Out of the frying pan and into the fire

The pandemic has played a large part in how were are getting ready for our 2020 Christmas Tree season, there were a lot of changes to be made but luckily we have had months to adjust our plans. Now, with little over two months until we open in Los Angeles, the fires ripping across the West Cost have put us through another ringer.

As many people know that the West Coat of the United States has been overrun with wildfires for the last week. We have had a number of inquiries into how this is impacting our family, our farm, and our business. Thank you to all that have reached out, even when you and yours were also impacted. We are all safe and sound, and will be able to operate as planned this season. Here is a peek into what the last week has been like for us here at Santa & Sons Christmas Trees and for many people all over the West Coast.

Photo from Monday, September 7th at 6:30 PM
25 miles East of our home.

Last Monday morning, the 7th of September, we here in Oregon were bracing ourselves for a wind storm and very high fire danger. Being fire season here in the Northwest the predicted historical wind storm headed our way was already a pretty terrifying prospect. As warnings of the wind storm began come across phones, TVs and radios, worries over their impact on the fires started to stack up. At that time a number of small fires were already in progress across our state, but that is par for the course this time of year, what impact the winds would have on them was beyond anyone’s predictions. By Monday afternoon, our homes on the edge of the coastal mountain range were surrounded by smoke with ominous orange skies and wildfires were out of control.

At that point we were well aware of fires in the area surrounding our farms, located 80 miles away to the Southeast of our home. Our main priority at that time was making sure our workers that live in the surrounding area were getting themselves, their families, and communities somewhere safe. Luckily, our crew were all able to make it out of the fire areas safely. Next came the waiting. While we were not able to reach people to get a good idea of what was happening with the fires in our area we spent most of our time planning our next moves, and continually checking the fire maps and trying to support those that were evacuating. Farmer Mark was mainly relying on this map, https://data.statesmanjournal.com/fires/ as well as any first hand information he was able to get. With so many forms of communication these days, it was tricky to wade though rumors and wait patiently for facts to surface. Finally, Friday the 11th we received the following footage, https://youtu.be/q4FzQSse4Lw our neighbors on the farm that had been out to their home next to our fields.

Scorched trees edge a blackened work road.
Scorched trees with not burnt trees in the background.
A blackened road where fire ripped through our farm near Vida Oregon last week. Smoke still lingers in the air.

Their home was still standing, our fields, for the most part are safe! While we did loose a fair bit of equipment and a yet unknown amount of trees, we are so very thankful for the safety of our crews and for the preservation of so many of our trees. We suffered significant loss of equipment which you can see in the video, and there was loss to a number of our fields but most of our acreage was still standing tall. This was due in no small part to us being very on top of weeds this year. Keeping the burn fuel low was just one of the many factors helping save our trees, there was a great deal of luck involved as well.

Before and during pictures of the Leaburg Hatchery sign.

While our people and farm were unbelievably lucky, many, many more were not. A few miles East of our farm, most of the community of Blue River is gone. To the North of us, farms East of Salem are gone. Further South near Ashland, whole communities are mourning. And through it all, we saw people coming together. Supplies for families, feed and straw for displaced livestock, local restaurants closing and supplying food to displaced people. Neighbors, braving the toxic airs to collect windfall fruit for the livestock of people they have never met. The efforts of these communities, help remind us what is really important, what we can do for each other and personally, remind us here at Santa & Sons, about the magic of Christmas.

With all the loss and hardship this year, more than usual, we can’t wait for Christmas. It’ll be a season like there hasn’t been for generations. With so much heartache and uncertainty, Christmas is a shining star to look forward to and we think we all need something bright to look forward to. Be it a time for you to reconnect with your faith, to be in touch with family and friends, time spent crafting handmade gifts with your children or to volunteer and support those less fortunate, I think we can all agree that the coming holiday season will be a much needed reprieve for many of us this year.

All in all, we count ourselves very lucky. We will be able to run our Christmas Tree lot in Los Angeles as usual. We will get to spread the joy and magic of an old fashioned Christmas with you and your family. With everything this year has thrown at us, we look forward to wrapping it up by being there for you and yours, by helping bring a little bit of normal into your home this Christmas and by sharing with you, a little bit of homegrown joy.

