I know that installing a plastic tree is simple. But after raising real Christmas trees for over 20 years, putting up a plastic tree to me would be like watching the Super Bowl on a black and white TV. Something special would definitely be missing.
As a kid, before we raised our own trees, our neighbors gathered up their families this time of year and drove out to some Missouri River bottom land where cedar trees grew wild, choking out prime pasture land. The landowner told us that if we were to cut any of his cedar trees for Christmas, we had to cut a few extra to help him curb the population.
As a young ag college graduate anxious to try new things, I asked my Dad if I could plant Christmas trees on an acre of our land near the creek, where it was difficult to raise row crops. He helped me plant our first pine trees in the drought year of 1988. I connected six garden hoses together to water and nurture the first 250 trees during that hot summer.
It took seven years for a few of those first trees to grow to saleable size, so I was overjoyed when I sold my first tree to a local family, kicking off our choose and cut business. Over the years, we learned how hot it is in June and July when growers must shear their trees to get that perfect Christmas tree shape.
My wife, who usually sheared the tops of the trees, learned that young robin mothers get angry when someone gets close to their nests and babies. She also learned that it takes a long time to mow up and down 40 rows of trees every week, all summer long. My children learned that you find critters lurking around the tree farm, like deer, rabbits, squirrels, field mice, muskrats and an occasional coyote, raccoon or skunk.
A homegrown Scotch pine graces the Arens home.
As our family grew, time for tree farming became scarce and many of our regular customers turned to plastic trees. So we decided to allow our tree farm to grow wild. We were saddened to sell our last real tree to the same family that purchased our first one, only a decade and a half later. During their last visit to our farm, I noticed that their family had grown too, and included lots of grandchildren.
Nebraska is fortunate to have over 15 Christmas tree farms still in production. These professional growers work farms that are usually between three and eight acres in size, with most selling trees by choose and cut, like we did, where a family comes to the farm and chooses their own tree where it stands.
Trees still grow at our tree farm, but now they aren’t trimmed to perfection. Deer paths have replaced the paths that our customers once made. The older trees are now 30 feet high, and the field looks more like a pine forest. While we miss the friendships we made with our customers, my own family still walks the farm looking for the tree that we will cut. Secluded within the rows of monster trees, we have a few, select specimens still growing, that are going to grace our home for years to come.
Here are a few real tree facts.
1) Real Christmas trees are renewable, recyclable and completely biodegradable.
2) For every tree cut, two or three seedlings are planted.
3) There are about one million acres of Christmas trees in production, taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.
4) In the U.S., there are about 15,000 Christmas tree growers and over 100,000 people employed in the industry.
5) It takes an average of six to 12 years for a seedling to grow into a saleable Christmas tree.
6) The top selling trees in the U.S. are balsam fir, Douglas fir, noble fir, Scotch pine (which has historically been most popular with Nebraska growers), Virginia pine and white pine.
(Source: Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association)