Christmas trees jingle Stoevers’ bells
By KAREN SCHWALLER
MILFORD-Dave and Marcia Stoever said they’re two of the few people they know who have more money after Christmas every year than they do before it.
They own “Tannenbaum Christmas Trees,” a Christmas tree farm located just west of Milford on county blacktop A-34.
They started the business 25 years ago to help pay for college educations for their three children, and it accomplished that goal.
“Ours is one of the few businesses where money really does grow on trees,” Marcia Stoever said with a smile.
They planted their first trees in 1991 and sold their first trees in 1996. The first year they had good luck with tree growth, but the second year when they planted trees, they froze due to a sudden change of weather conditions to which the trees were not yet acclimated.
“I told my dad that if this didn’t work, we would have a heck of a grove,” said Dave Stoever.
Stoever said it took six years to get their first trees to reach six feet in height. He said trees need to be trimmed up every year to help they grow fuller, and not as tall.
The Stoevers’ planting schedule varies-1,200 trees some years and 400 trees other years. It depends on what has sold and needs to be replaced, and what has died from drought or disease.
The Stoevers have 6,000 trees on six acres of land. They plant a variety of trees, including Scotch Pine, White Pine (native to Iowa), Colorado Blue Spruce, Frasier Fir, Concolor Fir and Black Hills Spruce. They plant mostly Scotch Pines and White Pines because they tend to be the biggest sellers from year to year. Marcia Stoever said the Fir trees are beginning to gain in popularity, however.
“Sometimes people will tell us they want trees with soft needles, and we know they want Pines. Or they’ll say want an old fashioned-looking tree, and we know they want a Fir tree when they say that,” said Marcia Stoever.
Dave Stoever said once trees are planted, the Fir trees are watered, but the Pines don’t require that. Trimming begins in earnest every late summer, shaping up each tree to make a nice-looking Christmas tree. All the work is done one tree at a time, and walking around the tree to shape it up is a project that needs to be done in opposite directions every other year to prevent the tree’s branches from growing in one direction.
Trimming about 4,000 of the trees each year takes Stoever about 40 hours, and Marcia Stoever helps trim the trees she can reach. Tree tops are specially-trimmed back to make a place to hold a tree topper.
Marcia Stoever said the tree top branch is also trimmed each year with the point facing to the north, to ensure that trees grow straighter because they tend to lean toward the south, from where most of the light source comes. Some of the trees are also sprayed with a rich, green coloring in the fall as well, since the harsh sun can fade the branches.
Trees take from eight to 12 years to grow to the height needed to make a nice Christmas tree, Dave Stoever said. He said trees that don’t sell are repurposed into Christmas swags and wreaths, which they hand-make. Wreath sizes vary from 20 to 72 inches.
The Stoevers said they get customers from as far away as Sibley, Orange City and Swea City, and now they are seeing children of their original customers coming to purchase trees for their own holidays.
“We had a family come in one time on Christmas Eve. Their children were crying in the back seat because they hadn’t gotten their tree yet,” said Marcia Stoever. “Some people come in January to get a tree if they aren’t having their gathering until then. Some people come in the fall and tag the tree they want so they don’t have to (choose a tree) while walking in the snow.”
The Stoevers said the fresh-cut Christmas tree market is alive and growing. The two used to simply take turns helping customers, selling them out of their garage. Their business has grown enough over the years that they now have two high school boys helping them as customers come to buy trees.
Today they sell from a larger shed just west of their home, where they also make the wreaths and swags, some of which are shaped like candy canes and crosses.
Marcia Stoever said the fear of a live tree being a fire hazard is far less with fresh-cut trees. They think it’s part of the success of a fresh-cut Christmas tree business.
The Stoevers agreed that trimming the tree is the most difficult part of the business due to its physical nature, but their customers are the part they enjoy the most.
“Usually everybody is happy when they come in to get a Christmas tree,” said Dave Stoever. “We take pride in doing something different, to the best we can. We hope people have a happy experience when they come here.”
Customers buying Christmas trees there are able to see the Stoever’s collection of tree stands in their sales shed, some dating back to the late 1800s.
Tannenbaum Christmas Tree Farm hosts tours for groups throughout the year.
They open the day after Thanksgiving each year from 9-5, and run weekends through the third weekend in December. Saturday hours are 9-5, Sunday hours are noon-5, and weekdays they are open from 3:30 to 5 (to accommodate families who can come after school with their children).
Trimming the tree for most people means lights, baubles and garland. For the Stoevers it means cutting bars/equipment and sore shoulders. But they said they know their work is worth it when they see excited children and happy adults headed out to make some memories by choosing the centerpiece of the holiday home each year-their Christmas tree.
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