Trials and Tribulations of a Texas Christmas Tree Farmer


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Mill Hollow Breaking News-December 1, 2006

Mark and Elizabeth became engaged at the romantic Mill Hollow's Engagement Tree after dark on the Moonlight Adventure night of Friday, December 1.  

December 1, 2006

Take a crisp, starry moonlit night, a romantic young man, his special girl, and a Christmas tree.  The scene was set for a very unique and romantic marriage proposal.  

The plan was hatched back in August when Mark visited Mill Hollow Christmas Tree Farm.  Since his girlfriend, Elizabeth, loved the Christmas season, he figured what better place to propose then in a Christmas tree field next to a glowing tree.  It took place during Mill Hollow's annual Moonlight Adventure on Friday, December 1.

The couple ventured into the dark Christmas tree field armed with only a flashlight.  As they strolled near the designated tree, it suddenly lit up, Mark went down on his knee and proposed.  Did she accept?  You bet she did!  The wedding is set for December 1, 2007. 

Engagement Tree

Mill Hollow Breaking News-November 15, 2006

A Tire Rolling Contest area for the children has been set up, tested during the October Outing  and proved to be very popular.  The rules are simple.  You must yell "Tire Rolling", not touch the tire after the red line and must return the tire to the start line.  The tire which rolls the farthest is the winner.  The winning tire during the October Outing was sent on its way by a four year old girl!      

October 21, 2006

The eighteenth  "Mill Hollow Annual Invitational Down Hill Tire Rolling Contest" was again held the first day on the first weekend of the October Outing.  Justin or I did not win.  Alice, a friend of Justin, and a student at Texas A&M whipped both of us!  She won the distance on two of the three rolls.  This was even with Justin's special low profile, slick tire and my diligent practicing to find the best line down the hill.  What is really worse for Justin and I, this is Alice's second year in a row to win the contest.  It must be the theoretical analysis class on tire rolling at Texas A&M she is rumored to have taken. As Justin and I said as we left the Tire Rolling Hill Side, wait until next year Alice! 

Rebal is still alive and in a pasture with other "over the hill" horses.  As you may recall, last year she lost weight due to her very old age.  She has put on weight but is still underweight and not able to give children horse rides.  We continue to hope to have her come out of retirement for one more season of a "farewell ride" for the children  but it does not appear likely.  We will keep you informed on her status.   

Mill Hollow Breaking News-October 1, 2006

Mill Hollow has not experienced the drought affecting other parts of Texas.

The normal fall rains have occurred making this one of the best years ever for growing Christmas trees at Mill Hollow.  In the last two weeks, four rains have occurred .  These showers resulted in 4-5 inches of rain which nearly all soaked into the ground.  

These fall rains are a continuation of the showers seen at Mill Hollow throughout the summer.  Nearly all of the seedlings planted in January survived.  The growing Christmas trees are also looking great with very minimal losses.  This appears to be the best year since we started in 1983 for growing Christmas trees.  With rain, it is most effective when it comes at the right time and the right amount.    Too little rain or infrequent rain will cause seedlings and trees to die.  Excessive rain or too frequent rains will also cause seedlings and trees to die because of "wet feet".   

Mill Hollow Breaking News-August 15, 2006

Some two legged and four legged critters have absconded with this year's bumper crop of sweet muscadine grapes.  The critters are believed to be the local crows and possibly one or more of the newly arrived deer herd.  These critters got past the flashing shiny disks rumored to keep critters away and also penetrated the protective bird netting over the vines.  

It is believed that the crows used the protective bird nets as perches to get to the berries immediately below the net from the split and discarding the grape skins caught in the net and on the ground.  Based on nearby excretions containing grape skins, it appears the deer reached up into the grapes below the net and out of reach of the crows!  

As estimated one quart of berries has been salvaged out of an estimated ten to twenty gallons of grapes originally on the vines.   Obviously, no wine is to be made again this year!  

However, Mill Hollow's wild life population is fat and happy. 

Mill Hollow Breaking News-August 1, 2006

Mill Hollow has completed the repair of damage and removal of the downed trees and branches from last year's Hurricane Rita in the Christmas tree fields and play areas.  The last load of oak was split , removed and stacked.    

The only remaining evidence of Hurricane Rita are are few 12 to 16 foot Christmas trees leaning from the 120 mph winds.  These will be converted into fresh Texas Christmas tree wreaths during our upcoming selling season.  

July 15, 2006

We are seeing a change in the wild animal population around the farm.  The vultures have left and are around Lake Livingston.  Suspect this is related to the low lake level and the availability of dead fish.  They do still come by to check out the fields but have not nested in the area this year.  

With the vultures gone, we have now three hawks making their home in the big trees at the east side of the Christmas tree fields.  Unlike the vultures who prefer dead and rotting animals, these hawks are hunters and very good at it.  I have seen them several times flying over with their captured and still living prey in their talons.  I have no problems when they are making lunch of a rat, rabbit or squirrel.  However, twice now I have seen them fly low over me with  wiggling snakes! The thought does pass on how many times do they drop a snake in flight?   It is interesting to note that we have not yet seen a snake this year in or near the Christmas tree fields.    

