Producing Christmas trees is much more than planting seedlings some spring, then in five or six years reaping the profits of your wisdom. Growing the full, straight, six to eight foot trees that most of us love is a considerably labor intensive operation. Before planting, site preparation is required. This may include brush removal, plowing, and fitting. Sometimes drain tile must also be installed. To make sure we end up with straight trunks, seedlings must be started out straight – no “leaners”. The seedlings are each hand planted in a precise pattern so that effective field maintenance is possible. Grass and brush control is crucial, this often entails use of herbicides and always means mowing several times a year. All sorts of insects and diseases attack the trees. Insecticides and fungicides must be sprayed on the trees at various times throughout the year to protect them. Deer Damage control is a major issue. For the deer the trees are winter food, they love to munch on the younger trees and chew on the bigger trees, misshaping or destroying many. Several applications of a special deer repellant spray, protective netting, and some scare tactics are employed to try to persuade them to feed elsewhere. Even field mice and rabbits will often winter feed on the tree bark.
Each tree must be hand trimmed (sheared) each year to produce thick, well shaped Christmas trees for your family. Top leaders are cut back to about one foot of growth to promote fullness. Slow growth in the early years means that the faster growing trees aren’t ready for harvest until about the ninth year after planting. Due to the variations of plant growth it can be twelve years before all the pine trees in one planting have reached harvest size. The slower growing needled spruces and some firs take 10 to 15 years to mature.
After planting seedlings each spring, fighting brush, grass, insects, diseases and animals and hand shearing every tree for eight or nine years, we finally get to harvest and sell our product – Christmas memories.
Oh yes, there is one other small drawback. Just to keep us humble, Mother Nature is highly unpredictable. Even with all our tender, loving care, she insists that at least 20 to 30 percent of the trees either die or don’t shape up to be nice Christmas trees. And as with all farmers, drought and flood years can mean the loss of whole year’s crop.
For us it is all worth the work and effort to keep the 150+ year old tradition of family farming at Heritage Farms alive.