Business: Cut your own Christmas tree farms open for the season

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • While most think of Christmas tree farms during the holiday season, owners put in a lot of work throughout the year to keep them going. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/2/2019 8:52:27 PM

Mary Brown calls owning Hilltop Farm in Hancock a labor of love.

Owning a Christmas tree farm is not a business you get into to turn a quick profit or set up for retirement, but it’s not about the bottom line. Running a cut-your-own tree operation is about providing a place where families can go to create lasting memories.

And those memories happen from the day after Thanksgiving right up until the last tree is sold prior to the big day. People wander around the Brown’s property, choose the perfect tree for the family home, pay the $45 price tag and go on their way.

But customers don’t see the hours of work throughout the year that Brown puts in to have the Fraser and Balsam furs and blue spruce ready for ornaments and lights.

The tree season begins in April, when nobody in New England wants to spend even a second thinking about Christmas and the cold weather, and continues right until opening day, which for Hilltop was Friday and Find Us Farm, also in Hancock, on Saturday.

Brown said they planted 500 trees in the spring and they dig every hole by hand so it takes a few weeks to get them all in the ground. During the summer months, Brown has to mow 12 acres which means “ I usually do a good 100 hours on the tractor each summer.” And she trims each tree with hand snips, doing a couple hours at a time after July 4 once the new growth has been established.

“It’s a lot of manual labor,” Brown said. “It’s a full time job, a lot of work, and I don’t think a lot of people realize how much work it is.”

George Lohmiller has been in the Christmas tree business for 30 years. That first year, he planted 100 trees and it took nine years before he made his first sale. But each year he kept planting and doing all the work during the warm months to get the operation ready to be open every year once the trees were ready.

“You just have to realize you’re not going to make any money for the first few years,” Lohmiller said.

Now, Lohmiller plants about 500 trees each year and said it takes about three people less than a day to get them all in the ground. But just because he plants 500 trees ever spring, consisting of Balsam fur, Fraser fur and white spruce, doesn’t mean that all will eventually end up in someone’s living room. He said a good rule of thumb is that “you’re going to lose about 10 percent,” but it can be more. A few years ago, he lost 75 percent of his new crop and said 20 percent didn’t make it this year.

“Once they get by the first year, they’re usually good,” Lohmiller said. “But if you get a dry spell, it’s hard.”

He waters as best he can and sometimes fertilizes, but doesn’t use any pesticides.

Lohmiller does all the pruning himself, doing so at the end of September into October. But outside of the planting, mowing and trimming, the four-acre crop needs to be looked over for disease and signs of animals.

Brown said that last year nearly all the tree tops at her farm were nibbled on by deer.

For Brown and her husband Jeff, they purchased the tree farm in July of 2010, but began the process of replenishing the crop three months earlier when they planted 1,500 trees. At the time, there were only about 350 trees on the property and none had been planted in a handful of years. It takes about seven to 10 years for a tree to mature to the point where it can be cut, and with most of those trees cut that first year, it wasn’t until last year that they were able to have people cut their own.

In the years between, they bought trees from a larger operation in northern New Hampshire and sold cut trees. Brown said customers understood and came back year after year because they saw the Browns were making the effort to plant each year for the future. But during those early years, money was being put into the business, but not a lot was going back into it – hence the labor of love.

“It’s very special,” Brown said. “I remember coming up here with my boys when they were little.”

Lohmiller said there are several hundred available this year at a price of $45, no matter the size. He does put special tape on certain trees that are not shaped well that go for $25.

“Some people like the Charlie Brown trees,” he said.

They also make all their own wreaths and it’s usually a two-person operation, unless it’s a busy weekend and more help is needed.

Find Us Farm is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day until the trees are gone, which is usually mid-December, but last year was Dec. 9. Hilltop is open Saturdays and Sundays during December from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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