December 14, 2009
Families flock to tree farm
Hill of Bean’s in Homer fosters tradition of finding a Christmas tree
HOMER — Carolyn and Tim Bice measure time partly by their annual trip into the snowy rows of firs and spruces to cut a Christmas tree.
On Saturday afternoon, they were drinking hot chocolate inside the wooden cabin at Hill of Bean’s, up on Chapman Road off Searles Road, where the Bean family operates a tree farm.
They had cut an 8-foot fir and loaded it in their truck to take back to LaFayette, where they moved a couple of years ago after living in Truxton. Their daughter Morgan, 5, was munching a cookie. Their flat-coat Labrador retriever, Scooter, was roaming outside, then came inside.
They had found their tree in a far corner of the rows, cut it down with a saw, then dragged it out through the snow to the spot where Steve Bean, who owns the farm with his wife, Karen, could load it on a hay wagon and take it to the cabin.
Carolyn was joking that the effort almost caused her to have their second child, who is due Jan. 1. She said they were glad to come to Hill of Bean’s again, after going elsewhere for a tree last year, because they had bought trees there for years.
The Bices were not alone. Throughout the day, families arrived to cut trees or buy trees already cut standing next to the cabin.
The day was sunny and the temperature was just under 30 degrees. The snow was not too deep among the rows of trees.
The Beans’ son, Kyle, and his friend Eric Miller helped load trees and also baled them for free if the customer wanted.
Hill of Bean’s tree farm is open only for the first three weekends of December. Inside the cabin, which is heated with a cast-iron wood stove, the family sells wreaths, tree ornaments, baked goods and handmade soap. Some of what they sell is made by other people.
“That whole part of the operation sort of evolved,” Steve Bean said.
Steve Bean works part-time as a mechanic at SUNY Cortland. Karen is a hair stylist.
They opened the tree farm 14 years ago on a piece of land between cornfields, first planting trees as a way to keep deer poachers off their land.
Firs and spruces take about eight to 10 years to grow to the height that customers like as Christmas trees — 5 to 8 feet — although that depends on weather, Steve Bean said. So the family planted trees, let them grow for 10 years, then began selling them as they planted more.
Among the rows Saturday, trees ranged from 2 feet to 8 feet. A row of 30-footers stood in the middle, as a wind break.
“We have a row of balsam firs and Fraser firs too, for the deer,” Karen Bean said. “They rub against the balsam and eat the Fraser firs. It keeps them out of the other trees.”
She said they have about 10,000 trees and sell about 500 each year. They plant about 1,000 seedlings each spring.
“We’ve had more people come here the last three years,” Steve Bean said. “They come from Lansing and Syracuse. People like a new place, to the point where sometimes we have to sort of ration the trees or we’ll run low.”
Steve Bean drives his truck between the cabin and the rows of trees, pulling a large hay wagon, about every eight minutes. Customers ride in the hay wagon to the woods, then ride back with their trees and pay for them at the cabin.
Santa Claus stood in a cornfield next to the road, waving at people.
A steady stream of people arrived and left in the middle of the day Saturday. Many said they were repeat customers, while others said they were trying Hill of Bean’s after buying trees at other tree sellers last year.
Kevin Hess of Cortland had cut his usual 7-foot tree to put in his living room. He came with his teenage children, Abby and Dylan.
“We went out of town last year so we got an artificial tree,” Hess said. “We found this one fast today. We were only out there 15 or 20 minutes.”
The Bices were glad their family was about to grow by one, especially since Scooter, their dog, is old at 14 and has had cancer for three years. They thought he would die three years ago, but he has been with them long enough that their daughter will remember him.
“I’m glad we got another tree with him and he’ll see both my kids,” Tim Bice said.
As for their tree, it hung 2 feet out of the truck bed, which was fine with them.
“Our philosophy is, if we get home and learn we have to cut a hole in the roof so the tree will fit, that’s it,” Carolyn Bice joked. “We like them wide and fat.”
She was looking forward to decorating the tree.
“I have about 125 snowflake ornaments,” she said.
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