by Andrew Campbell
In Canada, almost 4 million real Christmas trees are cut from Christmas tree farms across the country. With a huge number like that, it begs the question – what happens on a Christmas tree farm? To my surprise, it isn’t a case of plant a tree, walk away, and then cut it down a few years later. In fact, a Christmas tree farm takes work all year long, and it takes several years before you start to see any revenue from that work. That’s why travelling to visit Matthew at Puddleford Christmas Tree Farm was such a joy to find out just what is involved in making sure that everyone who comes to the farm gets to take home the perfect tree for them, along with a memory of a great day outdoors.
How Long has Puddleford Christmas Tree Farm been in operation?
We (Matthew) started planting trees in 2003, and opened Puddleford Christmas Tree Farm in 2009. It took 6 years from the time we started planting trees before the trees were large enough to start selling them.
Do people come to Puddleford Tree farm to cut their own Christmas trees?
Yes. Puddleford Christmas Tree Farm opens the farm to the public for five weekends in the late fall to cut their own Christmas tree. Visitors also have the opportunity to sit around the fire, have some hot chocolate or cider, roast marshmallows and have a nice afternoon in the country.
Why start a tree farm if it takes six years before you even get paid?
The family sat down a long time ago to discuss what we wanted to do with the farm, but in the end it was more accidental than intentional. I liked trees, my grandfather was a big tree guy and my dad liked trees as well and it just seemed like the thing to do. Christmas tree farming was suitable for the soil type on the farm and it was something that blended in well with my full time job. Now it’s become a huge commitment but it certainly wasn’t in the beginning. I am retired from my other job so this is now my full time gig!
Some of these trees are only two feet tall and look like they’re a long way from becoming Christmas trees. How old are these trees?
These two foot tall trees were transplanted last spring and are 5 years old already. They grew for three years on a seedling bed and then were transplanted into a field for two years before we transplanted them here. These two foot tall trees are eight to ten years away from being Christmas trees.
What do you have to do to look after them? Do you just plant the tree and walk away for nine years?
The trees all have to be sheared regularly. The bottom tree branches are trimmed off which is called basal pruning. This is done to make a balanced tree and so someone can get under the tree with their saw to cut it. Trimming the trees also aids when spraying herbicide around the tree to control weeds. That way we can easily get under each tree with our spraying equipment.
Now why do you spray? Do you also fertilize the trees?
We want to spray the tree rows with herbicides to keep them free of weeds. We use drip irrigation and if we don’t get rid of the weeds between the rows, mice will live in the rows and will chew the irrigation lines and the trees as well.
Christmas trees get fertilized every year. The fertilizer program changes as the trees increase in size.
How old are the trees when they are about four feet tall?
They are nine years old. We have done some basic shaping to get the conventional triangle profile, but not a whole lot yet. We also ensure a leader branch at the top of the tree so that it has a clear top. It gives it that true Christmas tree shape. If you don’t do that, a tree will start to branch off and get a square top. We always have to try to encourage a leader branch on every tree.
What do you use to shape the trees? How do you shape the trees?
We use a shearing knife to create the conical shape for the trees. It looks like a 2 foot long butter knife, but is very sharp! We sharpen them regularly to keep them that way. We use a downward sweeping motion and the knife cuts the tips off of the new growth. This establishes the classical conical shape for the tree. Then a pair of pruning snips are used to trim the tops of the trees and establish a distinct leader branch. If there are branches competing with the leader branch, they are trimmed back with the pruning snips. We want to create a flat crown area below the distinct leader branch to maintain the classical Christmas tree shape. The final shearing takes place just prior to next fall’s harvest, is probably the most important one. It’s what sets the tree up to be the perfect one that everybody wants to take home.
What are some of the reasons people want a real tree?
A real tree seems to provide that true Christmas feel in people’s homes. They get the scent of the fresh tree and the adventure of going out with their family to get it. When people come to Puddleford Christmas Tree Farm, they very much enjoy themselves. Families can spend as much time at the tree farm as they want and enjoy hot chocolate or cider as they sit by the campfires. It’s a full experience.
What’s the best way to care for a Christmas tree when you get it home?
If you put it up that day, or even if you wait a week or so, you should give it a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk before putting it in the tree base. Once cut, the tree will start to seal itself off to hold its moisture in. So, if you give it that fresh cut, then basically it opens the pores again and it will take on the water in the stand that it needs. Secondly, just add fresh water in the stand, nothing else, and never let it run out of water. If the tree does run out of water, it will seal off on the bottom, and then the ability to take up water will be lost and the tree will start to quickly deteriorate.
Full video FreshAirFarmer Andrew Campbell’s Dinner Starts here series