The Second Life of an abandoned tree field

Can a Christmas tree field, abandoned for years become a plentiful source of trees and bows?
Mark Rholfs thought so and is making that a reality.

Looking at the photo above, you may not see it’s full potential as a crop of Christmas trees. Tall, untrimmed, unshaped, overgrown underbrush, what a mess. Mark saw all this too but he also saw how to make the most out of this long forgotten stand of Noble Firs. All his years of experience in the world of small business ownership add up to a vast pool of knowledge. Using that knowledge and some out of the box thinking, Mark and his crew were able to find multiple ways assure that this field of trees didn’t go to waste.

Mark saw the capability for these tall, crowded, trees to be sold at our Los Angels sales lot as Natural Noble Firs. This category of tree has been quickly growing in popularity over the last decade. The natural style of tree isn’t sheared to the same traditional shape and usually they have larger branches with more space between them. People enjoy them for their rustic look and when decorating, most people either use their sturdy branches for heavier ornament or keep the adornments simple to reflect the natural beauty of the tree. Here is a link to our tagged photos on Instagram, there you can take a peek at some of the ways customers have been decorating these truly unique Christmas trees.

The secondary use of these trees is for harvesting bows that will become wreaths and garlands. Since this particular field of trees was left to grow unattended for years, the top four to eight feet of the trees are optimal for harvesting for our lot. While the lower branches can be harvested for our wreath and garland makers. Using this method we are able to let the top part of the tree continue to grow, get shaped as needed and develop into the desired natural style while cutting and regrowing bows for years to come.

There aren’t many Christmas tree farmers that would have looked at this stand of trees and though ” I can do something really cool with this!”. But if you’ve ever met Mark Rholfs, you’ll know he isn’t like many Christmas tree farmers out there, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Odd balls

Even among the beautiful trees of Santa and Sons there are a few odd ones out. Though they may not make it to the sales lot as is, they still warm my heart. Today lets take a look at some of the sillier looking trees I found on a trip to the fields back in March, and learn what made them grow their own way.

Let’s start at the top of the tree . In this image you have 3 different tree tops or leaders as they are known in the field. In the first two pictures you see two leaders vying for the top stop, the place of honor holding up your Christmas star or angel. Unfortunately, only one can win. When there are two leaders one must be cut back to allow the other to grow. Otherwise the tree won’t end up with the beautiful triangular Christmas tree shape we have all come to know and love. As you can see in the second and third parts of the image sometimes the leader doesn’t want to follow a straight path. When that happens we go around and tie a bamboo stake to the leader to help it find it’s way, insuring our trees stand tall and straight.

In this image here we have the opposite problem. The left tree has been growing for a few years and a leader has yet to emerge. Causing it to look more like a strange shrub rather then the classic Christmas tree we are all looking for. The right tree has finally started to sprout a leader. It is hard to imagine now but with time and care the rest of this tree will fill in and start to take on the conical shape we are all used to seeing. Sometimes even Christmas trees need a little extra time and patience to grow up just right.

Here we have what is known as a stump culture. Stump cultures happen when you use the the coppice or pollard methods, simply put, cutting a tree or shrub down to it’s base allowing for more new growth. This happens to many types of trees when cut just right. Usually when this happens on Christmas trees, the stump has been cut higher from the ground than usual and under the right conditions it will start to sprout a brand new tree that can grow to full size again. In this instance, when a tree is cut from out field in just the right manners these stump cultures will pop up on their own, when that happens in our fields we will let them grow without much attention and see if they can be used for table top trees. There are even a few Christmas tree farms across the country that use this procedure to keep propagating their farms year after year.

Last but surely not least we have my personal favorite out of the odd balls. Here we see two trees with very different looks that started off very similarly. Two different types of trees that reacted in totally opposite ways to having their lower branches cleared off to promote air flow between the trees and help create the handle which our guys will hold when cutting and moving the trees.

Even in a world of perfectly sheared and pruned trees sometimes nature finds a way to still do its own thing. When that happens all we can do is sit back and enjoy what it has to offer, even if that is just a few laughs at some silly trees.

