For tree farmers, season lasts beyond the holidays

Midwest farm added Christmas tree aspect in 1986 to supplement income during the colder months.

By MITCH PRENTICE

The (Galesburg) Register-Mail

Published on December 24, 2017 8:14AM


GILSON, Ill. (AP) — After a night with the family eating turkey and stuffing, many families drive out to the local tree farm to make their selection for the holiday season. Grohmann’s Christmas Tree Farm in Gilson is no stranger to this tradition, as they see their business spike during the weekend after every Thanksgiving. Tina Grohmann, one of the founders of the farm, has been in the business since 1986 and says this is the way things go every year.

“Thanksgiving always brings families out,” she said. “We are always ready for the rush.”

The Grohmann farm has growing seasons of other varieties as well, including corn, soybeans and sheep. The tree aspect was started in 1986 to supplement the income during the colder months.

To start with, the profits were few, due to the initial growing period to start the farm. With an eight- to 10-year growing cycle for Scotch pines, their most stocked trees, sales can fluctuate year to year.

In 2008, during the peak of the recession, the Christmas tree business took a large hit in sales. Because of the economic downturn, many families avoided the costs of a traditional tree. That caused many farms to destroy surplus and cut back. Now, the effects of that growing season are beginning to linger, as many farms are in the lower portion of their growing cycle.

Grohmann says the farm normally will purchase their seedlings in November, because ordering any later will result in fewer choices. They begin to plant the seedlings in April and keep the maintenance consistent throughout the rest of the year. Tree shearing starts in June to keep form. By November, trees at the end of their growing cycle are ready for customers to take home.

Every part of the tree is used in some fashion for sale, including the creation of wreaths and grave blankets.

“Throughout the season, we are constantly collecting every part of the tree for something else,” Grohmann said. “No part of the tree is unused.”

Dave Schonfelder, who runs a tree farm just outside of Monmouth, has been working with trees since high school. He learned different species and growing habits of the trees he worked with throughout his time, aiding in his knowledge today.

Schonfelder moved to Monmouth and bought his land in 1998. The space was empty, but he made quick work to change that, planting a field of trees immediately. The site is now Reindeer Forest and Schonfelder has been working on it ever since.

Schonfelder prides his work as being one of the few tree farms that does not use any sprays to keep the trees healthy. He allows the field that the trees grow in to stay overgrown, and he’s able to keep bugs and pests from damaging his crop by constant maintenance throughout the year. He leaves some of his trees without much shearing in order to maintain a natural look. To Schonfelder, the natural aspect to the trees is essential.

He says the biggest benefits with natural trees are the scent and look. Many times, he says, department stores try to entice customers with artificial trees by scenting them with pine. However, the best way to bring this aroma into your home for the holiday is to properly maintain a tree you’ve cut down on your own.

He explained that the best way to service a tree once you’ve brought it home is to cut about an inch off the bottom. This opens the wood and allows the tree to soak in more moisture. This sends water to the seeds on the tree and opens the pine cones, releasing a natural scent that Schonfelder says is like nothing else.

“That’s something you can do that is simple to do at home,” he said. “It’s really amazing.”

Jeff Vancil of Hart’s Nursery in Bushnell sells a selection of imported trees for the holiday season. The trees come from Michigan on a truck and are cared for throughout the holiday season for sale.

However, these are just a small sample of the nursery’s holiday goals. Vancil considers the nursery’s main holiday attraction as the live Christmas trees.

Instead of cutting these trees down and setting them in the living room, the live trees are actually planted and allowed to grow. The idea is to allow a family to pick out a young sapling and watch it grow for years to come. Vancil explained an example of a family buying a tree while their child is an infant and monitoring the growth as they grow older. The nursery grows its own trees for this purpose and has a much wider selection.

“It develops a true family experience during the holidays,” Vancil said. “These trees serve as a memory that can be remembered for many years to come.”

The nursery has a number of sheltered areas for the trees to grow in their infant stages before being brought out to grow in the elements. From white pines to Norway spruces, the nursery has a wide selection of trees. By working with the trees in every stage of development, Vancil sees the progress made and strength of the product as much more substantial.

Hart’s Nursery hires nearly 20 workers each season to take care of the many areas on the land. With areas of pines, firs and even berries, the nursery takes a lot of help to keep it running.

During the holidays, when the site brings in anywhere from 80 to 100 Christmas trees from Michigan, the workload is even higher.

“Over our 28 years, the demand goes up and down every year,” Vancil said. “But we can still count on our regulars to come by every season. I think that’s really special.”



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