Trials and Tribulations of a Texas Christmas Tree Farmer


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September 5, 2012

I have started the second shearing of the year last week when we had our first "cool" front and temperatures/humidity became more bearable.  I have found that it easier to do physical tasks when you do not have to worry about heat exhaustion.  

What do I do when it is too hot to work?  Well, this is a working farm with plenty of power equipment.  Equipment does break down with use and needs to be repaired if at all possible.  

This is the other enjoyment of a Christmas tree farm.  I love the challenge of tearing equipment apart, identify the probable problem and then fixing it.  The joy is when you have completed the repairs and no parts are left over.   A greater joy occurs when the equipment again works!   Of course, I do have instances when  the equipment is just worn out , repairs will not work and replacement is necessary.

This last year, I had a flurry of repairs involving cleaning carburetors and replacing spark plugs.  Not sure why but suspect it has to do with the ethanol in the gasoline.  The good news is that these carburetor repair and a new spark plug are easy to do, cheap and will usually get the equipment running again.

The one repair I do not do is welding.  The reason is simple.  Marge is afraid I will electrocute myself with an electric welder.  So, I am limited to the ever present "duct tape" until I can convince her otherwise!       

Our red fox has again made it presence known.  This time it came up to the house when I was having my morning coffee on the porch.  Jude, our petting dog was outside with me.  I suspect the red fox came up to check out Jude.  It appeared the fox was concerned that some other red fox was infringing on it domain.  The red fox and Jude are the same color.   Well, Jude raised his head, looked and the fox did scamper back into the woods.  

Jude realistically did not see the fox but just got his smell.  He is a very, very old dog of nearly 13 years of age.  In human years, that would be approaching 91 years old.  He has slowed down considerably and will not chase anything that will run or fly away!  His hearing is going but he can still see and walk. His scenting ability is still strong and curiosity is still there.  His greatest joy is finding something smelly in the Christmas tree field, rolling in it and then coming and showing us what he found.  In old age, Jude spends his mornings sitting on the porch and is an excited puppy when it is time to take our evening walk.   The rest of the day is spent just being an old lazy dog in the air conditioned house guarding his toys.

We still have not decided whether Jude will spend the selling season out in the caged kennel or in the house guarding the cash registers!!  Realistically, it will be dependent on the weather.  Jude loves kids , loves being petted and needs to let other critters know this is his place!  Therefore, he will probably split his time in both places.           

June 16, 2012

First shearing is still underway but the end is in sight!!  I have roughly 10 hours or twenty miles more of  carrying the 40 pound shearing machine and  shaping the Christmas trees. This means I have already walked 55 miles in the last three weeks with the shearing machine on my back.  (Reminder to self, I need to put a new notch in my belt to keep my pants up)

Do I enjoy this?  The answer is "yes".  It gets me up early in the morning, it gives me plenty of exercise and most important of all it makes me feel like I have accomplished something.  I am not one who can sleep late, just sit around, play golf or watch boring TV!    

When I am not shearing, Marge and I are also spending a lot of time on the tractor.  The grass continues to grow with the rains we are getting.  Considering last year's drought, I have no complaints.  The smell of fresh mowed grass really brings back memories of growing up in a farming community.  

I suspect our pig problem reported two months ago is  gone for this year.  As you may recall, the wild hogs were testing our perimeter electric fence.  Some were getting through.    I did go to the routine of setting off firecrackers after dark when the pigs tend to move.  This worked except for one mother pig, who I suspect was deaf ,but did respect the electric fence.  She would feed adjacent and outside of the electric fence but would send her piglets under to feed in the Christmas tree field.  Well, the coyotes came and took care of this problem!  It is really interesting how Mother Nature will solve some problems if you just wait.  

We are missing our huge six foot long,  thick as your arm,  tree climbing , non-poisonous  and black pine snake!  The last time I saw it was last fall.   (Its shedded skin was used on our hay wagon snake talk)   Considering its huge size, I doubt if any of the local vultures or hawks would have attempted to have it for lunch.  Now, one of our nearby eagles probably would  but they do not routinely fly over the farm.  This snake has been around for many years.  I suspect it just died of old age.  With this pine snake no longer patrolling our Christmas tree fields, barn and under the house, we are now seeing rabbits, squirrels and lots of nesting birds!

I did notice in the last week a small pine snake in the field.  I suspect over time, it will also drive these small critters back off our hill and put everything back into balance.  I am sure one or more would question why I do not kill these rat snakes.  Well, they are not poisonous and do avoid human contact.  More importantly, they do eat the food source and keep the poisonous rattle, copperhead and water mocassin snakes away from the Christmas tree fields.  I sooner would have my "heart jump into my throat" by accidentally coming across this rat snake rather then to the rattle of a rattlesnake!       