These hawks also appear to be very territorial or do not like or noisy crows.  One morning, the hawks and crows had a very vocal  and loud disagreement in the open area near to the tree swing.  I do not know who won this argument but did find a lot of crow feathers in the area.  Also, I have noticed that the crows are staying close to the big perimeter trees and away from their normal stomping ground of the flag pole, picnic area and Christmas tree fields!

It appears that the feral hogs, domestic pigs gone wild, have moved on.  When they came many years ago, we stopped seeing deer.  These feral hogs are noisy, kill the underbrush needed by deer for food and protection and nearly impossible to get rid of.  

We now are routinely seeing deer with the hogs gone.  A family of deer, two does and a six point buck, are now  routinely feeding in the Christmas tree fields.  They come out of the woods nearly every morning and night and spend a half hour or so munching on the grass between the Christmas trees.  

I am sure someone will ask if they can set up a deer stand.  The answer is "no"!  I am not against hunting but do not want to explain to some six year old customer why a hunter is carrying out a dead deer from the woods.  I would rather explain to this six year old customer why we let snakes live!  

Rebal the quarter horse is still relaxing and enjoying retirement with the other over the hill horses.   Jude, the petting dog, is getting older, sleeping more and tossing the can less!

The Christmas trees are looking really good with the rains we have received over the last several months.  Mill Hollow, unlike most of Texas, has received it normal rains and definitely is not under drought conditions!  If anything, I have spent more time on the tractor mowing grass than I have in most other years.  

The major concern we have is if we have another hurricane.  Having seen the damaged caused by hurricanes Alicia (passed sixty miles to the west around 1984)) and Rita (passed sixty miles to the east in 2005),  we are hoping not to have another hurricane in the area this year and maybe not for many more years!  

We do not have to worry about hurricane storm surge being 100 hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico.  However, these hurricane winds and accompanying tornados can snap huge old oaks and old growth pine even 100 miles inland.  Nearly a year after hurricane Rita, I am still cleaning up the fallen trees and branches!

I am still amazed on how our local political officials can not understand why people will evacuate when they are outside the storm surge area.  Maybe the next time we have a hurricane, they should stay and not evacuate.  We stayed during hurricane Alicia in our house in Cypress.  It is surrounded by huge pines and oaks. We will never do that again.  The sound of a wind induced creaking house accentuated with the loud snap and then roar of falling trees convinced me that Mother Nature is all powerful.   When "She expresses her fury", I leave.

Yes, I will get out of a hurricanes path, even if this means sitting on the freeway jammed with evacuating cars.  Being in the army, I did learn that retreating to live and fight another day can be the smart thing to do!   

April 19, 2006

As you can see from our breaking news, we have another critter who has taken up residence at Mill Hollow Christmas Tree Farm.  As you can probably guess, our philosophy with these critters (except for the wild hogs) is to "live and let live". It does make for a very relaxing morning when we are sitting out on the porch, drinking our morning coffee and see these critters whether a woodpecker, deer or a turkey off doing their thing.  

We are waiting to see what happens when our petting dog Jude comes across this turkey.  Jude is a golden retriever and consequently is very interested in birds.  It is obvious that he believes all birds should be flying and will chase them until they do!  Unlike the other birds at the farm, this turkey is big and really impressive when it spreads it wings if threatened!  It will not necessarily run unlike the other birds at the farm.  

We did have an amusing event a few weeks ago with Jude and his determination to keep all birds in the air over the Christmas tree fields.  On this day, the vultures were playing with him.  They would swope low until he came out and chased them away.  Well, we had a very low flying airplane come over the farm.  Jude took one look and bounded off and  chased this plane all the way across the field.  Jude was very proud when he came back as if to confirm that this huge noisy bird did not land in the field.

We are slowly cleaning up the damage from last year's Hurricane Rita.  The old oak tree snapped in the east field has been cut up.   The question remains what to do with all of this wood.  For some history, this oak tree based on ring count was approximately 150 years old and four feet in diameter when it was snapped by Hurricane Rita approximately five feet above the ground.  The wood is very dense and heavy.  Even by cutting up the chunks into one foot slices, I was unable to easily move them because of the weight.  With the tree being in the middle of a Christmas tree field, it also was not possible to bring in heavy equipment to take these chunks out without taking out a major portion of the field.  Therefore, the only workable option was to split the slices and take it out as chunks.  

I have in the past used an ax to split wood and know the effort required.  With this huge oak tree and also the major snapped branch from the tree swing to deal with, I decided that manually splitting this amount of dense wood was just too much exercise!  So, my Christmas present from Marge last Christmas was a real gasoline powered wood splitter!  It really works great and gives you the feeling of "power".  More importantly, Marge even loves operating the controls to split the wood.  It is something about the sound and smell of fresh oak being split.

