Try an Iowa grown Christmas tree this holiday season
By KRISS NELSON
MAXWELL – For the past 20 years, people have descended upon a farm near Maxwell with the hopes of finding the most perfect Christmas tree.
More importantly, though, they’re looking for a spot for Santa Claus to place presents on Christmas Eve.
THE Christmas Tree Farm, near Maxwell, which is one of the more than 100 Christmas tree farms in Iowa, is owned by Sandra Hunter, who came up with the idea to start farming after moving to her large acreage on Thanksgiving Day in 1991.
“I was getting in the Christmas spirit and was also wondering what we could do with 10 acres and came up with the idea to start a Christmas tree farm,” said Hunter.
Soon after coming up with that idea, she attended a meeting of the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association.
“I learned a lot about Christmas tree growing,” she said. “Where to purchase trees, what kinds to plant and how to plant them and decided to go ahead and do it.”
That following spring, brush was cleared on those 10 acres and Christmas tree seedlings were planted. Six years later, she had enough grown trees to officially open THE Christmas Tree Farm.
Currently, Hunter said she has close to 4,000 trees that include such breeds as Fraser fir, concolor fir, Canaan fir, white pine and Scots pine.
At THE Christmas Tree Farm, people are allowed to start pre-tagging their trees Oct. 1. It opens up for harvesting the day after Thanksgiving and will remain open until Dec. 18.
Hunter said she is on track for a successful Christmas tree season.
“Last year I sold about 450 trees, but so far, this year I sold 113 in one day,” she said. “That was a record.”
For every tree cut, there will be a new one planted.
“I will plant a tree in every open spot,” she said.
Hunter said she doesn’t waste very much time getting seedlings for next spring ordered due to low inventory issues she has experienced over the past few years.
Carrying on traditions
Hunter said there is more to knowing you have a fresh Christmas tree by coming out and cutting it down yourself. It’s also a fun, family tradition.
“They get to get out, get some exercise, spend time together and it’s a lot of fun,” she said.
The first two weekends of her season also give children the opportunity to visit with Santa.
Hunter said it has been a joy to see families revisit her farm over the years.
“I have been doing this for so long now, I have watched a lot of children grow up,” she said.
After choosing a Christmas tree, Hunter said folks are welcome to come into the shop to enjoy complimentary hot cider, lemonade and snack crackers. There are also games and coloring books on the tables. Those offerings make the time spent at the farm more than just picking out a Christmas tree, and more of a family event.
Want to become a Christmas tree farmer?
For anyone interested in starting up a Christmas tree farm, Hunter suggests turning to the Iowa Christmas Tree Association, where she also serves as the association’s secretary.
“We have mentors in the association that will actually work with you,” she said. “They will help with testing the pH levels of your soil and help pick the best type of tree for your area to plant.”
Being a Christmas tree farmer means working more than just a few weeks after Thanksgiving.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Hunter said. “You have to plant all of those trees, mow, shear and spray. You tend to them all year long.”
In addition to providing the opportunity for customers to cut down their own trees, THE Christmas Tree Farm offers pre-cut trees, wreaths, swags and centerpieces. They also take custom orders.
The shop sells tree stands as well as homemade items for sale from locals.
The one tip Hunter offered to get off to a good start with a new tree is to cut about an inch off of the bottom and set it in hot water. She said to continue to keep the tree watered throughout the season. This helps keep the tree fresh.
Christmas tree farms in Iowa
According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture, Iowa Christmas tree farms devote more than 1,500 acres to Christmas tree products in the state. As a result, approximately 38,500 Christmas trees are harvested every year. This brings about $1 million to Iowa’s economy.
A searchable directory is available online at www.IowaChristmasTrees.com.
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