside. Bring along a measuring tape to make sure the tree you pick won’t be too large.
Contrary to what Clark Griswold says, you don’t have to be frozen from the waist down as part of the experience. Dress in warm, comfortable clothes that you’re willing to get dirty, and wear sturdy footwear. Check ahead to see if you need to bring your own saw, and it’s a good idea to bring your own rope or tie-downs to secure the tree for the trip home.
Look for a healthy tree that doesn’t have too many brown or shedding needles. Don’t discount a tree just because it has a flaw or two, such as an area with thinner branches. If you’ll be placing the tree against a wall or in a corner, you can easily conceal a portion of the tree that is less visually appealing.
Once home, be sure to water your tree regularly to prevent the tree from drying out, which will cause the needles to shed faster and create a potential fire risk. Never let the water line drop below the bottom of the trunk, since doing so will allow resin to seal off further water uptake. Check the water level each day, or get an automatic tree waterer to assist with this task.
What should I do with the tree after the holiday?
Many towns and cities schedule a day or two for curbside pickup of Christmas trees, or designate a site where trees can be picked up. These trees are then used for compost, mulch, or sand dune stabilization projects to benefit local parks and beaches.
You can also place your tree in the yard as a sanctuary for birds. Decorate it again with simple bird feeders made from pine cones, peanut butter, and birdseed to attract more feathered friends to your home.
Christmas trees are also sought after by farms. Goats, alpacas, chickens, and other animals enjoy browsing through the branches as an appetizer or enrichment activity as they seek other treats hidden between the boughs.
Check in with your local farm to see if they are accepting trees following the holiday. Just be sure to remove all ornaments and decorations, and don’t ever give them to animals without permission.
Winter is coming in Connecticut. While some CT Grown farmers are continuing their growing seasons and attending winter farmers’ markets, others have closed their farm stands until next year and are focusing on other essential work like ordering seeds and maintaining machinery.
But your support for CT Grown products doesn’t have to stop at what’s in the refrigerator. The CT Grown product extends to all farm products originating in Connecticut, including several options that can help keep you warm and cozy on a dark and chilly evening.
Remember when your father told you to leave the thermostat alone and put a sweater on if you were cold? Well, why not join the growing number of knitters and turn to CT Grown producers for your next hat, blanket, or new pair of mittens or socks?
Many animals have natural fibers—such as hair or fur—which can be used to manufacture products. Wool is perhaps the best-known example, with more than 400 farms in Connecticut caring for a flock of over 6,000 sheep and lambs. Other animals raised in Connecticut for their fiber include alpacas, llamas, and Angora goats.
Collecting the fiber is just the first step toward a finished product. It must then be converted to yarn through a process of cleaning, carding, spinning, and dying.
Don’t have the time to make a new winter wardrobe? Stop by a fiber producer to see what they have in their farm store. Many go the extra mile by providing completed products like blankets, hats, scarves, sweaters, and mittens.
Relaxing in front of a roaring fire is one of those quintessential New England experiences, but it’s become less common as homeowners rely more on fuels like heating oil and natural gas to stay warm. Yet many properties in our region continue to employ wood as a secondary heating source — especially when fuel costs go up. Firewood and wood pellets are among the items that are produced locally, so you can make your home more inviting using a local fuel source.
Under an agreement with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, forest products can be labeled as CT Grown if the timber was grown, harvested, and the item was processed in CT. You can look for the CT Grown label for materials like fencing and flooring when undertaking your next home improvement project, or find unique gifts like furniture, cutting boards, and carved bowls.
Tobacco and spirits
For some folks, the best way to make a winter evening more enjoyable is to relax with a fine cigar and a glass of whiskey — both of which can be found locally.
Tobacco has been under cultivation in Connecticut since pre-colonial times, and it was once a major cash crop of the Connecticut River Valley. While the industry is much smaller than it used to be, about 2,000 acres are still dedicated to growing and curing shade tobacco. This tobacco is then destined for the outer layers of premium cigars, which can be found at local suppliers.
Two types of tobacco grow in Connecticut, and each variety is valued for its rich flavor profile. Connecticut shade tobacco offers a light, sweet smoke with notes like coffee, vanilla, and cream. The dark, thick leaves of broadleaf tobacco deliver bolder flavors like earthy minerals, spice, or chocolate.
Spirits have been on the rise in Connecticut in recent years, with a growing number of distillers taking on the meticulous task of producing bourbons, whiskeys, liqueurs, and more. As an added bonus, these distilleries often use local CT Grown products like apples and maple syrup to give their product a distinct flavor.
Winter brings chapped lips and cracked skin. Fight back against the season’s dry air with the same ally that helps CT Grown farmers during the growing season: bees!
While honey is the most common bee product produced by Connecticut apiaries, many also offer personal care products made from beeswax. This material, used to construct honeycombs and seal in honey, also offers a natural way for the skin to retain moisture.
For this reason, beeswax finds its way into a variety of personal care products. Look for the material in lip balms, body scrubs, moisturizers, and more.
