WILTON — Despite the unseasonably warm weather and lack of snow this fall, families intent on cutting their own Christmas tree are keeping tree farmers such as Sandy Emerson in business.
A retired law enforcement officer of 35 years, Emerson owns and operates Mystic Valley Christmas Tree Farm at 1409 U.S. Route 2 West in the village of East Dixfield.
He’s been buying balsam fir seedlings from Western Maine Nurseries in Fryeburg, growing the trees for 12 to 13 years, and selling them for the past three years.
“It takes about 10 years of growing before the trees get big enough to sell,” Emerson said Friday.
“We’ve had a couple of good seasons and so far this season, we’ve been doing pretty well.”
“With the economy and all, I’m a little surprised that this year has been actually pretty good and I’m hoping that we have a good rest of the year,” he said.
People began seeking cut-your-own trees at his farm the day after Thanksgiving.
“We had a very good weekend last weekend,” Emerson said.
“It was warm and we had a lot of people, but I think cooler weather actually tends to put people in the mood, and also a little snow.”
A storm dumped 8 to 12 inches of snow on Western Maine the day before Thanksgiving, which helped set the mood. However, temperatures soared into the high 50s to low 60s for a few days and melted the snow.
Still, Emerson is optimistic that this year will be a boon. He’s got about 1,700 trees available for the season on 3 to 4 acres.
“I don’t have that much land, I’m actually a small grower,” he said. “I’m too small to do wholesale work, but I like to stay small.
“Actually, I enjoy doing this as a service to my neighbors, especially the younger ones, because the kids are a hoot,” he said.
“We just love to see the kids come, with the parents and the dogs and the grandparents, and they come in here and they have a pretty good time,” he said.
Shortly after he said that, in drove Jason Young of Rumford with Denise Kidder of Dixfield and her 11-year-old son Cameron Kidder. Cameron said he came to cut a Christmas tree for the family.
Emerson took them to his display of saws to use, from which Cameron picked a pruning saw for branch cutting and a bow saw for the tree trunk itself.
Denise Kidder told Emerson they were looking for a 7-foot-tall tree, and Emerson sent them off into a large lot behind the gift shop where he makes and sells his woodcrafts.
On a much larger cut-your-own Christmas tree farm, Howell and Linda McClure own and operate McClure’s Tree Nursery on Route 142 in Kingfield. They’ve been growing and selling Christmas trees since 1970.
Like Emerson, Linda McClure said business is starting out good after a great growing season.
“The growing season was wonderful and our trees are beautiful, too,” she said.
They sell precut and cut-your-own balsam fir, Fraser fir, blue spruce and white pine.
Howell McClure said they have about 20 acres with about 1,000 trees per acre and trees up to 20 feet tall. They sell softwood trees for landscaping prior to the Christmas tree season, during which they also sell Christmas wreaths that their grandsons make.
“It’s been actually good this year,” Howell McClure said of the growing season. “We need lots of rain and we’ve had that I guess.”
Christmas tree sales started the day after Thanksgiving.
“The Christmas tree season was good last year, but the landscape trees business wasn’t as good, but then that goes with the building season and if they’re not building, people don’t need trees around their houses,” he said.
Emerson is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the McClure farm is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., although Howell said he doesn’t let people cut trees after dark for safety reasons.
For a listing of other area Christmas tree farms, visit the Maine Christmas Tree Association website at www.mainechristmastree.com/.