The real deal
Demand for real Christmas trees has never been stronger, says long-time Iowa Christmas tree grower.
After 30 years in the business, the people keep coming to Harmony Christmas Tree Farm near Stuart.
Live Christmas trees are more popular than ever. Business is good.
“Last year was unreal,” says Janet Bassett. Janet, along with her husband, Marvin, own and operate the tree farm. “In the three days after Thanksgiving, we sold 134 trees. For our small 4-acre farm, that’s just a tremendous amount.” In an average year, Harmony Christmas Tree Farm sells 225 trees across the entire holiday season.
Business was so good, it was an inspiration.
Getting older and facing health issues, the Bassetts had all but decided to call it quits. They had stopped planting trees, choosing instead to sell what trees they had while they could as they phased out the business.
But after last year’s rush, Marvin planted 275 new trees.
“We lost a few to the drought, and the rest won’t be grown for 10 to 12 years,” says Janet.
This year, the Bassetts will be open and ready for business the day after Thanksgiving, but trees will be limited. They will add to their own limited supply with trees from other suppliers, as much as they are available.
“We’d like to have even more,” says Janet. “But our sources are also facing shortages.” One Iowa grower lost several trees to deer, and out-of-state trees are nearly impossible to obtain. “We’ve heard the same thing from people around the country. For whatever reason, trees are just not crossing state lines.”
Marvin and Janet Bassett married and began farming in 1960.
They planted their first Christmas trees in the late 1980s. In 1995 they sold a handful of trees. Business has expanded each year since.
The Bassetts have seen changes.
Originally, people wanted Scotch Pines, with their long, soft needles. Now they want short-needled Fraser Firs.
“But Frasers are hard to grow here,” says Janet, “so we offer Canaan Firs, a cross between Frasers and Balsam Fir.”
Harmony Christmas Tree Farm also offers Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, Scotch Pine and White Pine.
“We’re almost out of the White Pine,” says Janet. “They have long needles and thin branches and require special handling. The people who want them have to know how to handle and decorate them.”
The trees at Harmony often come with handling advice.
“For one thing, all trees should be watered with hot water. It keeps the trees fresher,” says Janet.
Harmony allows customers to participate as much as they like in the tree selection and gathering process. Some choose to cut their own; others choose their tree for the Bassetts to cut and haul from the grove.
Some come early to select and mark their tree, returning after Thanksgiving to collect it. Others have last minute family outing traditions.
“One Christmas Day a van pulled in and 13 people of all ages and generations got out,” tells Janet. “Putting their tree up on Christmas was part of their family tradition. Others bring theirs into the home on Christmas Eve. Different families and different nationalities have different traditions.”
Wreaths and greenery are part of the holiday offering. Janet starts picking up trinkets on sale to incorporate into the decorations shortly after the holidays and spends many fall hours making bows.
Like trees, Janet warns greenery will be in short supply this year.
Along with the greens, customers can purchase Janet’s homemade jams and jellies, made from fruits grown on the farm.
Harmony Christmas Tree Farm is a family affair, with most of Marvin and Janet’s grown children and grandchildren helping with tree sales and wreath making. Even the littlest ones hand out candy canes.
But even with daughter Jodi and her husband, Larry, living just down the hill with their farm part of the tree operation, no one is really prepared to take over when Marvin and Janet retire.
It’s an industry wide problem.
“We’ve started to see a few new growers come up in the past three, four years,” says Janet. But they are rare.
Experienced growers like the Bassetts are glad to offer guidance and advice when they can to help the younger folks get their start.
Meanwhile, Harmony Christmas Tree Farm will keep selling what trees and greens they can to satisfy as many customers as possible.
“We’re here,” says Janet, “and we’ll be selling as long as supplies last. This is definitely the year to shop early.”
Updates on sales can be found on their Facebook page: Harmony Christmas Tree Farm.
Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.
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