New Englanders are a hardy people, often stubbornly so. When cold weather arrives, we see no reason to give up the activities we’ve enjoyed in the summer and autumn. We may put on an extra layer or two, but we’ll still visit the beach, fire up the grill, or even head out on a bike ride.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we like to keep our farmers’ markets running in the winter as well, even if we do move them inside. While these occasions may look a little different from the collection of tents and vendors that pop up in parks and other green spaces during the summer, they support the same mission of providing a community gathering place to find fresh food and meet your CT Grown farmers.
“Our farmers are using innovative techniques to extend the growing season and offer fresh produce and other CT Grown products well into the winter,” said Erin Windham, Agriculture Marketing & Inspection Representative 2 at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. “Winter farmers’ markets not only offer an extended market for producers, but are also a great place to connect with people during the drearier months of the year and find unique holiday gifts for your loved ones.”
Is there really fresh CT Grown produce available during the winter?
Yes! The selection of fruits and vegetables will differ from what you find in the summer, but Connecticut farmers are still harvesting even after the frosts begin to arrive.
Traditionally, farmers have used greenhouses to extend growing seasons. These structures maintain warm temperatures and allow for the control of other growing conditions, such as irrigation. Greenhouses permit the year-round cultivation of summer crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, so you can still find fresh fruits and veggies — even when it’s snowing.
High tunnels, a greenhouse alternative, are also increasing in popularity in Connecticut. Consisting of a frame and plastic sheeting, these structures cover crops grown in the ground or in raised beds, protecting them from the cold or severe weather. High tunnels are simpler and less expensive than greenhouses, and allow farmers to keep harvesting crops into the winter.
Hydroponic and aquaponic systems have also allowed farmers to grow fresh produce year-round in Connecticut. Hydroponic systems allow plants to grow in a water-based, nutrient-rich medium rather than soil; they also permit farmers to adjust the necessary balance of water, nutrients, and oxygen, allowing crops to be grown quickly and efficiently. An aquaponic system combines hydroponics with aquaculture, allowing farmers to raise aquatic animals like fish whose nitrogen-rich waste provides nutrients to plants.
Some late season fruits and vegetables do well in cold storage, making them more readily available at winter markets. These crops include apples, beets, onions, potatoes, and turnips.
Certain vegetables have strong root systems, which mean they can remain in the ground over the winter and be harvested during this season. Cabbage, carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga are some of the crops that are still available late into the season due to this overwintering method.
Mushrooms are grown indoors, so they aren’t dependent on weather conditions and can be found fresh year-round. Some crops’ extended growing seasons also permit year-round availability, including herbs, lettuce, kale, and radishes.
Besides produce, what else can I buy at a winter farmers’ market?
Winter is the time for CT Grown products with year-round availability to shine at farmers’ markets. Our dairy farms stay busy over the winter, producing milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, and ice cream. Animal products like meats, eggs, fish, and shellfish are also available.
While we don’t often think of meats as having seasons like fruits and vegetables, you may notice expanded availability as producers work to ensure that specialities such as beef, pork, and lamb roasts, along with turkey, goose, and duck breast are ready for your holiday meals. This is also a great time of year to stock up on meat products for hearty soups, stews, and chili to feed a crowd and keep you warm.
Farmers who prepare for winter markets in advance will set aside some of their harvest for pickling or preserving, creating products like relishes, salsa, jams, and jellies. Other value-added products brought to market in the winter include honey, cider, maple products, beer, wine, and spirits.
You’ll see an increased focus on prepared foods at winter farmers’ markets with vendors selling baked goods and ready-to-eat soups and meals. You can also find handmade artisan items like soaps, candles, wood products, and clothing made from locally raised sheep and alpaca.
How do winter farmers’ markets support Connecticut farmers?
Farm revenue is often cyclical, with many farmers collecting the bulk of their income during harvest season. By selling products at winter markets, farmers can maintain cash flow during slower periods.
Winter markets help prevent food waste and lost income due to bruised or unsold fruits and vegetables. Instead of throwing this produce out, farmers can use it for preserves, sauces, and other value-added products to be sold later in the year.
Some farmers use the winter to take a breather from the busy season, which naturally means that winter markets are smaller than summer markets. Farmers who want to stay busy during the season can use winter markets to maintain a connection with their customers, enjoying face-to-face interactions throughout the year.
Can I use food benefits at a winter farmers’ market?
Benefits under the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) expire on Nov. 30, but many winter markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Under recently announced changes, SNAP benefits will go farther to help enrollees purchase local food options. The update to the program increased the number of eligible enrollees and boosted current enrollees’ benefits by 12 percent. Monthly benefits vary based on household size and income, but the change increased single recipients’ benefits by $31 a month and maximum benefits by $104 a month.
Enrollees can visit winter markets during the chillier months to maintain access to fresh produce and other CT Grown products. Some markets will also double benefits for certain products, usually fruit and vegetables.
Where can I find a winter farmers’ market in Connecticut?
Winter markets are sometimes held as one-day occasions to support holiday bazaars or other events, but usually take place weekly or biweekly. Just like their summer counterparts, they can be accompanied by live music, cooking demonstrations, educational workshops, and other entertainment.
