1999 & 2000
Trials and Tribulations of a Texas Christmas Tree Farmer
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December 14, 2000
This has been a very busy and quick selling season. At this point in time, we plan on being open this next weekend. We still have plenty of Virginia Pine trees of all sizes. We are very limited in Leyland Cypress. The few remaining over eight foot in height are waiting for their owners to come cut them down. If you do plan on coming up this weekend, we are planning on having the usual activities. However, we will be stopping the horse and hay ride earlier in the afternoon and could run out of hot dogs . Why? Well Marge and I are tired and definitely do not want to eat left over hot dogs!
October 8, 2000
The October Outing is getting close. The dates are October 21 and 22 and October 28 and 29. Do not forgot to let us know if you are coming. This RSVP is important because it allows us to make sure everyone has enough hot dogs to eat. You can send us an email from this web site. Just let us know the number of adults, children and day you are coming.
We are in the process of cleaning up the farm, mowing the fields, putting out the trail signs and placing new fast pulleys on the Adventure Crossing. The biggest task remaining is for Marge to individually price all 1,500 trees we have selected for sale this year.
We also need to find a Christmas tree for Governor (President?) Bush. Since I am the president of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers, I have the responsibility to make sure he has a real Texas Christmas tree. If you are up for the October Outing and find a tree that is perfect for him, please let us know. For those of you from the "other" party, this Christmas tree can not be dead!
The trees look great. I would venture to say that this year was our best year ever for growth. We did get localized showers every two to three weeks during the long hot summer while the rest of Texas dried up and withered away.
The major problem encountered this year was tied to the heat. We found out that Leyland cypress seedlings can not take very long periods of one hundred plus temperatures. Many of the seedlings died . Well, we lost most of our Leyland seedlings on the south side of the hill where the afternoon sun is very intense. Interesting, we seen excellent survival on the north side of the hill where the afternoon sun is not a factor.
Is the loss of Leyland cypress seedlings a problem? Well, it depends on your attitude. Personally, I look at it being a very expensive learning experience but still less costly than putting in an irrigation system. (Irrigation water does provide cooling to a plant). I will now start to concentrate the plantings on the relatively cool north slope of the hill.
Well, I also had a learning experience with my muscadine grapes. Being native, they were not affected by this summer's heat. However, black rot caused most of the grapes to shrivel up and drop well before they were ripe. Black rot is a fungus formed when the grapes are wet and the temperature is between 65 and 80 degrees. Well, here in Texas, our summer night time low temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees and determined by the dew point. With the normal night dew, I have the perfect growing conditions for black rot.
I researched the experiences of other grape growers and will this next year be experimenting with a different vineyard management plan to keep the spores from spreading. If that does not work, I suspect it will come down to using a fungicide. The worst part about this is it will be another year before I make some muscadine wine.
We are still debating how to use our eleven month old petting dog Jude. He still does not take his petting dog role too seriously. He feels his job should be to lick you in the face, race you around the farm and get that hot dog before anyone else does. We are planning on having Jude available to be petted. For your safety and your child's safety, we will not let you in the cage with him. You can still pet and love him through the wire mesh.
I have one more weekend to find the time to get the GMC Pickup eight cylinders to purr and the pasquale tractor one cylinder to go put-put. I strongly suspect, I will run out of time to achieve these goals. I guess if you accomplish everything you want to do, you must question if you should have set higher objectives. As Marge put its, I am an optimist who thinks he can do everything and is only limited by time. I am still trying to figure if that is a complement!
August 5, 2000
The temperatures have been in the high 90's to low 100's and the humidity can not get any higher without water droplets forming. I guess you would call this a typical Texas summer. There is talk about a drought in Texas. Well, it must be somewhere else. At our farm, we have been getting substantial soaking rains. Around July 1, we got three to four inches of rain. Last weekend, we picked up another two inches.
The trees look beautiful. They are putting out the expected new growth. In another two weeks, we will start or second and last shearing of the year.
Jude our petting puppy is no longer a puppy in size but only in mind! He is in puppy training and has good days and a lot of bad days. It will just take time. Hopefully, he will be trained well enough that you and your family can pet and love him when you come up to the farm.