The Elephant in the Christmas tree Field

Spraying, it is a word that brings to mind negative connotations for a number of people but for most farmers, even organic ones, it is a necessary practice.

Spring growth on a
Douglas fir Christmas tree.

Here in this photo we have some beautiful new growth on one of our established trees. This new growth is about two inches long and by mid July it will be anywhere from eight to twelve inches long. Sadly, fungus is one of the biggest vulnerabilities of this new growth and in Oregon where our trees love to grow, so does fungus.

We use a number of diverse field practices here at Santa and Sons Christmas Tress to combat fungus growth. Avoiding overcrowding between trees, as well as manual removal of ferns and other plants throughout the young trees allows for better airflow, helping to reducing the risk of fungus but not eliminating it. Which brings us to our next step in prevention, spraying.

We have already mentioned in a previous blog the use of our new Jacto automatic sprayers. We are currently using those sprayers on our Christmas tree fields to spray copper hydroxide to inhibit fungus growth. The product we are spraying is an Organic Materials Review Institute approved fungicide. We use this along with our other preventative measure before there is any sign of a problem. If trees end up succumbing to fungus there isn’t a quick fix or remedy to be had, and once they have a fungus it will spread fast causing it to loose it’s needles and have bare patches resulting in a tree that may not be saleable come Christmas.

Spraying copper hydroxide to protect new growth.

When we do need to spray here on our fields, we take all the precautions needed, and more. In this picture of a worker spraining you can see that he is suited up in protective gear. Don’t fear! This outfit, reminiscent of a beekeepers outfit, is more to protect his work clothes from staining. The sprayer, which has turned blue from the use of the copper spray, is an indicator of what this whole suit will look like by the end of the day. Our worker is also wearing a respirator mask to filter out any particulate that he could be inhaling.

In addition to making sure we are keeping our workers safe we also do everything we can to keep our environment and you safe while using this needed product. Luckily for us, our fields are located on upland hillsides and are more than a safe distance from waterways, the plants, and critters that inhabit them. As for this spray making it’s way into your home, all our Oregon rains take care of that. Months of rain thoroughly wash your tree of any residual copper hydroxide long before it is harvested and brought into your home.

Why are we talking about a topic that can put some people on edge? Because like so many other things in our day to day life, spraying is a lot less scary the more you know. Just because a farm sprays, does not inherently mean they hare harming the environment. Just the same as if a farm uses all approved organic techniques isn’t necessarily helping the environment. While organic Christmas tress may not be feasible currently, we do everything we can to maintain a holistic approach to farming. Hopefully we were able to teach you a little something today and if nothing else we are proud to share with you another aspect of the hard work that we put into each and every one of our Oregon grown Christmas trees.

Our growers thoughts on the shortage of trees

Last Fall our grower and owner Mark Rohlfs made a Facebook post on some changes in the Christmas tree growing industry. Below you’ll find the link to that post and some expanded thoughts on the subject.

https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2316776535228994&id=1922427911330527%3Fsfnsn%3Dmo

The changing landscape of the Christmas tree industry is visible even to our customers, with a limited number of trees becoming available for purchase each year. There are a number of factors leading to that decline, which Mark touches on in his post. Let us take a look at a few of the biggest ones.

The number of Christmas tree growers has dropped significantly over the last decade, from over 1600 in 2010 to less than 500 today. Christmas trees take up to seven years or more to grow to maturity. That is seven years of labor, supplies and hard work before you turn a profit on that harvest of trees. Due to an over abundance of trees a decade ago almost all farmers pulled back on the amount of seedlings they were planting. This happened around the same time as the Recession in 2009.

Little did any of them anticipate the impact that would spread out from this first ripple. Because a large number of farmers have moved into permanent crops like hazelnuts and blueberries, the Christmas tree market is just now starting to really feel the effects of all these changes. T

What does all of this mean for the long term effects of the Christmas tree market? That is what everyone is trying to figure out these days. Throw into the mix the upheaval of every corner of the world with the current Covid-19 situation and we do know one thing for sure. We are holding firm to our decision to grow and sell our own trees for you in the most sustainable ways we can.

