by Cori Hilsgen
The Riverbluff Christmas Tree Farm, located by St. Augusta, announced it will be closed for the 2014 Christmas season but will have a grand reopening for Christmas 2015.
In an interview with the Newsleader, owner Joe Styles said they really had no choice because of their major loss of more than 3,000 large trees and other smaller trees due to two very severe winters and hot dry summers.
Styles said many of the trees lost were Fraser Firs which are a very popular Christmas tree. He said it was sadly necessary to cut down the damaged trees and destroy them.
Styles said he has seen a lot of shelter belts of pine trees in the farm country which were also lost to the winter kill. Many of those trees are hardier pine trees than some of the Christmas trees.
Riverbluff has other trees planted, but they are about a year or two away from being ready to harvest yet. They replant every spring, but it takes 8-15 years, depending on the type of tree, for a tree to grow to the average Christmas tree height of 8 feet. Styles said they are already busy planning for the 2015 grand reopening.
When Riverbluff is open for business, visitors can select from several types of Christmas trees, wreaths and more. They are also offered hay wagon rides to select and pick up trees, as well as horse-drawn rides with either a wagon or sleigh, and tractor-drawn wagon rides to visit buffalo kept at the farm. Visitors can feed the buffalo and also purchase buffalo products. Trees are shaken, baled and loaded in vehicles next to a big red barn located on the farm.
Styles said it has become a real family tradition with all of their children and grandchildren helping out at the farm.
“It’s like a big Christmas party every weekend,” Styles said.
During its busy season, more than 20 people are employed at the farm. Many of them are long-term employees who are very disappointed not to be working there this year.
Styles is also a local dentist at the office of Styles, Cotton and Milbert Family Dentistry. He said many of his dental customers have been asking about the farm and its trees and wreaths and he has had to tell them and others that it is closed this year.
With easy access from the I-94 interstate, a visit to the tree farm has become a family tradition for many of its visitors. Many of them have expressed their disappointment to Styles, who said they are very sad that harsh conditions have forced them to close the farm for the year.
“I’m really sorry it has to be closed this year, but we really had no choice because of the loss of too many big trees,” he said. “I’m looking forward to reopening again next year.”
Riverbluff is owned by Styles and his wife, Barb Styles. They have been open for 20 years.
The couple plans to spend the time they normally worked at the farm during this time of year attending concerts, plays and other holiday events.
Cheryl Thiele from Hinkemeyer Tree Farm in Rice said the state supply of Christmas trees was really affected by the winter burn, but they still have a wonderful supply of trees for customers. She said their spring planting before last winter was pretty damaged, but the trees should recover. It will just take a couple years longer for the trees to fill out.
The bigger and hardier Christmas trees at Hinkemeyer Tree Farm didn’t sustain as much damage. Thiele said in Rice they have more sandy soil and a lot of their Fraser Firs are grown in the woods and are more protected from the harsh, cold winds.
“We have a full supply of beautiful Christmas trees,” Thiele said. “It was a hard winter last winter, but our customers shouldn’t see that impact on our trees this year.”
Executive director of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association Jan Donelson operates Jan’s Christmas Trees in Clear Lake. She said the MNCTA has about 100 members who network together for causes such as Trees for Troops and more.
She said natural real Christmas trees are good for the environment and economy and she hopes consumers will understand their visits to their favorite tree farms may be different this year.
Donelson said everybody in the Midwest was pretty much hit by the winter burn, which occurs when buds or needles on evergreen trees are damaged by rapid weather temperature changes. The sun’s heat reflecting off of snow causes the “burn” damage to certain areas of the tree, most often the south side. Trees which are more exposed to the sun and are not as protected are hit the hardest. Shaded trees are not as affected by winter burn.
Donelson said sometimes a tree is still active and can still bud out. If this happens, the brown spots will disappear, but it can take up to two years for this to happen.
Donelson, who has been in the business for 36 years, is both a wholesaler and retailer. She asked consumers to understand and support the tree farm growers, even if they see signs of winter burn on trees. Many growers spend more than eight years preparing trees for harvest and this is their most exciting time of the year. It’s also their pay day where they reap the rewards of all their hard work.
Work on the trees at Donelson’s business is done manually and she employs 20 people during the summer and winter. This includes high school teenagers, retired adults and more.
She said her business was very fortunate because she had an area of trees that was more shaded and was not hit by the winter burn.
The MNCTA website at mncta.com lists several other area tree farms.
image courtesy of National Christmas Tree Association