Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Christmas Trees Gone Wild


My daddy loved playing with his tractor and growing things. For a short time after my parents married, Daddy tried to be a farmer and quickly found that he couldn't make a living raising sweet potatoes, and that flying and building airplanes were much more stable careers.

From the time he retired from the Air Force, he always had a garden. For several years, he even grew enough corn and field peas to sell. When he still worked at Lockheed, I'd go out in the field with him sometimes to hold a flashlight for him so that he could pull corn in the dark to sell to coworkers the next day.

When I was still pretty young, Daddy decided to raise Christmas trees. I think part of the plan must have been to save money for my college expenses because much of the proceeds ended up in my savings account.

The original cedar orchard.
I remember helping plant some of these trees. Daddy grew corn and peas in the field.

So he ordered a large order of cedar seedlings. I don't remember exactly how many, but I think it was around a thousand. Across the driveway from the house we lived in when I was small was a large field. About half of it was designated as the Christmas tree orchard, and he set out all those trees in a grid with Mama and I helping. If I recall correctly, I think we planted in January or February. The next year, we put in a new shipment of trees. Several years later, he started planting Virginia pines in the upper half of the field between the old house and the house we moved into when I was ten.

Daddy built the house not visible on the other side of the trees on the right when I was 1, and the house at the end of the driveway when I was 10. The trees along the driveway were planted at the same time as the orchard as a border between that yard and what was then my uncle's dirt driveway. The pine orchard is on the right, behind the 3 acres that were sold with the old house.

They were all nice and cute, this neat little orchard of young cedars and pines. But for all his agricultural experience and knowledge, I don't think Daddy ever planned on what would happen to the unsold trees when they weren't little and cute anymore.

There are a lot of dead pines in the Virginia pine orchard. The thicket is nearly impenetrable for anything larger than a wild turkey. The yard to the old house is visible through the trees on the right.

For most of the year, Christmas trees were a low maintenance crop. Daddy would bush hog between the rows maybe two or three times during the year. Before the trees reached seven or eight feet, it was fairly easy to go around shaping them up. Sometimes he would put in a small order of replacements in vacant spots.

After a few years, the cedars reached five or six feet, and Daddy's tree farm opened for business. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, people would come and wander around the field to pick out a tree. On weekends, there would be quite a number of people constantly showing up. It was supposed to be a cut-your-own farm, but Daddy usually ended up doing the cutting. Daddy sold most of the trees for $10.

Some of the large downed trees at the edge of the pine orchard. I'm not happy at being able to see houses in the new subdivision on the other side of the little creek in the strip of woods. That used to be a pasture that Daddy sold in the 1950s.

The five to eight foot trees sold well for a number of years. As the trees grew to ten and twelve and fourteen feet, there were still occasionally people with tall ceilings or two-story foyers who wanted them. Daddy always donated big ones to any church or community group who wanted one.

Daddy always kept one or two cedars in the front yard to decorate. When they reached the right height, he would either sell them or cut them for us and start over.

Virginia pine orchard

After a number of years, Daddy stopped planting new seedlings. We ran out of the cute little trees, then the pretty well-shaped six and eight-footers, then the tens and twelves. Soon we ran out of the nice-looking big ones, then the ones suitable for cutting the top out of. Finally, all that were left were these ungainly giants, and the nice neat open well-kept rows had turned into impenetrable thickets.

The deer like them. So do the turkeys and the rabbits. Me, not so much. They're good for privacy, but privacy could be a lot prettier. Many have died or fallen in storms. I can't even give the dead pines away for firewood.

Cedar orchard

I'm assuming the snakes like the trees, too. But I don't make a practice of hacking my way through the thickets in the summer canvasing the residents and asking their opinions.

I don't want to cut all the trees down because with all the development in the area, the animals are running out of habitat, but I would like them thinned out some day. In the meantime, the party continues among Christmas trees gone wild.

Cedar orchard


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Adapted from a series originally published on Bubblews.

Photos and text (c) 2013, 2014 Debbi Craton. May not be used without permission. All rights reserved.