A former Christmas tree field transformed into a blueberry farm

Adjusting to natures changes

Now more than ever, supporting the growth of seedlings is vital to sustaining the Christmas tree industry

Years of continuous droughts across the country have contributed to a shortage of trees for the last few Christmas seasons. Lack of rains during typically wet seasons leave seedlings with weak root systems, add the summer heat on top of that and we have one of the largest factors contributing to the shortage of Christmas trees everyone has encountered over the last few years. In 2018 alone there was upwards of 50% seedling loss nationwide.

Just like in your home garden, one of the best ways to promote root growth is through a phosphorous fertilizer. Usually this isn’t something we do with seedlings. Due to the drastic rate of die off of seedlings we and other farmers have had to change up how we do things. To aid us in the process this year we got our hands on some new to the industry Jacto automatic backpack sprayers. Usually, when fertilizing our fields, workers carry a four gallon hand pressurized pack, and have to estimate the amount of product being placed on each individual tree. This work tends to get done early in the year, and on our farm, it is all done by workers walking the fields rather than by more mechanized means.The upgrade to these battery powered sprayers allows our workers to focus on accuracy and efficacy when fertilizing. The new sprayers also have the ability to spray a measured dose of fertilizer every time. Helping take the guesswork out of this process and ensuring the optimal dosage for every seedling.

A number of other factors are needed for proper fertilization. One of the biggest being soils moisture content. Fertilizers must be liquid based to help with the needed deep penetration of the soil to reach the roots. It is important to do this work when the ground itself is damp as well. The damp ground helps ensure the liquid fertilizers reach down to the roots. Otherwise the fertilizer would just stay on top of the soil, not aiding in root development.

Below you’ll see a short video of our guys and their new backpacks in action. Take note that this video show just a small section of the greater number of seedlings we are caring for. Halfway through you can see our guys working side by side with the new sprayers and the hand pressurized ones. While this video is just one minute out of many days worth of work we wanted to take this opportunity to show you one of the many parts of the care and dedication we put into growing our beautiful Christmas trees.

Here we have a link for you to see these sprayers in action.

https://youtu.be/RG2cFOxsUww

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*This post mentions a product we enjoy using. We are not sponsored or paid by this brand*

Spring time on a tree farm

Large natural evergreen trees in the background with smaller Christmas tree shaped trees in the front. All with a light dusting of snow.
A dusting of March snow on our Oregon tree farm

Even though many of us are stuck inside, it is officially spring time here in Oregon and that means a lot of work is going into getting our trees ready for their growing season which starts in May.

Like most farmers, our days starts early. Our field manager Micheal is up and about as soon as the sun is on the field. In the early spring that tends to mean lots of frost and perhaps a light dusting of snow on our young trees. The cold temperatures don’t stop Micheal and our crew, bundled up to work in the cold early mornings. This early morning work is important because winds tend to be slower, and grounds moist, which is optimal us to deliver fertilizer to our trees.

Most of our work right before and during spring involves lots of counting, counting, more counting and grading . All of our fields get counted so we can make sure we are growing enough beautiful trees for you and your family to enjoy for years to come.

A heard of elk walks though a field of trees hoping to find any without bud caps.

Another thing we have to keep an eye on over the winter and into spring are elk. With elk populations searching for sustenance, the tips of our baby trees are one of their favorites. One of the only things we are able to do to keep our baby trees from getting munched on it put individual bud caps on every one of our younger trees. These caps are each secured into place by hand and keep the tasty tips of the trees safe from getting eaten. Tedious it maybe but it is just one of the many small details that go into the growth of beautiful Oregon Christmas trees. Trees that do end up as a tasty snack for elk tend to have issues with growing into the big beautiful trees we all love.

Seedling inter-planted with
older trees

Planting is the largest activity on any farm this time of year. Luckily for us, our seedlings can go in the ground even if there is still a chance of frost or snow. This year alone we have planted 8550 new seedlings. All by hand. It is a lot of hard work but we love to do it. The care we put into each and every one of our trees is just on of the many factors that make Santa and Sons stand apart from other Christmas tree lots. This may sound like a lot of work and trees but according to the National Christmas Tree Association, “there are close to 350 million Real Christmas Trees currently growing on Christmas Tree farms in the U.S. alone, all planted by farmers.”

