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Growing Christmas trees is a full-time year round activity for the trees, a little less so for the tree farmers. Plantation maintenance is an ongoing effort, including removing woody invasives (a constant challenge for us because we almost never apply pesticides), culling diseased or oversized trees, and mowing (which we try to minimize but still takes time). Work on the trees themselves, however, tends to fall into three main periods during the year.


Planting is an April activity, a good time to get outside and and sink hands into soil after a winter of holding books and coffee cups (yeah right). We typically plant 2-3 year old seedlings, about 10-12 inches tall. One person uses a planting bar or a small gas-powered auger to open a hole, then another person inserts the seedling and fills up the hole. Because we don't spray herbicides we have a fair amount of competition from grasses, wildflowers, and weeds. We lose many seedlings but consider that a fair trade-off for a better price and a plantation teeming with plant and animal diversity.



No, this isn't a Christmas tree we're planting, but it's is the best photo of planting a tree that I have on hand!




Shearing is what we call the annual shaping of the trees into the familiar cone shape of a Christmas tree. Some farms, especially the larger farms, use big tractor-mounted machines for this, but we prefer the flexibility of the traditional long (16-inch) knives. It is hard work at a hot time of year, but also rewarding to see the transformation. Because the pines grow only during the spring and early summer and then "set buds", they need to be sheared during the second half of June. The spruce and fir can be sheared pretty much anytime during the summer or early fall.



To the right, Pat is shearing.

Below, a double row of (mostly) unsheared trees on the left, and the same view after shearing in the right.





Shearing is hard, hot, sweaty work, but harvest is probably the most labor-intensive time of year for us. Most large tree farms (and many smaller ones) begin harvesting weeks ahead (sometimes a month or more) of delivery. We believe this has contributed to the reputation of live trees as fire hazards, and the disenchantment of many homeowners after putting up with dry, often spray-painted trees with no aroma that drop their needles on the way IN to the house! We start cutting our trees no more than five days before delivery (and often cut just 2-3 days ahead) so that every tree should be fresh and capable of remaining so throughout the holiday season.

Tree harvest isn't just cutting trees and throwing them into a trailer:

  •     The cutting itself is done with a chainsaw, and on our farm often entails "high-stumping", because the heavy competition of grasses, wildflowers, and weeds often hurts the lower branches. We typically cut the tree near the ground, then remove the branches from the lower 1-2 feet. Then we cut off part of the stump and use it for firewood. Finally, we have to collect and dispose of all those lower branches.
  •     Once cut, the trees are pulled by hand to working lanes, then placed (and held) on a tree shaker attached to a small tractor. Shaking is necessary, especially for the pines, to remove dead needles from previous years that can build up over time. We rigged the shaker up from an old sickle mower, and boy does it shake! Shaking is the least pleasant part of harvest for the person lifting and holding the trees on the shaker, getting a face full of tree dust and needles each time.
  •     After shaking, all the trees are passed through a netting baler. The baling makes them much easier to handle and transport, and it also maintains freshness by reducing the transpiration of cut trees.
  •     Finally the trees are loaded onto a trailer - not too difficult for the lower levels but quite a challenge to top it off, as shown in the picture.
  •     But that's not the end of it - we still need to deliver the trees. Because we believe in local and regional economies and ecologies, we deliver our trees no more than a 3-hour drive from the farm.

Shaking trees (above left), baling trees (above right), and

a successful 100-tree load (the best we can do)


Oneota Slopes Farm contact: contact@oneotaslopes.org

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