An excuse to play dress-up, put up decorations, and eat sweet treats? No wonder we love Halloween so much.
Halloween is also a great time to throw a party, bringing together family and friends to enjoy spooky-themed dishes and see who can come up with the most creative costume. Whether you’re planning a party for little ones to enjoy after trick or treating, a fun occasion for your family, or a gathering among adults, you can find ways to make CT Grown part of the celebration.
”From CT Grown pumpkins to delicious apple cider, and even hard cider for the adults, there are many options for adding local flavor into your Halloween celebration,” says Jaime Smith, Bureau Director of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Conservation.
Apples are one of the most well-known crops in Connecticut. More than 60 different varieties are grown in the state, with flavors ranging from sweet to tart. The 2017 Census of Agriculture, latest data from the USDA, shows that Connecticut has 280 farms growing apples on over 2,000 acres of land.
Many of these farms welcome guests to pay a visit and pick their own apples. You can find these pick-your-own locations on the CT Grown map, or visit a local farmers’ market or retail location to see what’s available.
We’ve grown plenty creative in Connecticut when it comes to apple dishes, serving up everything from breakfast dishes to apple pie. Check out this page for a full slate of recipes. Or if you’re pressed for time, you could always just upend a bag from your local orchard into a bucket of water and invite your guests to go bobbing.
Pumpkins, gourds, and squash
It’s not a party without decorations, and no Halloween celebration is complete without a jack o’ lantern. Thankfully, Connecticut is well-stocked on pumpkins. In fact, the fat orange specimens favored for carving are known as Connecticut field pumpkins, and they have been cultivated here since pre-colonial times.
Pumpkins aren’t just a good way to demonstrate your creative skill. Save the seeds you scoop out and toast them with some cinnamon and sugar for a delicious, easy to make party snack. Connecticut field pumpkins can also supply you with the base ingredient for pumpkin pies, soups, and more.
Pumpkins are nearly as prolific as apples in Connecticut, with 267 farms offering them in 2017. Many of these venues also sell gourds, which appear almost otherworldly with multiple colors, curving shapes, and a slew of bumps. Simple and inexpensive, gourds offer an easy way to add festive flair to the spread of food and beverages at your party.
While soft-shelled gourds are destined for the compost bin after your party, hard-shelled ones can easily be repurposed. Once they’re cured and dried, they can be remade into drinking vessels, spoons, birdhouses, and any number of other useful items.
Appetizers with in-season produce
Several vegetables are still in season in Connecticut, and you can pick them up for a healthy party snack. As an added benefit, the late season harvest crops also lend themselves well to ghoulish arrangements on the appetizer tray. Here are a few ideas:
- Broccoli Frankenstein: Get artistic with your vegetables and create the face of Frankenstein’s monster. Florets of fresh CT Grown broccoli make a perfect base for this project. To take a look at a similar project featuring Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc., click here.
- Cauliflower Brain: Ever see the head of a cauliflower and think it looks a bit like a brain? Complete the illusion by roasting the vegetable and adding a topping like buffalo sauce or a creamy pink dressing. Check out this recipe, which takes the additional step of putting the final result into the head of a jack o’ lantern.
- Radish Eyeballs: Who knew radishes could be so creepy? Simply peel the radish and pop in an olive and you’ll have the perfect garnish for your appetizer plate or Halloween cocktail. Get more ideas for this spooky snack here.
Every fall, Connecticut residents eagerly await the availability of apple cider. Many Connecticut orchards produce this beverage, and some cider presses have been in operation for a century or longer.
Cider is created when ground-up apple mash is crushed beneath a press’s wooden boards, with the resulting juice strained through press cloths. Unlike apple juice, cider is unfiltered and has a darker color since apple particles are suspended in the drink.
Sweet cider will start to ferment over time, so drink it up fast — or set some of it aside for apple cider donuts.
Of course, fermented apple cider is exactly what some people will be after for their Halloween party. Several farms offering sweet cider will also have hard cider available. Look for both traditional options and those flavored with other locally grown ingredients like honey, hops, pumpkin, and berries.
Last year, we explained why we were naming chocolate milk the official drink of Halloween. This beverage provides 13 essential ingredients, namly calcium, vitamin D, and potassium; delivers a healthy dose of protein; and helps keep you hydrated.
Chocolate milk is a treat for all ages, but it’s a particularly good choice if your Halloween party will have younger guests. Look for a CT Grown choice to help support the 90 dairy farms in operation in Connecticut.
Wine and beer
Autumn is harvest time for the 45 licensed farm wineries in Connecticut. While the grapes collected this year won’t make their way into your stemware for awhile, you can pick up a few bottles made from previous harvests at a Connecticut Wine Country location. Learn more about where to find Connecticut wine here.
Fall also means seasonal beers at Connecticut’s independent breweries, many of which source their ingredients from local farms. While pumpkin flavored beers abound at this time of year, you’ll also see more brown and amber ales on tap, as well as heavier, more filling options like porters and stouts.
Drink responsibly, and enjoy a safe, spooky CT Grown Halloween!