Tips from Nova Scotia:
- The deep and fragrant green of Balsam fir is an ornamental adornment as ancient and profound as any other Christmas tradition. The aromatic needles of the Balsam fir carry with them the timeless memories of sweet smelling bearded grandfathers in long winter coats, crimson candles nestled in balsam fir advent wreaths, and Christmas trees still smelling of December winter forests. Patricia DeLong, of Nova Scotia's DeLong Farms Christmas Wreaths has had a long history with Balsam fir and Balsam fir Christmas crafts. In order to select and care for your indoor Balsam fir Christmas trees and other Balsam products such as wreaths and centerpieces, a little advice and a few trade secrets will help keep your children's holiday memories as fragrant as your own.
Choosing Choice Balsam Fir:
- “Finding beautiful Balsam fir is never very hard,” Patricia explains, “The trick is to find those few discrete signs in the brush that can tell you just how hearty and full the Balsam fir will be after a month indoors.” If you select Balsam fir that is not healthy enough, shedding, or harvested too early in the winter season, a Balsam fir Christmas tree or wreath will not keep for very long indoors. Inside your home, where the air is dry and warm, ill chosen Balsam fir can succumb very quickly. This is why there are a few things you should keep in mind when cutting, harvesting, or purchasing Balsam fir.
The Freshness of the Brush
- “Balsam fir should be as fresh and crisp as possible,” Patricia emphasizes. “A few simple tests can tell you if the Balsam is healthy and moist inside, and still ideal for wreath making.” By running your fingers against the grain of the fir, the needles should not fall off, but rather bounce back into place. This means the Balsam fir is still fresh and full of sap, keeping well when cut and used in Christmas wreaths and centerpieces. A Christmas tree should be selected in much the same manner; seeing to the robustness and health of the tree before using it as an indoor ornamental tree with electric lights and candles. By bending the outer stems of the tree, the Balsam fir should bend naturally and, again, bounce back into place. If the tree is not healthy enough, or too dry, the stems will snap and break dryly, showing there isn't sufficient moisture or sap in the Balsam fir's system to keep very long indoors.
- “Nova Scotian Balsam fir farmers such as my brother, Jim DeLong, really appreciate the quiet idiosyncrasies of quality Balsam fir brush,” Patricia smiles. “They have down to a trade science, the length, color, and distribution of the needles. In many ways, it is the needles of the Balsam fir that can reveal not only how nice a tree will look when you first stand it up, but also how well it will keep after a few weeks indoors.”
Single Needle and Double Needle Balsam Fir
- Single Needle Balsam fir is a Nova Scotian trade named type of brush that, though common and still very beautiful, does not stand well against the warm, dry indoor air of someone's home. Characteristic of larger, more thickly dispersed Balsam firs, the Single Needle Balsam fir brush tends to grow on the branches of trees that get little sunlight when they are growing. If a Single Needle Balsam fir is brought indoors, it will shed its needles very quickly and droop under the heat. Luckily, a Single Needle Balsam fir is not too hard to spot: simply check to see if the needles on the branches are in two opposite rows on the left and right, leaving the top and bottoms of the stems bare. Double Needle Balsam fir grows needles almost completely around, leaving only the bottoms of the stems bare. Double Needle Balsam firs are the only Balsam firs Nova Scotian Christmas tree farms such as DeLong Farms grow, and you should be weary of any Christmas wreaths or centerpieces that have been made of anything but Double Needle Balsam fir.
Needle Length, Shape, Density, and Color
- Quality Balsam fir, when judged by top Nova Scotian craftpersons, is scrutinized on a variety of characteristics and traits. The needles should be medium in length and growing tightly together all around the stems and branches. Older Balsam firs that grew in less than ideal conditions, generally typical of trees growing outside of Nova Scotia, have sparsely set and larger needles that can shed very rapidly after cutting, as well as not having the vivacious thickness of healthier Nova Scotian Balsam firs. The needles should be perfectly straight and not curled or wavy, as this can be a sign of disease that can have very quick affects on the brush when it is brought indoors. Perhaps one of the best signs of the health of a Balsam fir will be the dark green coloring of the needles; the darker deep green of evergreens shows of robust health, while lighter shades of green show of illness and a poor ability to withstand the dry, warm air of your home.
Shedding or Blight
- A very important attribute you should be weary of when choosing a Balsam fir Christmas tree or purchasing a Balsam fir Christmas wreath or centerpiece, is shedding or disease. If you are inspecting a tree before cutting it, or harvesting Balsam fir brush for a Christmas wreath, take special care to check for bare spots in the brush. If needles are too dry and missing in patches, or some form of blight is causing discoloration, the Balsam fir and its brush won't stand up very well in the warm, dry air of your home. If a Balsam fir has a shedding problem when it's still in the forest, shedding could be a serious issue when it is brought indoors. Considering the diligence and care that goes into making a Balsam fir Christmas wreath, it would be a shame if it should make a gift that will only loose its needles after a few days indoors.
