This Couple’s Dream of Owning a Christmas Tree Farm Came True

The whole family—whether they’ve got two legs or four—is invited to this Christmas tree farm.

it-started-as-an-after-work-projectFarm and Ranch Living Magazine

Marty and I were still working full time when we started selling Christmas trees in 1986. We parked our old Volkswagen camper van at the front of our driveway with a few precut pines propped up against the van, and we waited for customers. Within two years we had launched Dale Tree Farm, a cut-your-own Christmas tree lot. We now sell about 1,000 trees each holiday season.

After doing this for 30 years, we’re inching toward retirement, but both Marty and I can look back on decades of learning, happiness, and dreams come true.

Marty was a PhD forester working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service when we met in 1981. He owned 38 acres on which he had started planting Scotch and white pine trees as an after-work project. His original plan was to sell the trees wholesale.

By 1988 we had people coming to the farm to cut their own trees. During the week, we operated on the honor system while we were at work. We left saws and directions for customers and parked that same VW near the tree field with a window cracked to slide money through. Sure enough, there were dollars on the seat of the van at the end of the day when we came home. Generations of families still come back every year because of the trust we established with our customers when we first started.

it-started-as-an-after-work-projectFarm and Ranch Living Magazine

Growing Pains
Since those early years, we have learned that to succeed in the Christmas tree business you must grow Canaan fir, by far the most popular species in our area.

Canaans, however, are a real challenge here in central Ohio. We have impermeable clay soil, and Canaan firs require soil that is porous and rich. Thankfully, Marty is a career forester, so he learned to plant these preferred Christmas trees using a lengthy process. We buy the seedlings and plant them in pots enriched with topsoil, peat moss, vermiculite and fertilizer. After the trees spend a year in pots, we transfer them to the field. Marty made our uncooperative soil receptive to the Canaans by digging troughs with a tile machine and installing drainage pipes in the ground to let the rain filter through the clay.

[pullquote] Generations of families still come back every year because of the trust we established with our customers when we first started. [/pullquote]

Across the country, balsam fir is certainly the most popular Christmas tree, but those rely even more heavily on loose, sandy soil. In addition to Canaans and Scotch pines, we grow Norway and blue spruce trees, among others.

Our Canaans are lush, beautifully shaped and much preferred to the others. We employ people to help customers shake the dead needles out of their trees and put the trees through a baler. It’s much easier to transport a tree in a net.

it-started-as-an-after-work-projectFarm and Ranch Living Magazine

Four-Legged Family
We encourage visitors to bring their dogs out to the tree farm, and it’s been a big hit. Families bring all sizes and kinds of dogs, and the dogs love running through our tree fields. It’s a tradition now for many of the families, dogs included, who come to get their trees every year.

The story of our farm would not be complete without including our own dog, Jakey. I didn’t have a dog until I was 50 years old, but on a trip to Seattle I met my brother’s Jack Russell terrier. After visiting with them, I found myself missing the dog more than I missed my brother or his family! Within a week of returning to Ohio, I’d brought home my first Jack Russell. In the years since, we’ve had Jake, Little Jake and now Jakey.

We also have a small fenced pasture behind the house that we call our petting zoo. A few years ago I went to the county fair and bought two gentle, huge Boer goats that a teenage girl raised as a 4-H project. She’d named them Eminem and Lil Wayne after the popular rappers. The pair, along with newer additions Heidi and Harvey, make up our petting zoo. Kids love feeding them evergreen branches as much as their parents love taking their pictures.

Lately we’re thinking about what’s next. Marty has achieved his dream of owning a Christmas tree farm, and I’ve loved being able to work outdoors after a career of teaching. We haven’t replanted trees for five years, and there are about 2,000 trees left. Where trees once grew, a longtime customer has established a honeybee colony in a quiet part of our field. Much of the land is returning to nature. I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes us, but Marty and I are quite happy enjoying the wildlife and trees on our farm.

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