(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A holiday tradition for many families, traveling to a forest or farm to buy a Christmas tree is a special occasion. At Port Farms in Waterford, customers can have that outdoor, cut-it-yourself experience without having to hike deep into a snowy forest.

“This is a crop. For every tree we cut, we replace it with another tree,” said Kelly Port, owner of Port Farms. “A fresh tree makes a good tree. And you’re helping the environment — these trees release a lot of oxygen.”

Young trees

Each year, the farm plants 1,200 to 1,500 trees. Families flock to their farm over the next two weekends to buy a Christmas tree. More people come later in the holiday season. The farm sells about 1,000 trees every year. Last year, they sold out.

“We only sell a certain number of trees. At some point, we assess where we’re at in trees and then shut it down,” Port said.

Port Farms first planted trees in 2003. It was during a Penn State seminar that Kelly Port and her husband were given the advice to also plant pumpkins. Trees grow about a foot per year, so a six-foot tall Christmas trees takes about — you guessed it — six years to mature. Port farms now plants 4-year-old seedlings to reduce the time between planting and harvest. But the popular pumpkin sales have helped Christmas tree sales.

“We never thought about the pumpkin side of it, but that made perfect sense — they come to pick out a pumpkin, see the tree field, and then come back at Christmas time,” Port said. “It’s nice to already have a captive audience.”

Kelly Port

Next weekend, and every subsequent weekend until the trees are sold out, customers will arrive at Port Farms. They’ll gather at the “shanty” where they’ll receive a saw and a wagon. Then, they’ll travel between the rows of trees to find the perfect one for their family. Then, they’ll cut it down. (Farm workers are in the fields to help customers if they’re unable to cut the tree themselves, and pre-cut trees are available for sale for people who can’t walk through the fields.) The perfect tree, however, is a matter of taste.

“Everybody has their own likes — some like a skinny tree, some like a fat tree, some like a tall tree, some like a short tree,” Port said. “It’s so personal, I can’t even say what makes a good Christmas tree other than a fresh cut Christmas tree.”

Mature trees

Fresh cut is key. When customers wheel their tree back to the shanty, workers will shake the tree, drill it and bale it. Port said it’s important to put the tree up immediately and to get the trunk into the water. If it can’t be immediately put up, it’s important to lop some of the trunk off to give it another fresh cut before putting it up. And then give it water — lots of water.

“If it runs out of water, it develops a film on it and it can’t suck up water at all,” Port explained. “In the first few days, the tree will drink gallons of water.”

The trees cost $8.50 per foot, or $9.50 per foot for pre-cut trees. Each tree comes with a hand-made ornament. This year’s ornament was made in Meadville.

Mature trees at Port Farms in Waterford.

Already, the barn had workers crafting wreaths. A tree was up. Christmas decorations were plentiful.

A day at Port Farms during the holiday season isn’t just picking out and cutting a Christmas tree — there are several activities for families on the farm. The holiday season begins on Nov. 25 at Port Farms. Santa is on hand noon to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, his lap ready. On Dec. 3 and Dec. 4, the Grinch will slither and slink throughout Port Farms from 1 to 4 p.m.

Families also can enjoy sleigh and carriage rides. Those rides are by reservation which can be made online. There’s also live music and food.

“It’s such a great family tradition to come out and pick out a tree. We get the same families year after year,” Port said. “It’s interesting to watch people’s dynamics at Christmas time. People are very emotionally driven, especially at Christmas time.”

Port Farms is at 2055 Stone Quarry Road in Waterford. The farm is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no admission during the Christmas season. This year Port Farms celebrated 125 years as a family farm.