TRURO - Growing Christmas trees is a science that requires a lot of time.
Retired residents Bob Gibbs and Darrell Sandeson have some extra time to spare and put their talents to use as vice-president and president, respectively, of the Cobequid Christmas Tree Producers Association.
The men said it takes a lot of time and attention to detail to grow a Christmas tree properly.
"It takes about eight to 10 years before a tree is ready for market," said Gibbs, who cuts between 700 and 1,000 Balsam firs each year for the holiday season from his lot off the Old Greenfield Road.
"We are in our lots every day. It's a retirement project for us. I retired from teaching and Darrell from the postal service."
Sandeson said the Balsam fir season is a short one. In total, the trees grow about six weeks of the year.
"From the end of May to the middle of July, that's when the trees form buds and the buds pop open to form fronds," said Sandeson, whose lot is only a short drive from Gibbs'. "Then we start shearing and shaping the trees."
When a tree is small, shearing goes pretty quickly for tree producers, however, the bigger the tree, the longer the shaping takes.
"I never use spray in my lot," said Gibbs. "And all my shaping is done mechanically. I take my shears and cut the tree off."
His work is appreciated as is evident by his second People's Choice Award at this year's Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition.
Along with growing Christmas trees, the men use the opportunity to educate the public, particularly when it comes to the use of herbicides.
While there is a safe and responsible way to use herbicides on the trees, Sandeson and Gibbs choose not to in order to protect their surroundings, including trout on Gibbs' property.
And while many people dislike Christmas tree lots because they cut down trees, the men said the practice is beneficial to the environment.
"There is always natural regeneration on a Christmas tree lot. It's like a growing garden," said Gibbs.
Along with seedlings that fall from the trees and begin to grow in the ground, trees can continue to have use once they are cut and used for the season.
"People can use the brush in their flowerbeds, or put them in the compost," Gibbs said.
"And I have people that put trees around their bird feeders in the winter," added Sandeson.
Comprised of growers, wholesalers, retailers and exporters, the association promotes the use of natural Christmas trees compared to artificial.
"Artificial trees require a lot of energy to produce and they don't last forever," said Gibbs. "They end up in the landfill and how long do they last there? You can't recycle them."
The association also believes using natural trees is a greener choice and better for the environment.
"It's all natural regeneration. We are constantly thinning the trees and there are little growths under the branches," said Sandeson.
The men said there will always be a market for natural Christmas trees, however, the numbers do fluctuate for a variety of reasons.
"My sales dropped about 10 per cent last year, but with the warmer weather, more people were going to the U-cuts. I don't think the sales are dropping in general, but it's according to weather," Sandeson said.
Another reason local sales may drop is due to outside trees coming into the market.
* When dealing with a natural Christmas tree, consider the following:
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: some people may like branches close together, while others may want more space for hanging decorations.
- Seven to eight feet is the most basic tree, however, some prefer up to 14 foot trees.
- The first thing a person should do when purchasing a tree is cut a half inch off the bottom and put it in water within 20 minutes. As soon as the tree is in a warmer climate, it seals itself off to protect from drying out too fast.
- It's best just to use basic water, without any additives.
- Don't let the water go dry.
- When buying early, store the tree in a shaded area away from sun.
- Needle retention is one of the biggest concerns about the natural Christmas tree. Trees shouldn't be cut until the last minute.
- If purchasing a tree, ask when the tree was cut.