Just what goes on at a Christmas tree farm the rest of the year, anyway? Most folks are amazed to find out we spend, on average, 8-10 years caring for your tree before you take it home for Christmas. Here's a little peek behind the scenes at Friendship Forest at what we do during the other 11 months of those 8-10 years ...
We are proud to have so many veterans as part of our operation. At left, Doug (Navy retiree), transplants a tree.
The 11-month cycle begins as soon as the last tree is sold each year (sometimes before!). The first job is clearing stumps and getting the fields ready to receive transplants. Many of our guests ask "What do you do with the stumps?" And the answer is at right -- stumps give us an opportunity to play with cool equipment like this mini excavator! Here, Doug (he does everything!) removes a stump.
Paul (USMC retiree), one of the "Granite State all-stars," hard at work on New Year's Day.
We try to get our seedlings transplanted (see below for how we start our seedlings) before Winter sets in and freezes the ground. Once the seedling has been in the bed for two years, growing strong. healthy roots and acclimating to the Maryland weather, we move it out to the field. Once again, there is no easy way to do this and we've found the best way to ensure a good start for the tree in its final spot is to move each one with it's root ball intact. Slow, hard work -- but well worth it.
Once winter sets in, the ground freezes and most of our outside work stops. Except for snow removal and getting the next year's firewood -- which is fun to do during a snow fall. During the winter, the trees don't look they are doing much. While mostly dormant, the needles (foliage) still transpire moisture and give off oxygen. Meanwhile, below ground, the roots are busy expanding and seeking moisture.
We also have to watch out for pests like rabbits and field mice -- both will chew the bark on the soft seedling trunks and kill a tree if they do it enough. Below ground, the field mice (also called voles) will use mole tunnels to get at the tree's hair roots to eat them, too.
John (USMC) takes a break from cleaning the driveway to enjoy the peace and quiet of a snow fall.
Once the snow melts and the days start getting warmer, we can get back outside. Before we can get back to work on the trees, we use the last few winter days to make sure all of our equipment is ready for the season. That means oil changes, tuneups, blade sharpening for mowers and trimmers, dewinterizing the irrigation lines and generally fixing anything the winter broke.
An event we look forward to is the annual Friendship Forest-hosted Easter Egg hunt -- the first sign that Spring has really sprung!
Our winter break ends with the snow melt and the arrival of our seedlings. We usually order 500-1,000 seedlings every year, packed in wet, shredded newspaper. We try to get them in the ground within 48-72 hours of arrival. The seedlings spend two years in the protected seedling bed prior to going out into a field. This gives them a chance to develop nice, hardy root systems and acclimate to the Chesapeake Bay environment.
There's no easy way to do this -- Each one gets planted by hand. One at a time. Did I mention we usually get 500 - 1,000??? Here, Chuck (Navy retiree) gives a hand dipping each seedling in root tone before planting.
For us, this is the most glorious time of the year -- when all the care and toil we put into the tree pays us back with beautiful iridescent tufts of new growth that tell us all is growing well! Seeing the trees with their new growth on is like seeing an 18th Century European court ballroom full of people all dressed up in their best formal gowns, uniforms and evening wear -- they are truly magnificent!
First Bud usually breaks in early April, peaks in early May and is generally done by the beginning of July. Christmas should come in May -- then you could see your tree at its absolute best -- bright green and covered with little bundles of super soft baby needles. And the Blue Spruce are a really neat shade of ice blue that's impossible to adequately describe.
Summer -- Tree Trimming & Mowing
The new growth is beautiful when it pops out. When when it's done, the tree looks pretty shaggy -- like a teenager in need of a haircut! As the new growth hardens off on the trees, John starts the annual task of tree shaping. Starting with the pines, John will spend about 1 or 2 minutes per tree, clipping the leader and trimming the new growth to retain the proper shape.
At left, Peggy does the bulk of the other ongoing warm-weather chore -- mowing. Keeping the grass mowed in the tree rows helps air circulation and keeps fungus to a minimum. At right, John uses a rotary pruner to shape a tree.
The rains usually take a break in July and it stays pretty dry until the Fall. To get the trees through these annual droughts, we've installed an irrigation system of buried lines and drip tubing that waters almost every Christmas tree on the farm.
Blaine (USMC) takes a break from installing a 1,700 foot run of 2-inch PVC pipe.
The rest of the Summer
Staying ahead of the weeds, the grass, the bugs, the fungus, the moles, the deer and the drought pretty well consumes the rest of the Summer and early Fall months, and is an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure the trees are unmolested while they grow. For most of it, timing is everything. We usually need three things working together to hit everything right -- temperature, wind (speed and direction) and perhaps most important of all ... opportunity (i.e., time!). It's hard to get those three to play together, but when they do, man we get a lot done!
It's not all drudgery. We get to attend a few off-farm truck events and the like. Here, Peggy participates in the National AgrAbility Project video production
Finally! When it all comes together just in time for Christmas! Like recruits getting a once over from the drill instructor before inspection, we give all the trees a last check and correct any minor discrepancies we might find. We pick up trash, debris from the Summer and do one last mow. When the temps start edging toward freezing, we winterize the irrigation system. And before we know it, it's opening day for sales. And after that ... we start afresh!
Ever the gentleman, Paul helps a customer handle a tree.
Copyright 2017 Friendship Forest
Friendship Forest Christmas Tree Farm
41370 Friendship Ct.
Mechanicsville, MD 20659