A Nova Scotian Trade Secret
- “I wouldn't call it a 'trade secret' as much as a Nova Scotian tradition,” Patricia laughs. “One of the keys to a great Nova Scotian Balsam fir Christmas wreath is not to harvest the Balsam fir until after there have been at least sixteen good frosts on the ground. These frosts set the needles for the winter and fortify the Balsam fir for wreath making. If the Balsam fir is harvested too soon, the needles will dry and spoil that much quicker. If purchasing locally, try to avoid anything cut too early in the season. My husband, Greg, the sales manager of our mail order business,” Patricia smiles, “calls this the 'Legend Fresh from Nova Scotia.'”
The Caring of Your Holiday Balsam fir:
- After vigilantly selecting and harvesting your Balsam fir, a little maintenance and care can go a long way in keeping your Holiday greenery nice and fresh. If hanging your Balsam fir Christmas wreath outdoors, the wreath will easily keep over the Christmas season. The cool winter frost and moist atmosphere provides the ideal conditions for not only keeping Balsam fir fresher for longer periods of time, but also helps to preserve the color and fragrance of the needles if you should choose to keep them after the holiday season. Inside, however, in ideal indoor conditions, a Balsam fir Christmas tree or wreath can be expected to last, on average, for around a month or so. There are, luckily, a few specific steps of care one can take to preserve their Balsam fir tree or wreath, and a few more trade secrets to keep your Balsam fir smelling fresh long after the Christmas season.
Trimming a Balsam Fir Christmas Tree
- After felling a Balsam fir Christmas tree, take care to preserve the cut. This simple action of separating the tree from the roots has created an opening for not only moisture to go in, but for it to escape as well. A Balsam fir, when cut, protects itself by seeping sap that will create a barrier between the sensitive system of the tree and the harsh, dry air outside. If allowed to sit too long after being cut, without being placed in a stand with water, the Balsam fir will essentially plug the butt of the cut and draw no water afterwards; drying it out that much quicker. This is why Patricia DeLong suggests, “If the tree was not felled immediately before, trim the bottom of the tree by a few inches to open the system so it will draw water again.” If you are purchasing a tree through mail order or from a tree lot, take a the time to saw and trim the end to re-open the system, and keep a healthy fragrant Balsam fir Christmas tree significantly longer.
- The moisture in the Balsam fir's system is very important for keeping it full and fragrant over the Christmas season. A Balsam fir Christmas tree will draw a significant amount of water in the first day; up to a single gallon in twenty-four hours. After that it will continue to draw a few quarts a day. Needless to say, keeping your Balsam fir Christmas tree well watered is very important. Patricia DeLong suggests keeping, “At least two gallons in the stand at all times. If the Balsam fir runs out of water, it will only seal over again, leaving you to take the tree down and re-cut the end.” To save yourself the unpleasantries of having to take down a fully grown and intricately decorated Christmas tree to saw the butt, consider re-filling the stand at least twice a day. Also on the market are many different additives that you may be tempted to add to the water to help absorption. DeLong Farms suggests only using fresh cold water, as any chemicals may actually impede absorption and kill a Balsam fir outright. “Balsam fir is as natural a Christmas product as there can be,” Patricia smiles, “To add any chemicals to it would only shorten its keep and distort the Balsam fragrance Balsam fir crafts are famous for. Fresh water is the best way to go.”
Heat and Dry Air
- As an evergreen perfectly adapted to life in a Nova Scotian winter forest, a Balsam fir is actually ill suited to survive inside a heated home with considerably dryer air. As large a role as moisture plays in the preservation of a Balsam fir Christmas tree or Christmas wreath, the heating of a home can actually play a significant role in how long a Balsam fir will keep. If it is a very dry central heating system of say an electric heater or wood burning stove, the air will be considerably dryer than if a home is headed by hot water. If the Balsam fir is kept in the same room as a heat source, standing or placing it as far away as possible will help keep it from drying out and changing to a reddish brown color. (It is also important to note it is a fire hazard to have any Balsam fir material near an open flame, especially if it is drying out and no longer full of moisture and sap.)
Spritsing a Wreath
- In much the same manner as you would water a plant daily with a spray bottle, “spritsing” a Balsam fir Christmas wreath or centerpiece is a great way to keep the Balsam fir from drying out. If you live in a home with particularly dry air, regular clouds of water will go a long way in keeping too much moisture from being lost. Because a wreath cannot be watered in the same way as a tree, keeping the brush of the Balsam fir moist is really the only way to keep it supple. While a properly selected Balsam fir Christmas wreath will easily last the Christmas season, a little careful maintenance can go a long way in keeping your Balsam fir centerpiece the subject of conversation and praise from family and visitors.
An Unlikely Trade Secret
- If you would like to keep your Balsam fir “on ice,” shall we say, until you expect company or a family gathering, the best way to keep a natural product such as Balsam fir, is to simply keep it outside in the winter air. By allowing the Balsam fir to stay in the dark, cool, wet environment that it thrives in, the Balsam will essentially sit happily until you bring it indoors. By protecting it from the heat and the dry air, setting it under the porch so it is out of the sun, the Balsam fir will have little problem staying lush and fragrant. “If you live in an area that has less than ideal weather conditions for setting a Balsam fir Christmas wreath outside,” Patricia almost chuckles, “Keeping it in the deep freeze would be your next best place.” By protecting the Balsam fir from the heat and dry air, an air tight freezer, believe it or not, actually provides an ideal chamber to retain the freshness.
Written by Jordan Dickie:
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