With this summer lull in Christmas tree related activities, I started some of the long delayed projects. I am slowly replacing the house siding partially rotted and loaded with woodpecker holes. If you notice the house when you come up to the farm, it will have two shades of brown. The original brown on the replaced boards and the faded brown on existing boards baked by the hot Texas sun.
I am slowly dismantling my Italian articulated (bends in the middle) tractor. Five years ago, it suddenly started shaking. At that time, we bought the orange Kubota you now see at the farm. I am hoping to find out what caused this shaking and, if replacement parts can be found, get this tractor operational. Right now I have parts scattered over the garage floor and nothing looks wrong. If unsuccessful, we will have another attraction for the children to climb over and make like a farmer.
The pickup truck has a new battery but also a flat tire. As soon as I fix the tire, I will be turning the ignition and hope it will run. If not, off to the junk yard.
As you may notice, we have reduced our October Outing from three weekends to two weekends. The timing this year was that we could not get all the work done in time to have the early third weekend. (As many of you know, we only work the farm on weekends.) We did think about having the third weekend in November. However, history has shown us that the November rains normally start at that time and would probably wash it out.
April 15, 2000
The 1999 Christmas season is history, Christmas tree seedlings have been planted and soon it will be time to mow. For those of you who were concerned about the drought, our farm has sand with clay below. This clay holds any rain we do get. So far this year, we have received several storms and showers with the clay holding this moisture. The trees are putting out new growth as is normal this time of the year.
Now for the big news, we have a new petting dog. The puppy is called Jude like in "H-E-Y Jude" of Beatle fame. Jude is also a Golden Retriever like Brandon. For those of you who are interested, we do have a picture of Jude (picture-use back key to return).
Babs the petting bunny did a great job during the selling season. With the very young, she was more popular than a petting dog. The bad news is that she just died of old age. We are debating on whether to get another petting bunny. The one thing we did notice with Babs at the farm, we have collected a rather large population of owls, hawks and one eagle. I suspect they decided to make our farm home in hopes of one day getting a tasty lunch. In order to protect her, we did put a wire covering on the cage.
Speaking of birds, we have come across a vulture nest and have watched over the last several weeks an egg hatch and turn into a very ugly big chick. These vultures are the huge birds you see soaring over the hills of the farm on a hot sunny day. They are beautiful. We hope that one day this chick will put on feathers and join her parents in soaring and cleaning up the area forests of dead animals, birds and snakes.
My major job to complete at the farm this spring and summer is to fix the siding on the house and maybe give it a paint job. Some of you may not be aware of why the siding is in such bad shape. Well, we have this red headed wood pecker that at 7:00AM each morning has a tasty breakfast of our siding. When it is pecking away on the outside, it sounds like a drum on the inside! This is also the reason we are leaving a lot of dead trees on our fence line. Maybe, this woodpecker will change its diet to something more natural.
The old GMC pickup is still sitting in the parking lot with one flat tire. That is also on my lists to get it running and in use. I have made a small step in that direction by getting a battery. Now all I have to do is check out the spark, fuel pump and finally try to start it.
Sarah is still at San Marcus at college. She is now looking at majoring in Art & Business with the intention of going into advertising. (The business part is my idea. I do not want her to be starving artist!). She is coming home for Easter. Maybe she will be desperate enough for wheels to help me get the truck running. I will keep you informed.
December 1 1999
The first hectic weekend of our Choose and Cut is behind us. We did finish the covered shed to protect the food area from rain. As expected for the first time in our thirteen years of selling Christmas trees, we had no rain Thanksgiving weekend.
The other big project of getting the GMC running was placed on indefinite hold. The new battery to be installed was given to a customer to get him home. Oh well, the GMC is old and should any day now start appreciating even if it does not run.
Right now, we are getting mentally prepared for next weekend. This weekend historically is the biggest by far. We describe it as "managed Chaos".
We are in the process of getting the word out by e-mail on our Moonlight Adventure this Friday night, December 3. This is an adventure I suspect several families will "intentionally" take advantage of. Every year, we have several families who by circumstance looks for their tree in the dark. With out exception, they have declared this to be a great family adventure. If you our customers have any other ideas of new things to try, do let us know. We are willing to experiment and even fail!