April 10, 2012

The spring rains continue!!  So much for the forecasters who predicted another year of severe drought for East Texas. As I always said, it is hard to believe weather forecasts many months into the future when they have problems getting the one for next week in the ball park.  

With the Christmas trees and especially the grass growing, mowing is the priority and does take its toll on our swirling blade mower.  I am a little behind the mowing since last week with a bang and tractor shaking shiver, the mower died!!  The damage is not repairable consider the cost, the age of the mower and the condition of the mower.  The acidic soil for growing Christmas trees does erode the deck.  Something I found out many years ago, sometimes it is less frustrating and easier to just go buy another mower and place this one in the equipment graveyard.  One of these days, I need to get this broken equipment to a recycling yard while the price of scrap steel is unbelievably high.    

I did take a recent short seven day break from the Christmas trees.  It was not because I was tired but orders from my doctor.  I had a blood clot in the leg and spent seven days  flat on my back in the hospital getting it dissolved.  With no pain or discomfort, it was more or less a journey in trying to find something on the TV to occupy my time.  Even with a "zillion" channels, TV is still a wasteland.  As I have known for a long time, there is nothing which beats sitting outside at the farm with a strong cup of coffee and taking in the birds, critters and even the snakes.  This beats reality TV! 

I did spend a week or so recuperating my leg before returning to the farm and doing something I really enjoy-working.   The only after effects of this blood clot is my taking Warfarin to keep my blood thin and flowing.  The name Warfarin may sound familiar to those who grew up in the 50's in farming country and had to deal with rats.  

Warfarin was developed by some professors at the University of Wisconsin to kill rats.  Before Warfarin, the poisons available would kill rats but many would end up the walls to die.  A dead rat really stinks!  Apparently, this poison thinned out the rat blood, made them thirsty and forced them to go outside for water and hopefully die outside.   As you can guess, Warfarin was widely accepted.   

Every spring, we have wild hogs who test our electric fence.  A couple of wild hogs can in one night kill a hundred or so Christmas trees by rooting around their base and eating the roots.  From another Christmas tree grower who had problems with hogs, I found out that a snoot high electric fence may help.  They could just walk through the electric fence but something about the voltage spark which causes many of them to stop, reconsider and hopefully go somewhere else.  

The problem this year is we have one or two hogs which either ignore the fence or found a way around it.  The fence does not completely encircle the Christmas tree field.  If a pig gets in, we do want it to have a way to get out!!!   I have extended the fence to cross a gully which appears to be the path of one of the pig incursions.  In addition, I have set off firecrackers at night to scare them away.  Time will tell if this works.  

I keep getting asked about hunting these hogs.  Well, they come out well after dark and retreat back to their safe area before the sun comes up.  In addition, I have been told that they have a five mile range of travel.  They could come one night and maybe the next but also could come back weeks later.  However one trait I have noticed about these hogs, they are smart, very smart!!  If a pig trap catches one, the rest will avoid it no matter how much corn is put into it.  I am hoping the same happens with the electric fence.  Hopefully, the one which gets zapped will pass the word that the Christmas tree fields need to be avoided.        

February 1, 2012

The selling season is over. The fields have been cleaned. The Virginia pine seedlings have been planted.  The Leyland cypress seedlings are being acclimated and will be planted  in the next week or two.  

Most important of all, the winter rains have arrived and contrary to the long term forecast of some "experts" in the field.  This confirms my suspicion that if state of the art weather forecasting has problems predicting next week's weather, they definitely can not predict with any certainty next months, next summer or next fall's weather!  Being an engineer and familiar with the number of fluid flow factors affecting the world's weather, this does not surprise me.   (The comment I like is that the fluttering of a butterfly in Mexico can affect the world's weather.)   I suspect some of the "experts" do not have a statistically sound mathematical method of forecasting but only extrapolate what is happening now will also happen tomorrow, next month or even next year.  When you think about it, they have a 50/50 chance of being right!  This is the same as if you tossed a coin.

How long will you be growing Christmas trees?  This is one of those questions I get frequently get.  I suspect this question if probably generated by my white hair, being retired from my real job, obviously growing older each year and just plain curiosity.  The response I give is this farm will continue as long as I have fun, the customers continue to be great and the children enjoy what we do.  It is Marge and my way to give back to the community something they may be missing.  I also helps that I enjoy the physical labor and mental relaxation provide by this beautiful scenic farm.  The question I always ask my elf is what would I be doing if I did not do Christmas trees?  So far, none of the alternatives are what I like doing!