I am debating  on making some of this oak available for our customers as fire wood this year at a very reasonable price.  I suspect a fire in the fireplace when putting up a real Christmas tree may be a perfect match.  All I have to do is figure out some way to package the oak chunks so it can be easily handled by our workers and also by our customers.   We will not deliver firewood.  We are in the Christmas tree business and not the firewood business.  My thoughts are if any of our customers want to take home a few chunks of firewood with their Christmas, we will have it available.

For those keeping track of our horse, Rebal, she is still enjoying retirement with the other over the hill horses in her pasture.  Her weight is a little better but still has ribs showing.  We are hoping the green grass of spring will continue to allow her to put on weight to get her over this next winter.   

Mill Hollow Breaking News  -  April 15, 2006

A turkey has taken up residence in Mill Hollow's Christmas tree fields.

 It does magically materialize when it hears the tractor and will come within eight feet of it.  It does not like it when the driver gets off of the tractor and retreats and in some cases will even hide in the adjacent woods until the human threat is back on the tractor.  This could be a wild turkey since they were released in East Texas twenty years ago.  Alternatively, this could be a turkey which escaped being the centerpiece for Thanksgiving!   Regardless, it appears to be quite comfortable living in the Christmas tree fields with plenty of seeds and grass and protected from possible predators by the electric fence used to keep the wild pigs out.  

Mill Hollow Breaking New  -  February 1, 2006

The neighborhood woodpecker who has been slowly pecking away at the siding on the house for many years  ended up in the wood burning stove.  This was a very lucky woodpecker.  The stove was not fired.  The lost woodpecker was found by the racket it was making.  When the stove door was opening, it immediately flew to an open window.  At the window with safety a step away, it did take its time to perch on the window sill, look around and in its own way say thank you for finding me.     

This woodpecker still continues to routinely comes by each morning around 8:30 AM for breakfast from our pine siding on the house but does stay clear of the chimney  vent.

February 1, 2006

Marge and I are taking the time now to reflect on what went great this last selling season and what new should we add for next year.  The one major change you will notice is that we are telling customers and potential customers about our very scenic farm.   Sometimes one is so close to something that you do not realize what you have!  

Emergency planning is another area we will focus on in future years especially in training our workers.  As some of you may know, the Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend we had extremely high winds from the Southeast.  These winds were pushing a forest fire approximately two miles from our farm and more importantly towards our farm!  As many of you may know, Hurricane Rita and its 117 MPH winds not only snapped trees but also loaded up the forest floor with broken branches and pine needles.  The last major rain we had was also three months earlier also from Hurricane Rita.  The East Texas forests were a tinder box.  

The Texas Forest Service and several of the area fire departments were deployed on Felix Currie Road between the fire and our farm in an attempt to stop it there.  If it jumped this road, we would have evacuated the farm since there was nothing between this road and our farm but two miles of fuel loaded forests.  Realistically, the next fire defense perimeter would have been the southern edge of our Christmas tree fields!  We did have a member of the fire department at the farm monitoring the progress of the fire fighting and would have given us the evacuation order if needed.  The fire was held at the road.  

You may wonder why we have a bell by the covered hay stack.  Well, this is our warning alarm to get everyone's attention.  If evacuation was necessary, we would have used it .   This is why I try to keep the bell rope tied off high and out of reach of the children and even some adults.  

We have completed our yearly task of replanting Christmas trees which died or were cut for a family's Christmas tree.  This year, we have expanded our planting of the much demanded Leyland cypress into the volleyball, badminton and tricycle area by the tree swings.  Based on the experimental planting in this area last year, this black clay gumbo appears to be ideal for Leyland cypress.  

Now all we have to do is find somewhere to put the displaced volleyball and badminton court and also the tricycles.  Tentatively we will still keep the volleyball and badminton court near to the tree swing since many families members are taking in a game while others are enjoying a relaxing swing.  The major problem is that we do not have a flat area but will have to place it on a slight hill.  If room permits, we will probably also keep the tricycles in the same area.  If too congested, the tricycles may end up at the Maze Hill.  

We have cut a new trial from the wooden bridge to Maze Hill.  It is longer than the current trail but more scenic.  Our rational for this new trail is our customers would not mind taking a different way back from Maze Hill than the one that brought them there.  

I am still contemplating putting in a tire rolling competition area.  As many of you know, tire rolling has been done on an informal basis at Mill Hollow since the late 1980's.  The nice aspect about a tire rolling contest is that a four year old has an equal chance of winning as his 40 year old dad or 60 year old grandmother!  My major problem with this activity is on educating the children on how to do it and more importantly you must bring your tire back up the hill!  I do have several sites including the one between the house and the port-a-potties for this activity.  Obviously, we have accumulated many tires over the years so this will not be a problem.  The major task is preparing the signage and also marking the winning tire for others to envy and attempt to beat.

Rebal the Quarter horse is doing quite well in her retirement.  She has not put on much weight but is definitely enjoying herself with the other "over the hill " horses.  Because of her age, we will not be bringing her back.  As many of you asked, we also will not be getting another horse.  It would be nearly impossible to find another loving and gentle old horse like Rebal.   We will let Jude, the petting dog, take over keeping the children happy.   He is very good at it.