Tuesday, November 25, 2014

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A Year in the Life of a Fraser Fir

I was fortunate recently to have the opportunity to chat with a new friend, Fletcher, the Fraser fir. We talked long distance. He shared highlights of life on the Christmas tree farm before coming to Chalet. There's a lot happening down on the farm!

Where I grew up in Virginia
Where do you come from, Fletcher?
Thanks for asking, Tony. My great-grandparents originally came from Mt. Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. I've kinda lost track, but I'm at least the 8th generation of Fraser fir coming from those cool mountains. I started out as a tiny seed from the cone of my parent tree. Did you know we Fraser firs may have cones when we're young, but have to be at least 15 years old to produce seeds? 

How did you spend your early years?
Well, the first 5 years of my life were spent at an evergreen nursery along with thousands of other seedlings. We got everything we needed there, like sunlight, fertilizer and water to grow big and strong. Like all brothers and sisters we were similar, but different. After growing 5 years, we're still shorter than a newborn baby. Can you imagine that?

Baby Pictures - 6 months, 3 years and 5 years old
How did you get to the Christmas tree farm?
This really nice couple, Farmer Bob and Farmer Sue, chose me and lots of my brother and sisters as "liners", which is just another word for baby trees. They planted us at their beautiful farm in Virginia in specially prepared soil in rows 5 feet apart- kind of like corn, but with the rows farther apart. There were over 1700 of us per acre. That's a lot of trees, but we didn't feel crowded!

Tell us about life on the farm.
Life is good. We grow for 2 years in the field before we get our first haircut, which my farm parents call pruning. When we grow 2' tall we start getting pruned every year in the middle of August to stay full and pretty, the way folks like us. My farm parents and helpers use machetes (long, sharp knives) like an action hero to trim our branch tips. It takes 5-10 minutes and doesn't hurt at all!

Then, on our 7th birthday we get even more attention. We don't get cake, but starting in late March Bob, Sue and many helpers pull the young cones off all of us trees. That way our energy is used to produce more branches, not wasted on un-needed cones. They do this plucking by hand so it's lots of hard work. It tickles, but Farmer says this makes us much fuller.

Growing Up - 8-10 years old
What about feeding?
Our farm parents never let us get hungry. We're fed a tasty (at least to us) fertilizer the end of April to keep us dark green. During the year we get showered 2-3 times with special foliar (that means our needles) fertilizers that have things like calcium and iron to keep us growing strong, just like boys and girls.

Are there weeds in your in your field?
Fortunately, Farmer knows how to deal with those pesky plants. The weeds are mowed so they don't steal all the food from the soil. Weeds don't share well, they can be bullies. So, it's really nice in the fields because Bob and Sue plant white clover between the rows. They tell us clover takes nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil for us to use. I love nitrogen - yum! And the bees use the clover to make the most delicious honey. I personally don't eat honey, but I hear humans love it.

So, what happens when you, your brothers, sisters and cousins are ready to be Christmas trees?
About mid-November our farm parents harvest us (a little like a corn farmer) one or two days before shipping us to Chalet. We're cut, brought down the mountain and stood up in a pine forest. Our trunks are touching the ground and we actually take up water before we're wrapped up for the ride. We're really fresh. And boy, do we enjoy the truck ride!

Christmas Tree Graduation
Fletcher, you're 7-8' tall. I don't mean to be impolite, but how old are you now?
Hmm, let's see. 5 years in the evergreen nursery, then growing in the fresh air and sunshine at the farm for 7-8 years. That should be about 12, maybe 13 years old. Wow, I guess that makes me a teenager!

You're right, Fletcher, it does. Thanks for sharing the details about your life as a Christmas tree. I know one day soon you'll play a big role in making a family's holiday very special! 


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