Welcome To Our Blog

Hi everyone, my name is Mischa and I’m going to be your guide to everything Christmas trees from here on out.

Santa and Sons has been around for a long time but we came to realize many people don’t actually know much about all that goes into getting these lovely trees from our farm, to our retail lot and lastly, into your home every year.

What we want to share with you

  • A behind the scenes look at Oregon Christmas tree farming
  • Information about all the different types of Christmas trees we offer
  • Close up look at all that goes into setting up and running our retail lot at Los Angeles Valley College

Seeing as we’re just humble tree farmers in Oregon, we are new to this blog thing. We are hoping to find a way to connect you more closely to your tree and to us.

Unlike so many other products these days, our Christmas trees really only go through a few sets of hands before they end up with you. We’re hoping to show you just how close you are to us and how much work we put into getting you one of the worlds finest Christmas trees.

We want to stay connected with you year round, not just while we’re in Los Angeles. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that through

  • Our Instagram @Santa_and_Sons
  • Our Mailing List, sign up on our home page
  • This blog!
  • Our direct contact, find it under our contact tab. Ask us anything, or share with us something you’d love for us to blog about.

Meet Mark

A man with long blond hair and a white hat between Christmas trees. He is wearing a red jacket and white pants.

The man behind it all, Mark Rohlfs has been in the tree business for almost forty five years. When Mark was a student in the college of forestry at Oregon State University, he was picked from his class to work with a local farmer in rural Blodgett, Oregon. Was it Marks attention to detail that got him picked? Superior grades and good attitude? As silly as it seems now, it was actually just that he was the tallest fella in his class and could reach the tops of the trees with ease.

Santa & Sons Christmas tree farm began as an independent, Oregon Christmas tree farm labor, and reforestation crew. Throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s, Mark worked with a local farm labor crew on hundreds of Oregon Christmas tree farms. They saw a wide range of different growing conditions and learned the best Christmas tree farming methods while developing a broad knowledge of the Oregon Christmas tree industry and a desire to help it grow and move into the future, while holding true to it’s farm value roots.

Over the years Mark has watched the natural Christmas tree market shift and change and has done everything in his powers to stay ahead of the times. Be it home delivery to a wide area in the San Fernando valley, or his newest online ordering system, Mark is always looking towards the future. At his one retail lot in California, customers have come to know and love the service and quality they get and enthusiastically embrace his modern take on the classic family run Christmas tree lot.

All these years later Mark is still out in the fields every week. He has a small crew that work year round tirelessly trimming and caring for all of his trees by hand, but more on that in a future post.

Tree Types

You may not be surprised to learn most people don’t know there are different varieties of trees grown and sold for Christmas trees. Lets explore a few that we specialize in.

Here at Santa and Sons we grow and sell three main types of trees

  • Douglas Fir
  • Noble Fir
  • Nordmann Fir

Perhaps your recognize one of these as the type of tree you typically get for your home. Lets take a deeper look at what makes each of these trees so special.

Nordmann Fir

Close up Nordmann needles
  • Full, symmetrically arranged strong branches that are perfect for holding large or heavy ornaments
  • Durable, long lasting trees in the home, outlasting by far any other variety
  • With superb needle retention Nordmann Fir have the distinctive quality of shedding the fewest, if any, needles
  • Dark green needles are soft and flatten with a waxy cuticle that gives the tree its shiny appearance and helps prevent drying

Noble Fir

Close up Noble needles
  • Beautiful soft blue green needles and a wonderfully distinct fresh fir fragrance
  • Full natural shape with strong layered branches that can support heavier ornaments
  • Very durable with excellent needle retention
  • Simply the best Christmas tree available anywhere, when you think of the classic Christmas tree shape, this is it

Douglas Fir

Close up Douglas needles
  • THE original Christmas tree of the West Coast
  • Grown for Christmas trees in the Pacific Northwest since the 1920’s
  • A uniform tapered shape and a full bushy appearance with upright branches
  • Packed with soft green needles that are soft to the touch and exude a distinctive pine-like scent