Christmas trees get icing for long trips
By MITCH LIES
For the Capital Press
ALBANY, Ore. — After being loaded onto a truck, many Northwest Christmas trees will make one last stop before heading out of state.
They stop for ice.
“It keeps the trees cool and moist and fresher,” said Mark Arkills, production manager at Holiday Tree Farms in Corvallis, Ore.
Holiday Tree Farms, like nearly all Northwest Christmas tree farms, hires a company to blow ice over the top of its loads of trees when shipping trees out of state. The practice keeps trees fresh longer, which helps them retain their needles.
“We want to deliver the best product we can to our customers and we want the trees to last until Christmas,” Arkills said.
Arkills said Holiday Tree Farms ices just about any shipment going beyond Northern California.
Bob Schaefer of Noble Mountain Tree Farm in Salem said he ices trees that he is shipping farther than 600 miles. Either that or he ships them in a refrigerated container.
Schaefer said growers started icing trees in the mid-1980s when they couldn’t get refrigerated trailers.
“It has saved a lot of trees over the years,” Schaefer said, “especially those going to warm climates.”
Today, many growers prefer icing over refrigerated containers.
The theory is that the air passing over trees in a refrigerated container dries out trees, while the slowly melting ice keeps trees moist and helps them retain their needles.
Holiday Tree Farms and Noble Mountain ice many of their trees through Case Farms.
Farm owner Bill Case, based in Albany, has an icing station in Aurora, as well. He started icing trees seven or eight years ago after being approached by Holiday Tree Farms.
Case already had on hand four ice makers, which he uses to ship sweet corn. The ice makers can pump out 100,000 pounds of ice a day. He decided it made sense to expand into Christmas trees, given that the Christmas tree icing season begins about the time his sweet corn season ends.
Today the business keeps a crew of seven busy full-time for about 10 weeks icing trees.
The crew typically will service about 60 trucks a day, he said, starting in early October, when growers begin shipping Christmas trees to Puerto Rico, and ending in mid-December, when the season comes to an end.
Growers typically vary the amount of ice they’ll put in a truck based on how far the load is going. Case said he typically sprays approximately a ton of chopped ice onto the top of a stack of Christmas trees in a truck embarking on a 19-hour trip to Los Angeles.
The practice costs growers around $140 for a ton of ice, but apparently it is worth the expense.
“The customers know the difference,” Arkills said.
“The icing really does enhance the freshness of the tree,” Schaefer said.
Mitch Lies/For the Capital Press
A worker blows ice over the top of a load of Christmas trees headed to California at Case Farms in Albany. Growers hire Case and other ice companies to blow ice over the tops of trees to keep them fresh on long hauls.