Monday, December 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> Perfect Christmas tree

Leader staff writer

The holidays are about bringing family together and nothing does that better than a tradition painstakingly and lovingly kept despite whatever obstacles lie in the way.

My parents and I usually drive out to Geisler’s Holiday Forest at 8917 Dorsey Road in north Pulaski County the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Walking up the hill at the back of the three-acre lot probably helps burn some, but certainly not all, of the calories from that glorious feast we had a few days before.

We typically spend two hours or more searching for our perfect Christmas tree. My boyfriend has tagged along for several years now.

Most of us grab a Styro-foam cup of the farm’s free hot spiced tea and candy canes for the trek.

Although it wasn’t there when we went this year, we usually hitch a hayride on a trailer that is attached to the Geisler’s small diesel tractor. When I was younger, that was a treat to celebrate finding our tree.

This year, my dad is working every weekend at a part-time job with 18-hour shifts He’s trying to get his foot in the door that will lead to a new and better career.

The farm is open only from 9 a.m. to dark on Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to dark on Sundays through Dec. 16.

My mom, boyfriend and I went last Saturday to pick out our tree, but we didn’t cut it down.

Jim Geisler, the owner of the farm, agreed to meet us on Monday, my dad’s day off. We didn’t want to leave him out of the tradition.

Although everything didn’t go according to plan, it sure felt the same being together to take turns sawing at the trunk of our one-of-a-kind tree. We even say “timber” as it comes down.

And we aren’t the only ones who enjoy this experience every year.

Geisler said, “We hear a lot about family traditions. We’ve had families come out since we started in ’84.”

He and his wife, Ella, bought the farm from John and Becky Rissinger that year.

The Rissingers planted the first trees at the farm in 1976, establishing the first Christmas tree farm in the county.

Jim Geisler said, “It was wall-to-wall trees. We had way more trees than we had customers.”

For the first six years, the Geislers sold trees wholesale to commercial lots while they built up a customer base for choose and cut, Jim Geisler said.

He said they haven’t done anything but choose and cut for the past 15 years.
Geisler said people should buy real trees from farms like his because they are unique.

“The main thing is the aroma that you get from fresh tree for three, four or five weeks.
 Wonderful aroma. Each tree species has its own aroma. Each tree is different. None are alike. They didn’t come out of a cookie cutter,” he said.

Geisler retired in 1995. He was a forestry expert at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, which offers research-based education programs and publications in a variety of areas.

Geisler said, “I had worked with a lot of Christmas tree growers and I like to stay busy. And that’s one way to stay busy, farming a Christmas tree farm. It’s lots of work. That’s a universal agreement among the owners of Christmas tree farms.”

The 72-year-old makes 17 trips on foot or by vehicle to each tree every year to fertilize, control weeds, control insects, control fungus, shear, stake and prune them. The sheering is done in April and August.

Geisler said that when he first took over the farm a small machete-like knife was used to sheer the trees.

Soon a sheering machine was invented and he bought one.

The machine still has a drawback, Geisler said. That drawback is hauling a 139-pound machine to the trees in 100-plus degree weather.

Geisler does most of the work on the farm. “It gives me something to do, keeps up my health,” he said.

But his family helps out. His wife does some of the mowing. His grandson, daughters and son-in-law also lend a hand with various tasks.

Geisler hires neighborhood teenagers to shake and net the trees during the brief sales season.

But planting is something the farmer must do on his own.

His farm has seven varieties of trees — two types of Leyland Cypress, Carolina Sapphire Cypress, Blue Ice Cypress, Arizona Cypress, Virginia Pine, Eastern White Pine and native Eastern Redcedar.

Geisler said, “I absolutely insist on planting, putting soil around the seed.” He said that is when something is most likely to go wrong.

He couldn’t estimate the average number he plants annually, but said he has to replace everything that is cut and then some to account for mortality. The farmer said sometimes trees die for unknown reasons and there isn’t a way to prevent that from happening.

There are about 907 trees for every acre of land, Geisler said. And that means the farm has a total of 2,721 trees.

Geisler said he sells about 200 on the weekends.

The trees are on rotations. The trees that are being sold now were planted six or seven years ago.

Geisler finished all of the planting in February.

He planted 400 White Pines and all of them died. Geisler explained, “Mother’s nature’s drought destroyed them.”

This year’s trees would have been eight or nine inches taller if there hadn’t been a drought, Geisler said.

The real hurt will come in seven years because he is behind a whole year on planting.

“There’s going to be a bunch of ‘em missing then,” Geisler said.