November 16, 1999
The October Outing is now behind us. Babs, the petting bunny, rose to the occasion and did an outstanding job. I really believe this bunny thinks she is a dog . Just like Brandon, Babs is in the fenced kennel, comes up to the children to be petted when they enter, eats and drinks out of his ant proof bowl, does not try to escape and stays in his dog house. About the only thing Babs has not yet done is beg for hot dogs! With everything from hawks to eagles soaring over the farm, we are contemplating whether or not to put a wire fence over the top of the kennel. If any one knows if this is necessary, please let me know. I just do not know how I would explain to a toddler how Babs, the petting bunny, was lunch for an eagle!
Many of our small customers did ask about Brandon . They were told he died and where he was buried. Interestingly, his grave site by the flag pole is collecting Christmas tree boughs, a bone and several pine cones left by many of the children. I found it very interesting in watching a few in that they did this by themselves without their parents involvement. I suspect they have lost pets of their own.
We are now getting ready for the Christmas tree choose and cut activities. I have just finished getting the internet trees on the web for those customers who can not make it to the farm. As with everything new, I am learning that it is impossible to take good pictures of a tree from four sides with the autumn sun being low in the horizon. One picture for each tree had major sun glare. I did recognize this early and planned on taking the pictures on a cloudy day. Well, the last cloudy day (with rain) was three weeks ago! It has been sunny everyday since then.
I do have the shelter for the food area nearly done. All it needs is the tin roof. Repairing the old GMC is still on the list. For the October Outing, I left it where it was and just placed a sign on it about old pickups in East Texas.
The days of the GMC being a attraction may be numbered. My daughter, Sarah, has come to the conclusion that college is not fun without wheels. Since she can not afford to buy a car (any car), she has already indicated a willingness to help get the GMC running and on the road to San Marcus. Gee, I remember when she did not want to be seen in that truck! Obviously if the repairs do not work, you may still see this old GMC in the parking lot with a "For Sale - Cheap" sign.
Sarah will be at the farm Thanksgiving weekend trying to earn money any way possible. I am leaving it up to her on how she is going to do it. I did rule out panhandling!
Well, time to get the bulk mailing and e-mail out to remind our customers we are still around. Remember, we like your suggestions on what you would like to see and do at our farm. Keep giving us those ideas (The next idea we are seriously considering is a goat walk! After the first of the year, I will tell you what that is. )
October 18, 1999
Brandon, the petting dog who was born Christmas Day, 1990, died October 15, 1999. A Golden Retriever who loved to be petted and loved those who petted him will be missed by all.
Babs, the rabbit who probably thinks he is a dog and was a very good pal of Brandon's, will continue to carry on the petting tradition expected by Mill Hollow's young customers. (Picture of Babs and Brandon-use back key to return).
October 5, 1999
The big news at the farm is that we have a very sick dog. Yes, our petting dog Brandon does not feel well. The diagnosis of our local vet and confirmed by Texas A&M is that Brandon has incurable cancer. He is not in pain but just does not eat and is slowly losing weight. We are hoping he lasts until our October Outing weekends. Brandon loves his job of being petted by our younger customers.
September 15, 1999
The second and final shearing of our Christmas trees has been completed. The trees look great. We are now in the process of getting the farm and our letters out on the October Outing scheduled for the last three weekends in October.
Champions Forest Products has agreed to our extending the trail past the Oakhurst Mill commissary to the mill ruins and mill pond. We have just completed this trail. Walking in this area reminds me how Indiana Jones must have felt when he entered a sacred temple. You just wait for something to happen. This trail will be open to our visitors only during the three weekend October Outing festivities.
Rain and Christmas tree selling appear to go together. Cutting the tree in the mud is part of the "experience". However something about roasting hot dogs in the rain and eating them in a soggy bun leaves something to be desired. I am in the final stages of building another shed similar to the one for the hay stack to keep the food area and especially the buns dry. However, you will still have to roast the hot dogs in the rain!
