New Year, New Season

1/4/2014 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent

Christmas Tree Growers Prep for Spring

While most people were unwrapping gifts on Christmas, for one Floyd County, Va., family, the work went on long after family members closed the family farm’s retail lots late Christmas Eve.

John Houston, who manages his family’s Sweet Providence Farm on Route 221 between the Town of Floyd and the City of Roanoke, said in a phone interview that his family decided to put off its celebration for a couple of days so it could have a less stressful and more enjoyable Christmas.

Family members used the official Christmas Day to clean up their retail lots in Roanoke and at the farm. As John Houston moves into the post-season mode, he is assessing this season, one that brought added excitement to the holiday rush at his farm. He is studying the economic results and making plans for the future.

One of Sweet Providence Farm’s Fraser firs won the state championship at the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association Convention in August in Blacksburg, Va. The honor meant the farm got to supply the Christmas tree for the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Va. Delivery came on the busiest week of the tree-selling season, so the family had to find ways to be closed for a day and take the tree to Richmond.

Houston said his parents and five siblings made the trip with him and they had a really good time once they got there, he said. The family was met by the state’s first lady, Maureen McDonnell, as well as by representatives of various state groups.

Houston praised the help the family got from folks with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services during the delivery.

Houston said the 2013 Christmas tree selling season saw sales increase slightly. Now that the season is over, the official accounting will begin to see just how much sales increased.

He said while there was a shorter selling season this year because Thanksgiving — the traditional start of family tree buying — came a week later than usual, sales were encouraging. He estimated his family sold a third of its trees the first week of the selling season, with the other two-thirds of sales being spread out during the remaining weeks before Christmas.

Two types of work will be going on during January and February. This is the time to do clean up of the farm itself, removing branches left in the field during the choose-and-cut part of the season, and repairing equipment.

Houston said it’s also the time when a lot of strategizing and planning for next season will be going on. This is important to a young farmer who aims to produce a quality product with the least possible impact on the environment.

“It’s always good to get a plan going while it’s still fresh in my mind,” he said.

The young home-schooled farmer has grown up in the Christmas tree business and recently took over the operation of the farm from his father, John Paul Houston. He is also a new member of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association and was named to its board during the August convention.

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