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2007

Trials and Tribulations of a Texas Christmas Tree Farmer

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November 14, 2007

The Christmas trees continue to look great with them putting on their final fall growth with the current warm weather.  Right now, we are hoping for a very cold couple of days before we open in a week for Choose and Cut.  A cold snap makes it feel like winter.  More importantly, a couple of days with the temperature well below freezing at night will kill any insects in the tree.  After all, this is Texas.  Bugs do thrive here probably 10 months out of the year.  The other two months if we do not get a killing freeze, they are more or less dormant.  With Christmas trees, the warmth of a room could cause a dormant bug to become alive!  This is why we tell our customers who have a fear of bugs to spray the inside of a tree with a household insecticide before  bringing it in and decorating.  

The October Outing has been completed with perfect weather.   The Mill Hollow Annual Invitational Down Hill Tire Rolling Contest was held on two separate weekends this year.   As you may recall from past writings, this competition started back in the early 1990's with the need to tire out three very energetic young boys before the car ride home.  Every year since, we have had at least one of thee boys back to the farm to see who could roll a tire the farthest!   This year, two of the brothers showed up on separate weekends.  It made no difference.  Alice,  a friend of one of the brothers, was again in the competition this year.  As last year, her tire rolled the farthest and was obviously the winner of the tire rolls during the two weekends!  Obviously, I need to talk to the three brothers and see if we should amend the rules to give Alice a ten, twenty or maybe thirty feet handicap.  She is obviously either very good or very lucky!  As you can see, traditions and memories have a way of being started at Mill Hollow and will continue for decades. 

When you come up to the farm, you will see some minor changes in the layout.  We have moved the tricycles to near the entry to the picnic area and away from the tree swing area.  This was done so our younger customers would have access to them.  With them located out of sight by the tree swing, these tricycles would migrate to the four corners of the farm!  I never knew teenagers love tricycles so much.  Again, I suspect tricycles are part of the memories created and continued here at Mill Hollow.   Oh yes, the badminton are has also moved closer to the picnic area and is now shaded in the afternoon sun.

I was planning on adding a few attractions this year.  The major one was going to be a "duck race".  Well, I had a few problems with China which forced this attraction on hold.  This duck race consisted of pumping water down trough to move a floating rubber duck.  The first rubber duck to float pass the finish line wins.  

You are probably wondering how China could have cause me to delay this attraction.  Well, all rubber ducks appear to be made in China.  They are also be recalled because of lead paint!   Hopefully next year, this problem will have been resolved and a "duck race" with safe lead free ducks can be enjoyed by all.

I have made up another brew of vino.  This year, I beat all of the area critters to the vineyard and got most of the grapes.  The vino is in the final stages of fermenting and will probably be bottled in the next few days.  I reduced the time that the juice was on the skins in order to reduce the tannins .  This should make the wine taste better sooner.    

September 15, 2007

The Christmas trees look great.  We had plenty of rain  this year.  More importantly, it came at the right time and in the right amount.  Based on 24 years of growing Christmas trees, this year has been the best we have ever seen with existing tree growth and seedling survival.  We should have plenty of Christmas  of beautiful trees in the 6-10 foot range for your family to check out.  As one man said, this makes it tough on the wife and keeps the kids and I away from the free hot dogs, tire rolling and the trails!

Our Christmas tree growing at Mill Hollow appears ideal for most weather conditions.  If we get a drought, we have clay below the sand to keep the tree roots alive.  We may not get much growth but based on past droughts, the Christmas trees will survive.  

Christmas trees do not like wet roots and could die if the ground is too wet for too long.. If we get an abnormally wet year like this, the hills help regulate the amount of water available to the Christmas trees.  If we get too much rain in a short time period, it will run down the hill and away from the Christmas trees.  

The bad news with hills is finding available all weather parking.  The top and side of the hills are ideal for growing Christmas trees and also for parking cars.  The bottom of the hills are too wet for trees.  If we tried parking cars at the bottom of the hills, I suspect several would be up to the axle in wet sand on a wet weekend.  

Is there a better crop for Mill Hollow besides Christmas trees?  In doing limited research on the history of the area, I found they have tried everything from cotton to corn.  The problem with this area is what happens if you plow the hill sides for row crops.  Rains will carry the top sand layer down the hill and eventually the clay will also be eroded away.  This has happened on our farm and can be seen by the grassland gully near to the "dead end maze".  Trees appear to be the best crop for this area since it does not require plowing and the roots hold the existing sand/clay in place.

