Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Couple says real trees the ‘green’ way to go

December 5, 2007

Environmental costs of oil use aren't limited to air pollution and oil spills such as the recent ones in the Black Sea and San Francisco Bay.

Oil is used to make the plastic for artificial Christmas trees, which eventually end up in landfills. That's one of the advantages of real trees, say Ed and Myrna Bishop, who have been selling Christmas trees at Bishop's Pine Crest Tree Farms in Linwood since 1991.

When the Bishops bought the 60 acres where they now grow about 30,000 Scotch, white pines, Austrian pines, Black Hills spruce and concolours, tree farming hadn't originally been the plan for the land, Ed Bishop said.

"I had been planning on having people farm it for me," Bishop said.

But the soil turned out to be so eroded that when the corn and wheat was harvested the combine tore up the ground.

"We needed to find a crop that would stop erosion and that we could make a bit of money from," Myrna Bishop said.

They hit on growing trees as a way to stop and even repair the soil erosion.

Twenty-three years later, "the soil is in better shape all the time," Ed said, "because the trees keep it from washing away."

The land had gotten in such bad shape, Ed said, because the man who had last farmed it didn't care about it.

"The people who farmed the land did nothing to maintain the topsoil," Myrna said. "They didn't put in terraces, they didn't farm properly -- they would go in each year and plow the land."

As a result of this type of farming, Myrna said there were great deep ditches that during heavy rains would carry the soil to the river.

The Bishops generally plant 3,000 to 4,000 trees a year, starting with seedlings that measure about 10 inches tall. It takes six to seven years for a tree to grow to about 6 feet, so they sold their first trees in 1991, after planting in 1984.

In addition, the Bishops sell pre-cut firs shipped from Wisconsin.

Myrna Bishop said they've seen a downturn in business with the increasing popularity of artificial trees. That's unfortunate, she said, not just for their bottom line, but for the environment.

The cutting and purchasing timeline is another part of the Christmas tree tradition that's changing, Myrna Bishop said.

"Years ago, people bought their trees around the 10th or 15th," she said. "Now a lot of people would like to have their tree the day after Halloween."

Myrna said the tree business isn't nearly enough to support them by itself, so they supplant their income with activities they did before selling trees. For her part, Myrna sells antiquarian books online, and Ed sells cars and keeps about 35 head of cattle.

Even so, the tree farm takes up most of his time from June through Christmas, he said.

The ground has to be mowed around the trees -- except for the Black Hills spruces -- in order to reduce the amount of moisture near them. Too much moisture will turn the needles black, he said, and mowing the grass around the trees lets more wind in to remove the moisture.

Ed usually works to maintain the trees seven days a week.

"I can't get any help anymore," he said. "There isn't any young people who want to work."

Still, he said, "I enjoy the work. It's a lot of work, but there's nobody out here harassing me."

It's not just physical work, either; it takes a lot of planning. Most years, the Bishops would start in March with planting seedlings.

But, as Ed says, "I'm getting up there in years," so they plan to stop selling trees in a couple of years. He'll sell the remaining trees to nurseries he said, and then use the land to graze cattle.

He also shears the trees to shape them, and keeps an eye out for a certain pest on scotch and Austrian pines. The saw fly lays its eggs in the trees, and its larvae turn into worms that eat needles.

When there is a big infestation, the Bishops use a hand sprayer to kill the bugs.

The business is run out of a lodge at 13436 166th St., in Linwood. In addition to cookies, hot chocolate and coffee, they offer rides on the "tiny tot train" built by Ed, for children 7 years old and younger.

The Bishops' Pine Crest Tree Farms will be open for tree sales through Dec. 23. Customers can cut their own trees, with saws, shake, net and loading provided on site. The farm is open weekends 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

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