Take Christmas tree farmers Wyatt Bramlette and James Terrell, for example. They started the Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm, on Spur 101 off Rockmart Highway, almost 30 years ago.
“We got interested in Christmas trees with our ag teacher in high school, H.I. Jones,” Bramlette said. “We went on a Christmas tree tour with him.”
Terrell said that he initially built a greenhouse to grow poinsettias.
“Mr. Jones and a guy named Chick Dillard said I ought to be selling Christmas trees to help poinsettias, so that’s how I got into it,” Terrell said.
Bramlette got access to about 10 acres of land owned by a cousin and has been growing trees with Terrell ever since.
“We laid out trees and started dibbling one tree at a time, and this isn’t going to work because we’ll be all day,” Bramlette said. “We got us a tree planter, and we planted a thousand trees, and the next year we planted another thousand.”
They had to wait seven years to make that first sale. They were like the proverbial child opening that first present on Christmas morning.
The business is not particularly expensive, but it is labor intensive. Terrell and Bramlette do most of the work, after minding their day jobs — Bramlette at Leverett Fabricating and Terrell at Berry College.
“We’ve worn out our kids over here, cutting grass and weed eating,” Bramlette said. “We have to trim the trees one or two times a year according to how much rain we get. We trim them all by hand. When you hear an advertisement that it’s 45 days before Christmas when you were a kid you were excited about that, but now we’re like, oh gosh, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm currently grows white pine, Leyland cypress, Murray cypress and Carolina sapphire cypress trees. They used to grow Virginia pine, but Bramlette said that species was particularly hard to maintain.
Cypress trees are becoming more and more popular, according to Bramlette, and that’s just fine from the growers’ perspective because the cypress species are more heat tolerant and grow quicker. The Murray cypress is one of the fastest growing evergreens.
“I don’t know if it’s global warming or climate change or what, but it seems like we have more of the seedlings to die,” Bramlette said, “particularly the white pines.”
During the last several years, Bramlette estimates that they’ve lost 30 to 40 percent of their seedlings, which is not a horrific loss from a financial standpoint, but disappointing because of the lost time involved.
Presently, the Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm buys most of its seedlings from the North Carolina Forestry. He said the Georgia Forestry division doesn’t raise the seedlings anymore.
The farm also buys some Frazier fir each season from a grower up in Franklin, N.C..
“We can’t grow Frazier firs because we don’t have the altitude in Georgia to raise firs,” Terrell said. “Everybody doesn’t want a white pine or a cypress.”
The Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm is what is known as a choose and cut tree farm.
“We give them a saw and a stick and explain the prices,” Bramlette said, who noted that on weekends they offer kids what amounts to a hayride. “They’ll walk off down through the trees, when they harvest a tree we’ll load it on the wagon and the kids will get in. My cousin, who lives right here, has a pony and a miniature donkey and we’ll go down there and feed them corn and peanuts. It’s just amazing for the kids.”
They also offer boiled peanuts and hot apple cider on the weekends to make it an even more family friendly event.
Richard Tate and his son Michael Tate have operated the Pope Ferry Tree Farm on East Troutman Road, right off Old Dalton Road, for nearly 25 years.
He got into the business after a discussion with a brother-in-law who operated the Belwood Nursery in Calhoun at the time. The in-law suggested it might be a better alternative to cattle at the time.
The Tates started by following a recommendation from the University of Georgia that he plant Virginia Pine. Then along came a problem with the Nantucket pine tip moth.
“We had to spray after every rain, so we just got out of Virginia Pines and went to White Pines,” Tate said. “We had Red Cedars for a number of years and they all sold, so we’re down to white pines right now.”
The Pope Ferry farm started with about 15 acres, but Tate, who is 82 years young, said that he has started to ease off replanting.
“We’re going to be here for a while, but I don’t believe I could handle it at 92,” he said with a broad smile.
There’s nothing that warms the heart of an 82-year-old more than the sound of children running through the farm trying to find the perfect tree. He said he expects to sell upwards of 300 trees this year.
One thing that concerns him is the availability of trees at every corner.
“They probably buy as many Christmas trees, but everybody’s selling them,” Tate said. “All of the churches, the Food Lions, the Home Depot and the Walmarts are all selling trees.”
He’s not afraid of the competition because Tate sells all of his trees for the same price, regardless of size. He starting cutting trees this past week just to have some ready for customers who wanted to get their tree up in time to put their Black Friday presents under a month before Christmas.
“We’ve got parents that come out now who were here when they were kids,” Tate said.
Nothing brings out the child in an adult like putting up the Christmas tree.