Three generations of Dirvins took off work Monday to meet at Varner's Farm in Collegeville.

Charles and Barbara Wurth, a retired couple from Narberth, were there, too, for the annual rite of choosing a Christmas tree.

"We get three trees," said Eileen Dirvin of Havertown, as the family rode a tractor-drawn wagon into a field of live evergreens for cutting. "The kids yell, 'Timber!' "

The 90-acre farm on Route 113 in Upper Providence Township is owned and operated by the Varners, a fifth-generation farm family from Lycoming County.

They grow pumpkins and apples, and raise the Belgian horses that work the fields and pull wagonloads of visitors on weekends.

But their chief crop is the Douglas fir, white pine, Fraser fir and blue spruce trees that will end up sparkling in people's living rooms.

The business, one of 2,000 Christmas-tree farms in Pennsylvania according to the state's Christmas Tree Grower's Association, is so hot that by last week, the field of trees slated to be cut this year was marked by wide swaths of freshly cut stumps.

"You should have seen it last year," said Kathy Stolzer, Eileen Dirvin's sister from Roxborough. "There were so many to pick from. I can't believe how empty this is."

As part of the attraction, the Varners offer weekend customers a ride out into the fields in a wagon drawn by two of the farm's nine Belgian horses. Tractors draw the wagon on weekdays.

The animals weigh 2,000 pounds and have huge hooves, but are gentle and obedient when farmer Rob Varner commands them to speed up or stand still in their traces.

The trees are planted as four-year-olds and mature for seven years before they are suitable for Christmas trees, said Varner, 43. That means seven to eight feet tall, or slightly higher.

The trees sell for between $5.95 and $9.95 a foot, with the average sale at $63. The business has been growing at the rate of 5 to 12 percent a year, Varner said.

The young trees are irrigated the first two years. By the third, they are generally drought-resistant, Varner said. With good care and weather, they'll grow 14 to 18 inches a year.

The farm has 70 acres in evergreens and rotates the fields so that trees are ready for harvest each December.

The farm's economic fortunes ride on whether it can draw customers by the second weekend in December, and this year, it did.

"You wouldn't believe it," said Christine Varner, 39, Rob Varner's wife. "They were lined up in the parking lot when we got back from church."

Customers generally choose a tree, then cut it, using a saw provided by the farm. Or they can pick from among trees trucked in from other farms to augment the Varners' stock.

The Wurth family of Narberth chose a seven-foot Douglas fir with ample room for Barbara Wurth's glass ornaments, circa 1963.

The Dirvins wanted a tall tree for family patriarch Frank Dirvin, 78, of East Falls. They found one, but lost track of its location and had to settle on a second.

"You see one, and then you see something else, and you don't know where you're going," Stolzer said of the field.

Farm workers tag the tree, give the customer a ticket stub, then transport both buyer and tree back to the processing area, where the tree is shaken and baled.

The stub is to ensure that the buyer gets the tree that he or she has selected.

Customers can browse in the gift shop, drink hot cider or chocolate, and greet the farm's animals, including goats, pigs, miniature horses and sheep.

Then, they strap their tree to the car with twine, and head back to city or suburbs.

Rob Varner, who is inclined to speak in aphorisms, said he focuses on "trying to keep the reason for the season."

Christine Varner said she believes customers come to the farm for an old-fashioned Christmas experience, far from tiring traffic and malls.

"It's just the atmosphere. We've been told by some that it's kind of like stepping back in time," she said.

If You Go

Varner's Farm is at 746 S. Trappe Rd., Route 113, Collegeville. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Christmas-tree fields close at 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 610-489-8878.