Yo, Christmas Tree

Meet Nigel Manley, expert tree farmer from Bethlehem

Nigel Manley has been a farmer all his life. First in the U.K. and then at The Rocks for the past 32 years. He and his band roam the estate year-round, nurturing Christmas trees from delicate twigs through robust maturity to become well-proportioned, healthy, conical specimens. Keswick, his dog, does his best to help. It’s a quiet, rewarding life, pretty much free from any drama. With the Whites as a backdrop, this North Country farm is the ideal place for fulfilling your quest for the perfect tree. So pack up the Volvo and point it toward Bethlehem. Begin a family tradition or just paint an indelible memory quite worthy of a nod from Norman Rockwell. Go on and have some fun, laughing all the way.

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  • I have a degree in agriculture from Reading University in England. I grew up on a market garden with a small shop for plants and vegetable sales. I worked on various farms including dairy, pigs, beef cattle, and vegetable truck farming.
  • The Society for the Preservation of NH Forests owns the land: The Christmas tree farm consists of 30 acres [of the total] 1,400 acres.
  • It was donated in 1978 by two of the grandchildren of John Glessner, a Chicago industrialist who brought about the partnerships to create International Harvester. He became a member of The Forest Society in 1903, only two years after the organization started. 
  • One of the stipulations of the donation was that the fields always would have a crop in them, hence the Christmas Tree Farm.
  • It takes six to 10 years for a tree to reach maturity. Frasers take longer to get to a point where they are ready.
  • Every tree is pruned every year regardless of size. So, all 32,000 are touched in some way.
  • Deer are not usually a problem up here. Mice can girdle the tree seedlings, so we keep weeds away from their bases and mow the grass short. In this way, predators like kestrels, crows, foxes and coyotes can easily find and eat the rodents.
  • You do cut the tree yourself. We provide the saw and then you drag the tree to where it is baled, and then you load the tree. 
  • I think you can bring your family donkey along for this part and hitch him up. Not sure if the insurance would cover that though. Give us a little notice, and we can check it out.
  • Once you get the tree home, if it has been cut and stored for more than eight hours, re-cut the trunk, taking about ½ inch off and then put water in the house. 
  • Do not put over a hot-air duct, next to a radiator or a wood stove. Any of these things will make the life of the house tree noticeably reduced. 
  • Last season, we cut about 6,000 trees. As far as prices go, “Cut Your Owns” last season were around $55. All of the money goes back into supporting conservation, as The Forest Society owns the farm.
  • We have people come from as far as Florida to annually join their extended family at the farm and to enjoy the holiday together. 
  • We also have a group of people that always order large trees each season. They are always fun to help load. Try to imagine a 14-foot tree on top of a small car.

ImageChristmas Trees Explained, Briefly

How did we come to a place where millions of homes across the nation are exposed to tree sap, fire hazards and countless tiny pine needles stuck into the nap of the carpet once a year? Blame the ancient Egyptians, the Druids or the Vikings,  as all contributed to the fertility rites symbolized by the triangular household evergreen, but the local angle is our state’s “Mother of Holidays” Sarah Josepha Hale, (who is more famous for helping make Thanksgiving into a national celebration). When Hale edited her immensely popular Godey’s Lady’s Book in the mid-19th century, a recurring topic of interest was the Victorian society of our former colonizers in Great Britain. A December 1850 illustration in Hale’s magazine depicting Royals Victoria and Albert at Windsor Castle with a flock of children surrounding a decorated tree became a sort of Victorian meme in American households, planting the seeds for the modern Christmas tree, ranging from fresh, cut-your-own specimens to the pink tinsel monstrosities of the mid-20th century.  

Categories: People