BISMARCK – Christmas Day means closing up shop until next November for McAlpine Christmas Tree Farm.
The farm is only open to the public between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, but that doesn’t mean owners Harold and Bobbie McAlpine don’t stay busy the rest of the year.
Owners of the Christmas tree farm said the trees take about six years to grow.
“You spend more time, more money every year for six years before you get paid,” Harold McAlpine said of starting the tree farm. “And that makes it an interesting proposition to tackle.”
Selling around 1,500 trees a year, Harold McAlpine said he plants around the same number of trees each year. Although about 40 years ago when the couple started the farm, they planted about 10,000 trees, Bobbie McAlpine said.
“We bought this land specifically for Christmas trees just over 40 years ago,” said Harold McAlpine.
With a background in forestry and agriculture, Harold McApline knew starting a Christmas tree farm wouldn’t be an easy task, but decided to do it anyway.
“I am a forester with agricultural experience,” he said. “And both help deal with it because you have to understand trees and tree-related issues, but it’s as much an agricultural situation as it is a forestry situation.”
The State Office of Cooperative Extension at the University of Arkansas “at the time, in the early 1980s, was promoting Christmas tree growing as a potential activity for people”, he added. “Maybe he over-promoted it. A lot of people tried it and didn’t do a proper research job and basically failed for one reason or another. Either we weren’t as smart as those, either we were just stubborn. We stuck with it.”
Although the farm is only open between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, that doesn’t mean the couple aren’t working hard on their product year-round.
“You work all year to sell your crop, as most farmers do, at harvest time, and our harvest time happens to be holiday-based,” he said.
Six years of growing trees isn’t enough to get trees ready for sale, said Harold McAlpine.
“We plant trees in early winter or early spring, and then you control weeds, control insects, control fungal diseases all year round,” he said. “The trees that we sell, most of them are pruned twice a year, so a six-year-old tree that we sell has been pruned 10 times to give it the appearance.”
Harold and Bobbie McAlpine also manage and operate timberlands, he said. However, they still make time for traveling and other things as well, as they are “somewhat retired”, he said. The owners hire local high school students on a part-time basis when it’s time to harvest trees.
“A lot of them, it’s their first job,” said Harold McAlpine. “We are quite selective, and fortunately we are in an area with children from a good rural background who have skills other than with their smartphones and the willingness to go out and work because it is physical work. “
There are pros and cons to having a real Christmas tree, of course, but Harold McAlpine said he tells people, “Real trees are for real people (and) plastic trees are for people. plastic people.”
“You have the experience of taking your family and kids out to get a tree to start with, rather than pulling something out of a box that comes from China or the attic,” he said. “You have the smell of it which is important to a lot of people.”
The farm has even served several generations of families over the years, Bobbie McAlpine said.
“We’ve had people coming for over 30 years, and, you know, grandma is coming, now the kids are coming, now the grandkids are coming,” she said.
Although some would say cutting down a Christmas tree is part of the customer experience, McAlpine Christmas Tree Farm serves many customers of varying ability levels and will cut trees for those who need help or even those who don’t want to. not cut down their own tree, says Harold McAlpine.
“We try to make it our business to cater to people’s abilities and desires,” he said.