The one weather condition we worry about is a direct hit from a hurricane.  We have seen with Alicia which passed 60 miles to the west and with Rita which passed 60 miles to the east that Christmas trees can not stand a long duration of very high winds and rain.  They will be laid flat on the ground.  This will cause roots to be broken and eventually will cause the tree to die.

Obviously, we watch the weather very closely during the June through October period for hurricanes.  A direct hit could be the deciding event of whether timber may be a better crop than Christmas trees at Mill Hollow.

You may have noticed on the first page how our Christmas trees are good for the environment and reduces global warming.  The link will provide you with more information on this rational.  I did put this information on the web site since I suspect many people feel guilty about cutting a live Christmas tree.  Well, it is a crop like corn and must pay the bills.  If we did not cut and sell our Christmas trees, the best economic option would be to subdivide Mill Hollow into a subdivision which is already happening in the area.

With Christmas trees, we maintain roughly 800 trees per acre with all of them removing global warming carbon dioxide and sequestering it as wood, needles and roots.  If you look at the subdivisions being developed, you will notice that an acre will contain at most 7 lots and probably have two or three trees each or only 14 to 21 trees per acre!

Obviously we believe that 800 growing trees per acre is more environmentally right than 21 trees per acre in the alternative development of the farm as a subdivision.

It is our customers who buy our Christmas trees who we must thank for keeping us a forested farm.  We also believe that you are the ones who deserve the carbon credit related to this operation.

You have helped the environment with a Christmas tree from Mill Hollow.  A carbon credit is the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide being reduced by our sustainable Christmas tree growing operation and adjacent forests and is conservatively calculated to be over 120 lbs per tree sold.  From Houston, the amount of carbon dioxide generated by the gasoline you will use to come to Mill Hollow is less than the amount your Christmas tree has sequestered during its growing life.  In the process, you have generated a carbon credit, helped the environment and had a very fun time!     

Do keep in mind that an artificial tree consumed oxygen and generated carbon dioxide when manufactured and was shipped to your neighborhood store.  In addition unlike a real Christmas tree, it will never convert one molecule of carbon dioxide to carbon, will never generate any oxygen and is not accepted for recycle by most Houston and probably nationwide recycling operations!

We look at our customers as being part of the solution  and not of the problem!  We thank you and also suspect Mother Earth thanks you.   

Mill Hollow Breaking News-August 1, 2007

A tree fell on the wooden bridge on our trail to Maze Hill from high winds during a Texas thunderstorm.    The fallen tree has been removed and the bridge repaired.  

June 15, 2007

We have completed our first of two yearly Christmas tree shearing of the year.  Each shearing requires me to walk around each tree with a 40 pound reciprocating blade and engine on my back.  Shearing the farm once is equivalent to walking 75 miles.  I will have roughly two months rest before I do my final shearing of the year in mid August.  Why do we shear?  This is what makes a Virginia pine and Leyland cypress into a beautiful full Christmas tree.  In addition, it is my health club!  I would sooner walk around these trees then go a gym  to lift weights and then walk or run around an indoor air conditioned track.  This is boring!  In the Christmas trees, I do not get bored and am able to take in all of the bird, animal and snake life who call the farm home on this 75 mile journey.  

Since March, we have had more than our usual amount of rain.  This has resulted in lots of Christmas tree growth and excellent survival on our newly planted seedlings.  The bad news is that this rain has also caused our grass to grow and means more mowing.  Oh well, this is better than being in a drought.  

This rain is also helping the vineyard.  The vines are loaded with small grapes which in a couple months will be big, juicy and sweet.  I am not the only one checking out the progress of the grapes.  We have noticed deer passing through the vineyard.  I suspect they are also waiting for their chance to nibble on something juicy and sweet.  Right now, I am trying to come up with a realistic method of keeping all of this fruit to myself.  I do need to make some vino!

During a walk in the woods past the maze hill a few weeks ago , we found a creeping thorn filled vine of blooming small pink roses.  We did check with an expert at the Antique Rose Emporium by Independence.  Based on our description and the fact that mill families lived in the area, he guessed that these roses were what they called the Seven Sisters.  They were very popular in the very late 1800's and early 1900's and was the time that the Oakhurst mill community was prospering.  The major question we have is whether these roses decorated someone's front yard or an old forest grave!  Obviously, we will let this mystery remain and let a "sleeping dog lie".  