Brandon, the petting dog has been under the weather lately. The vet believes it is a combination of old age and a malfunctioning thyroid which cause partially damaged kidneys. This means a special salt free diet and two pills a day to keep the vet away. Guess what, his favorite food of burnt hot dogs provided by the children will not do it. Therefore, we will probably have his "special" food available at the petting area for your children to pet and feed him. (He hates this food!) If you have not guessed, we are taking great pains to keep Brandon in petting shape. After all, a survey of our young customers several years ago made him the number one attraction at the farm.
I have one more major project to do and it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas trees. I want to get our 1982 GMC pickup running and off of the ramps. That pickup has been taking up space in the parking area for two years now. I decided that I must do something after a customer last year commented on how authentic an old broken down pickup with flat tires in our parking lot reminded him of an East Texas farm. ( On the other hand, it might be easier to put a sign in front of it and explain it is part of the East Texas atmosphere we are trying to recreate! )
June 9, 1999
We are in the final stages of first shearing of the trees. They really look great this year with the weekly rain.
The only major problem we are seeing at the farm are hogs, wild hogs and I do not mean Harley Davidson hogs! These domestic hogs gone wild are getting into the Christmas tree field as a pack and are digging holes around the base of the trees, eating the roots and killing the trees. Apparently, Christmas tree roots are a hog delicacy.
These hogs have been around the area since the 1830's when they escaped from the local farmers. Only the smart have survived and propagated. They obviously know about traps, pig dogs and man.
A couple of years ago we also had a major pig problem. They did not even care if we were in field before coming in for dinner. That ticked me off. I went to the local Walmart and got a "guaranteed to drop them in their tracks" pig rifle. Fired the gun a couple of times to sight it in . Yup, my US Army sharpshooting skills of thirty years ago were still there. I could still hit a man size target at 300 meters with a open sight and surely thought I could take out a pig or two.
Well, I have never seen a pig again! They now come in at dark, when we are asleep or in Houston. Oh yes, I do have a pig rifle for sale which has never been fired in anger.
We have already tried patrolling the field at night, sleeping in the field at night, hunting them at dawn and dusk , putting chicken wire fences on their paths and even hanging blankets and sound makers. About the only success we had was having the pig dogs chase them back into Champions timberland a mile or two.
What saved us last year was the drought making the ground too hard to dig and the heat reducing their propagation rate! Well this year, we have had rain, relatively cool weather. This means a lot of hungary mother pigs running around being chased by hungary piglets who will soon be 250 pound porkers.
This time, we decided it was time for extreme measures .
It was time for these pigs to get a dose of East Texas religion! We placed a radio on a timer in the middle of the Christmas tree field. It was tuned to an all night radio talk station. Since the farm is out in the country, the only all night station coming in loud and strong was Christian Revival. Every hour for an hour it sounded like a fire and brimstone preacher was driving the devil out of those pigs.
Did it work? The pigs came back during the week, did a little
bit of digging and left.
They must have seen the light. (Oh yes, we also had a light by the radio also on the timer.)
Since I was afraid that even converted hogs might still like Christmas tree roots, we decided to throw up another barrier. This last weekend, we installed a half a mile of electric wire approximately pig eye level around half of the Christmas tree field. If the shock does not turn them, maybe they will trip over the wire! The revival would be the back up if they make it past the wire. (I just can not imagine any pig getting shocked in the snout, tripping over a wire and still wanting to be preached to over a dinner of Christmas tree roots. We will find out this weekend if it works. )
If any one out there has any ideas on how to get rid of these very smart pigs, I and a lot of other folk around Oakhurst would like to hear from you. I must say the pork does taste really good from the few dumb ones who got shot. It has no fat and reportedly low in cholestral.
The bad news is that I think the loss of these dumb ones is improving their gene pool.
April 1, 1999
The Christmas season is over . We have already planted the Christmas tree seedlings at the stumps of all trees that were cut or died. So far this spring, we are getting nice cool weather and passing showers. The Leyland cypress are doing wonderful . It looks like we will have plenty in the six to nine foot trees this next Christmas. The Virginia pine are just now putting out their spring growth. So far, this appears to be a normal year. However, the crucial time period will be this summer. The Texas humid heat will arrive with not a cloud in the sky or a thunderstorm on the horizon and make life tough for a Texas Christmas tree. Most will survive but a few will give up the "ghost".
