When I stopped at Beech Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in search of winter weather pictures, I made the acquaintance of Mary Pearson, who was shuttling families around the 150 acres on a tractor-pulled wagon. Her parents, Jim and Nancy, bought the property in 1969, but didn’t begin planting trees, balsam fir and blue tip spruce, until 1987. Although Mary is a sergeant with the Scarborough Police Department, where she has worked for more than 20 years, she has been helping out on the farm since she was a kid. She told me that it takes about 10 years to bring a tree to maturity.
I was surprised to learn what a complicated process it is. The trees begin as “plugs” at a year old. They are planted and fertilized, but are transplanted when they are two to four years old. Before replanting, the roots are trimmed to stimulate growth. The trees must be pruned every year to help them grow into a nice shape. Mary says the biggest problem arises when crows land on the trees and break off the fragile top. Upward growth will be stunted unless remaining branches near the top of the tree are bound tightly to the trunk and then pruned to leave one longer, which will grow to become the new leader. (Where else would you put your star or Christmas angel if you didn’t have that slender top piece?)
Mary cheerfully repeated the story of her family’s history on the farm to each group of people she transported out to the field. The story will come to a close eventually. At one time the farm had 25,000 trees growing on it. The number has dwindled to about 12,000 since her parents stopped planting new trees about four years ago. “My folks are in their 70’s now,” she says, “and since it takes 10 years to grow a Christmas tree, they don’t feel they can continue to care for that many trees into their 80’s.”