International visitors learn Christmas tree-growing tips from Mount Airy farmers – Frederick News Post (subscription)
MOUNT AIRY — Czech Republic foresters ended a 2 1/2-hour visit to Gaver Farm in Mount Airy pleased with the knowledge gleaned from Christmas tree farmers Mike and Lisa Gaver. They plan to use the information to operate a Christmas tree business at home.
Jindra Cekan, who is turning part of her 1,250-acre forest into a Christmas tree enterprise, reached out to the Gavers for some expert tips. Cekan and forester Stanislav Kopecky and his wife, Marie Kopecky, toured the Gavers’ 160-acre diversified farm, of which 150 acres are devoted to eight Christmas tree varieties. They visited the farm Thursday.
The visitors wanted to learn what sells, U.S. cultural practices and what it takes to grow trees from start to finish. The Gavers did not mind sharing their knowledge garnered from more than 30 years growing Christmas trees.
The visitors learned that Christmas trees have better survivability with a developed root system; that trees need to be sheared to create a cylinder-shape, which Americans prefer; and the trees take an average of 10 years to grow.
The Gavers’ customers generally want to cut their own trees, so carts and saws are provided. A machine shakes old needles from the trees, a baler wraps the trees, and holes are bored to accommodate tree stands.
During bad weather, trees are cut the same day for the customers, and the first two weeks in December are the busiest time for Gaver Farm.
“We don’t wholesale any of our trees,” Lisa Gaver said. “We only sell directly to the customer.” The Gavers also sell six different sizes of wreaths and swags and centerpieces for holiday decoration.
“Our customers want full-service, and that’s what we provide,” Lisa Gaver said.
Weather often affects how well the trees do, but Gaver Farm has lost only one entire crop over 30 years due to drought. This year has been an excellent growing season, Mike Gaver said. But good weather comes with weeds, requiring mowing, which provides another opportunity to observe the trees up close.
The Gavers’ integrated pest management program calls for checking their trees once a week for bugs.
“We don’t just automatically spray” insecticides, Lisa Gaver said. “We use good bugs to eat bad bugs. Bad bugs eat trees.”
Different tree types require different spacing when planting. Czech Republic growers plant 3,500 Christmas trees per acre — three times more than Gaver Farm. Wider spacing of trees minimizes disease, the Gavers said.
Trees are planted closer in the Czech Republic to maximize production on smaller acres, Cekan said.
“In the dry years, we get mites, but stink bugs don’t bother the trees, thank goodness,” Lisa Gaver said.
The Gavers buy their trees from several nurseries. In the early years, the decision to buy and plant a certain tree variety was a hit-or-miss experience for the Gavers, but after being in business for 30 years, they have found a source of beautiful blue spruce, the farmers said.
Gaver Farm also implements a nutrient management plan that prohibits exceeding nitrogen and phosphorous thresholds. Tree stumps are ground and left on the no-till land, as are mowing and mulch, which builds soil structure. Acreage not used for trees are planted with a cover crop in the winter so there is something growing all year to hold the soil.
“We also like that we are sequestering carbon, as well,” Lisa Gaver said.
Mike Gaver started Gaver Tree Farm in 1978 when he was 17 years old and a senior in high school. The farm has grown and diversified, requiring all hands on deck — his wife, Lisa, and their children, Laura, Greg and son-in-law Brian House.
The name-change to Gaver Farm reflects diversity, which includes the addition of pumpkins and pumpkin patch, a small apple orchard, an on-farm store, and family events.
The visitors liked the idea of customers cutting their own trees, and Cekan said she will consider implementing the practice.
“It’s a terrific idea to let people pick their own trees,” Cekan said. She said her business could benefit from foot traffic from the large regional city only 5 miles away from her forest.
But as much as the cut-your-own idea was appealing, forester Kopecky was concerned that “if we train them to cut their own trees, what will keep them from coming and cutting the trees illegally and without paying for them?” he said.
“We might be hunting people, not deer,” Kopecky said, to laughter.
Cekan described the visit as fascinating.
“We’re enormously grateful to Mike and Lisa for taking the time to share with us their experiences,” Cekan said.
Follow Ike Wilson on Twitter: @ikewilson99.