I have just completed updating our home page . As you can see by surfing through the site, we have expanded into Tourism and Internet Sales . (The way I have this figured, the value of our Christmas tree farm, if I issued stock, should be somewhere between Disney and Amazon.com!)
Selecting a Christmas tree off of our home page is for past customers who can not make it to the farm, but still want a tree from us. All I am waiting for is pictures of the actual trees they can choose from. This will be added late October after the trees have completed another season of growing.
The other expansion of our farm has to do with opening it up to the public for family reunions, picnics, festivals etc. Because of the number of requests we get each year, we thought it best now to formalize this option. We will start advertising this by e-mail, in October Outing invitations and also in our December letter to past customers. Since the farm is still a weekend activity, we will be approaching both the sales of Christmas trees over the internet and opening up the farm to the public very cautiously. I still like the peace and quiet of having my morning coffee on the wooden bridge in the woods. There is more to life than making money.
Some of us look at pictures on the web while others read what is said. Therefore, I have added more links and pictures for those who like to look and not read.
Remember, the reason I have the web page is for families to see what we have before they make the drive to our farm. Tell your relatives, neighbors and friends about us.
The home page was done by me using AOLPRESS software (free) and is being kept on AOL (cheap). This is part of our efforts to keep costs and consequently tree prices down. You will not find us by going to millhollow.com. That luxury costs money, plenty of money! You can find us by going to http://members.aol.com/hellonurse/page1.htm. The easiest way to find us is to go into Yahoo.com and search for Mill Hollow Christmas tree farm.
We have finally found the location of the old Oakhurst mill! For thirteen years, we knew the general area but could not find the exact location. Brandon, the petting dog, and I went exploring in January around the old commissary (company store) ruins of the Oakhurst mill. This time, we went north of the commissary through very thick brush and vines, past what appeared to be a snake invested stagnant water swamp and finally came out of the pines on top of a hill loaded with old oaks.
There before us was the ruins of the old Oakhurst mill (picture-use back key to return). I felt like Indiana Jones, an intruder to a long lost site of a past civilization. The swamp we went by turned out to be the mill pond. I took pictures, retreated and marked the path. (Seven years ago, I found the old railroad bed for trains coming to the mill. It was getting dark. I left with the assumption I could easily find it again and did not mark the trail. Too my surprise, East Texas piney woods are thick and all the pine trees and undergrowth looks alike. Seven years later, I am still looking for that old railroad bed!)
With us expanding the farm to non-Christmas tree related activities, we are also in the process of increasing the amount of shelter we have available for when it rains. One of my goals this next month or so is to place a permanent roof over the food and pit area. After that, all I have to do is get my Pasquale tractor running (died three years ago), replace the carburetor in the old GMC pickup parked in the parking lot (the replacement carburetor is in the closet), replace rotted siding on the house (been on my list for only two years) and repaint the outside of the house. I have not mentioned making firewood, mowing the grass or putting out herbicide. Some how or another, I keep running out of time. One of our customers made me feel good last year. He thought a broken down pickup, rotted boards and a farm house which needs paint made us look like an old East Texas farm. I hope I see him again. He really made my day.
The muscadine vine yard is looking good. I was planning on making some wine last fall. However, the grapes were so sweet that we ended up eating the entire crop as fresh grapes! Another good reason to expand the vine yard. I still have to find the ideal site for a boutique winery.
If you noticed, I finally got a counter to work. I am mildly curious on how many people visit my page. However, the number of who visit our page and then trek up to the farm is of crucial interest to me and also to AOL. "Lookers "at our web site do not help to pay the bills required to run a for profit company. Visitors to the farm are what we want. So..., please let us and our cashier know that you have seen our home page and that is why you are at our farm!
Happy April Fools day and also Happy Easter. By the way, some of you may have seen during sales my daughter's baby rabbit , Babs . This rabbit has grown, become a very close friend to Brandon the petting dog and also turned out to be a boy. (Picture-use back key to return). He is doing great in college with my daughter. Next update of this news letter will be sometime in the next six months.
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