Christmas on the Farm: A Guide for Growing Festive Trees

Christmas on the Farm: A Guide for Growing Festive Trees

A few years ago, while hosting a cookout for family friends, I couldn’t help but notice their admiration for the long, straight rows of Christmas trees that adorned our hillside. “It looks just like a vineyard,” they exclaimed. Although the comparison to Napa Valley’s vineyards brought a chuckle to my lips, I couldn’t deny the country elegance that the field of trees exuded. However, behind the picturesque image lies the reality of Christmas tree farming – a labor-intensive battle against the elements, insects, diseases, and marketing challenges. But for those who are passionate about it, like myself, Christmas tree farming is a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor.

A Not-So-Glamorous Reality

Related Posts: tree planting wildwood nj

The allure of the Christmas tree farming industry is understandable. It provides an opportunity to work outdoors, cultivate agricultural land, and create a potential source of income. However, it’s important to acknowledge that it requires more than just sticking trees in the ground and waiting for them to grow. Nigel Manley, manager of The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, a working Christmas tree farm, shares that many aspiring growers fail to realize the level of commitment required. Planting trees in the cold of April, shearing them under the scorching summer sun, and dealing with pests and weeds are just a few of the challenges that await. Additionally, it takes approximately 8 to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree to maturity, which means a considerable investment of time and effort before reaping financial rewards.

Personally, my journey into Christmas tree farming began with a strong foundation. As the son of a Vermont county forester who also grew Christmas trees, I planted my first trees in elementary school and spent my summers shearing trees on larger farms nearby. Armed with this experience, my wife, Tami, and I embarked on our own Christmas tree farming adventure on a 60-acre property, planting 8,000 trees over the course of 10 years and currently selling around 500 trees annually. Throughout our journey, we’ve made mistakes, but we’ve also learned valuable lessons from fellow farmers and industry associations.

Getting Started: Planning and Planting

For those considering Christmas tree farming, several factors need careful consideration. Firstly, ensure that the chosen land is well-drained, as trees struggle to thrive in wet conditions. Additionally, take into account the soil pH, with balsam and Fraser fir performing best in a range of 5.0 to 6.0.

Once the land is suitable, planning the layout of the field becomes crucial. While it may be tempting to maximize the number of trees by tightly spacing them, this approach can lead to difficulties in maintenance and disease control. Allowing extra space between rows and trees not only facilitates easier access and airflow but also reduces disease pressure. Optimal spacing, such as 5-by-5 feet or 6-by-6 feet, strikes a balance between tree density and manageability.

The choice of tree species also plays a significant role in a successful Christmas tree farm. Traditional varieties like Scotch pine and Douglas fir have been replaced by balsam and Fraser fir in many regions. Some growers are even experimenting with other species to diversify their offerings and mitigate potential pest and disease risks. Late-breaking buds, which minimize the risk of frost damage, are a desirable trait to look for in tree species.

Alternatively, purchasing an existing Christmas tree farm can be a viable option for those seeking a smoother entry into the industry. Established farms often come with the advantage of an existing customer base and infrastructure, saving new farmers from the struggle of building a reputation from scratch.

Maintaining Your Crop

While the long rotation period for Christmas trees may provide some relief, diligent maintenance remains crucial throughout the years. Even newly planted trees require attention, such as pruning double tops to ensure proper growth. Shearing, the process of shaping the trees into their desired conical form, is a time-consuming yet gratifying aspect of tree maintenance. Weeds pose a persistent challenge, as Christmas tree species are not naturally competitive in open fields. Controlling weeds during the early stages improves tree health and growth.

Bugs also become more problematic as the trees gain economic value. Vigilance and timely intervention are necessary to protect the crop from infestations. Despite the challenges, the reward comes from witnessing the transformation of young trees into fully grown, market-ready Christmas trees.

The Cost of Cultivation

Running a Christmas tree farm requires careful financial planning. Costs can quickly escalate, and it’s essential to be prepared for unexpected expenses. Equipment purchases, including tractors and shearing knives, should be factored in, along with supplies and planting stock. Kurt Emmerich, a Christmas tree farmer from Warwick, New York, estimates that he has spent tens of thousands of dollars in establishing his farm. However, the investment yields tangible results and a sense of pride in the final product.

In the midst of all the expenses, one unexpected cost often stands out for many growers – the rental of a Porta-Potty during the sales season. While it may seem trivial, it provides both convenience and separation between the public and personal spaces of the farm, ensuring a pleasant experience for customers.

Selling the Spirit of Christmas

Marketing and sales are where many farmers face challenges. The ability to grow trees does not always translate to effective sales strategies. Successful Christmas tree farming requires a long-term approach that focuses on building a loyal customer base. Rather than planting a massive number of trees at once, start with a more manageable quantity and gradually increase as the farm gains recognition. Marketing efforts should begin early, even before the trees are ready for harvest, to generate awareness and anticipation among potential customers. Leveraging local media and forming connections with the community can go a long way in establishing a strong presence in the market.

Welcoming customers to your farm brings its own set of humorous and unexpected moments. Despite your best efforts, they may drive where they shouldn’t or attempt unconventional methods of transporting trees. As a Christmas tree farmer, it’s important to remain flexible and accommodate the quirks and traditions of your customers. Remember, the joy and excitement surrounding the purchase of a Christmas tree make it a feel-good experience for all involved.

As the tradition of choosing and cutting Christmas trees continues to hold a special place in the hearts of families, becoming a part of this cherished experience is incredibly rewarding. My farm is now woven into the fabric of many families’ holiday traditions, and the satisfaction that comes with contributing to these joyful memories is truly priceless.

Tips Tree Planting

Related Posts: queen’s jubilee tree planting