For many people, one of the highlights of the Christmas season is the annual family outing to a local tree farm in search of the “perfect” tree. Of course, there is usually a certain amount of animated discussion amongst various family members as to just what the “perfect” tree looks like – some might like the tight, short- needled Balsam and Fraser Firs, while others prefer the softer, longer needles of the Scotch Pine, for instance. Still others are mainly concerned about finding the perfect fullness and height, regardless of the actual type of tree. But after a consensus on a tree selection has been reached, the lucky tree is taken home for the holidays.
For about six weeks during the year, from around Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, Christmas tree farms are popular and busy places, bustling with activity. But have you ever wondered what has to happen the rest of the year to produce those perfect Christmas trees?
Chris Scruton and his wife Melissa have owned and operated the 23-acre Evergreen Ridge Christmas Tree Farm on their 55-acre property in New Durham for the past 11 years, and Chris says that it is a year-round, labor-intensive process to produce quality Christmas trees, involving annual planting, cultivating, pest and disease control, trimming, and pruning.
“Not many people really understand what goes into growing Christmas trees,” Chris says. “It’s an intensive process, and we work eight hours a day during the off season, in addition to being open for business seven days per week during the selling season.”
Following the holiday season, Chris explains that the work on the tree farm picks up in the spring when any stumps remaining from the previous tree harvest are removed, and then over 2000 new seedlings, mostly Balsam and Fraser Firs, are planted every year on the property on a rotating basis. Chris says that it takes about eight years for a tree to grow from a seedling to a mature size, and each year all of the trees need to be pruned and trimmed, checked for any destructive insects or diseases, and fertilized. During the summer and fall, any grassy areas surrounding the trees also need to be mowed on a regular basis.
Chris and Melissa, with the help of family and friends, do all of the growing and maintenance work without having to rely on a paid staff, and Chris says he loves the job and the lifestyle. “This is really a full-time job, and I love being able to work outdoors,” he says. “I’ve been involved in agriculture since I was a kid, growing up doing 4-H raising sheep and other animals. My grandparents owned the Scruton Dairy Farm, which is still in operation. I guess you could say I’ve had a lot of hands-on training!”
The only difficulty that Chris has found in running a Christmas tree business is the sometimes contrary nature of “Mother Nature” weather-wise, but this is off-set by the satisfaction of seeing satisfied and happy customers in search of just the right Christmas tree. “It’s great to see families enjoying themselves at our farm when they are picking out a tree,” he says.
Evergreen Ridge is located at 352 Ridge Road in New Durham. They are open for the holiday season daily from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. starting the day after Thanksgiving until a few days before Christmas. Sleds are provided to help carry out trees, and there is a free baling service. All “cut-your-own” trees are $38; you can also find a variety of pre-cut trees at various sizes and prices, as well as wreathes. There is also a small gift shop with Christmas-related items for sale on the premises, and free hot apple cider is available. For more information or directions, call (603) 859-8313.