Marge did get a cutting of this rose and is attempting to root it.  So far in a glass of water, it is forming the needed roots.  In another couple of weeks, we will transplant it and see if it will continue to grow.  If successful, the question remains where to plant it.  We just may put it at the flag pole where our long departed petting dog, Brandon, and petting rabbits, Babs, are buried.

Is global warming real and disastrous for the future?  Everyone has their own opinion.  However, a real Christmas tree from Mill Hollow is an easy step for your family to directionally reduce global warming.  

The consensus of the climate experts is that global warming is caused by more than normal amounts of carbon as carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere.  For twenty three years, we have been growing Christmas trees.  We also replant a Christmas tree seedling on the stump of any cut or dead tree.  

Why do real Christmas trees reduce Global Warming?  A live or real Christmas tree as it grows converts atmospheric carbon dioxide to oxygen and sequesters the removed carbon as wood, needles and roots.  In contrast, an artificial tree resulted in carbon dioxide being generated and put into the atmosphere during its manufacture and transport  from overseas.  This results in a net increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.   Unlike a real Christmas tree, a fake tree only directionally worsened and will never reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Do not burn your Christmas tree.  Even after Christmas, a real discarded Christmas tree still sequesters this carbon if not burned.  A real Christmas tree if recycled for mulch will result in soil microbes converting and sequestering most of this wood carbon into a soil nutrient.  Even a real Christmas tree to be taken with the trash to the dump would still be sequestering and eventually recycling this carbon to a future useful product.  In a landfill, the pressure, temperature and microbes would convert this wood to methane.  With current technologies, this landfill methane at many landfills would be returned to you as natural gas to heat the house and cook your meals.

Do you want to recycle your fake Christmas tree?  Interestingly, most recycling operations will not accept fake trees since many contain Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic mixed with other materials and just not possible to economically recycle.  Even in a landfill, PVC is so stable that it will take a long time , if ever, for the contained carbon to be converted to methane.      

Hopefully before this year's selling season, I will have quantified how much carbon your Christmas tree from Mill Hollow has sequestered.  As part of this effort, I will also quantify the amount of carbon dioxide generated during the manufacture and movement of a fake tree to your local Walmart.  

I believe our customers should feel good about the small things they do to help the environment.  This includes getting a real Christmas tree from Mill Hollow and helping to directionally reduce global warming. After all, it is the small things we do that determines what happens in the future.  

March 15, 2007

The books have been closed, taxes paid and most importantly the seedlings planted where a tree was cut or died.  These seedlings should turn into beautiful Christmas trees in five years or 2012!  As many of our customers noted last year, we have added a major new field for the beautiful Leyland cypress.  This and next year we will be expanding this field to make sure we have enough Leylands for not only 2012 but the years beyond.   

We have started on our yearly effort to create new fun activities for the children.  Last year it was the very popular tire rolling contest.  This year we have already completed what we call the "bug monster".  It is tires buried in the ground and looks like a huge four legged ant! This attraction is based on our observation that young children love to climb.  Instead of the prohibited climbing on the outside of the log cabin playhouse, they can climb to their hearts content on the bug monster.  

The remaining attraction yet to be built is a duck racing track!  This duck racing will be done in a water sluice with a hand pump providing the water.  The duck will be a small bathtub type duck which will float in the sluice and move with the flowing water.  Obviously, the more water you pump, the faster the water flows in the sluice and consequently the faster the rubber ducky will move!  With the rolling tires, we got many requests of children to buy the winning tire!  With the rubber ducky, we will let them do it!  I am sure the parents will be more willing to take a rubber ducky home instead of a used tire!

We have also moved the volley ball/ badminton net to a new area.  It is now along the hay ride road leading to the tree swings.  The bug monster is adjacent to it.  The reasons for this move are many.  Most importantly, we will be planting Leyland cypress Christmas trees where it was previously.  In addition, the new location will be shaded from the hot afternoon sun.  This should make for more comfortable play especially on a hot sunny day during our October Outing event.  

As is normal, the birds are back.  Marge and I sit out in the morning and evening and just take in the activities of  the variety of birds which make their spring home at Mill Hollow.  Right now, we have a lot of robins, blue birds and red cardinals and many more we do not know what they are.  In addition we have our native birds, the crows, vultures, owls, woodpeckers and hawks who make room for these migrating northern "snow birds".  

Jude, or famous petting dog is a bird dog.  He also watches over these birds and makes sure they do not get too close on the ground.  If they are on the ground and get within twenty feet, he will chase them until they fly . He apparently thinks that the only good bird is a flying bird.