A practical approach to all aspects of growing, marketing and retail sales

      Northeast Kingdom Christmas Trees



Machinery, Tools and Contraptions

“Chitlins”, “Cracklins” and footballs were the only use for pigskin until someone developed a machine to separate pigskin economically. Until that time the skin was a wasted byproduct of the industry. With this new machine came the “Hush Puppy” shoes, (and no waste). When the Christmas Tree industry advanced from wild trees being hand wrapped, to the cultured trees of today, during the 1950s and 60s, Necessity, known as the "Mother of all inventions" kicked in and a whole myriad of devices came into being. The following is a basic list of some of the devices needed for different operations.

The string wrap baler is a must if you are selling trees in quantities. It is an ingenious device that string wraps the tree, without hurting the branches, into a tight conical shape for ease of handling and shipping. It is gas powered and accomplishes the task by drawing the tree thru a spinning circular wheel that places the string and leaves only a tie of a knot for the primary operator. This is a 3 or 4 man operation that can wrap three trees per minute. There is also powered and non-powered balers that place netting on the trees. The non-powered is used on the retail lots and although slow, it does protect the tree in transit to a home.

To transport the baled trees out of the fields, wagons, trailers, trucks or a combination is needed. Harvesting can see some severe weather conditions so the choice should include vehicles that can take abuse. My choice is a 74 Dodge rack body truck with tire chains and two old 4x4 pickup trucks. An elevator designed especially for loading Christmas trees on trucks for shipping is a big help. I heard that one grower modified an elevator to fit the side of his tractor to help load larger trees in the field.

Shearing and pruning
All kinds of devices have been developed for this operation- like knives of different lengths with both straight and serrated edges…and yes, even a powered one with a head that looks like a small windmill.

Hedge trimmers, both manual, powered and with different length bars, some of which are backpack mounted. I once saw one demonstrated that was tractor mounted with four trimmers hanging like a mobile pointed at four rows of trees, needing four good operators of course. My opinion is this would be disaster on most Vermont hillside tree farms.

Pole pruners to reach the branches and tops of taller trees come in different sizes and shapes. Until you have one of each you never know which you like best. You can say the same for most of these tools. Just take a look in a growers work shop and you will see which his choice is. A cleaning hint for these tools is an ammonia and water mix, but for yourself mechanic’s soap.

Sprayers for pesticides
Backpacks both manual and powered are used especially for a more directed spray when hitting only the targeted area or tree is important. This can be necessary when new growth on the trees is sensitive to chemicals or when “drift” is an issue and the areas unreachable by tractors. Boom powered sprayers are also used because they save on labor by spraying out and over many rows at a time. They are usually fairly noisy and drift can be an issue so care has to be taken not to harm or offend neighbors. Then there are other devices such as hand held wands, wicking applicators and all kinds of new powered type machines. Every catalog received in the mail seems to have something new…probably because correct pesticide application is the most difficult of all the farm operations.

Berry buckets painfully strapped over the shoulder is a common method used. There are backpacks that work well, but fertilizer being quite caustic, replacement cost becomes an issue. Broadcast spreaders on wheels are available and there are several available for behind the tractor. With the correct “tail” the fertilizer is applied to each row as opposed to being broadcast, (don’t ask me how but it does). The trees do have to be 3 to 4 foot minimum in size or fertilizer can be wasted. The temperature should be less than 70 degrees to avoid what I call “icing” that will clog the openings and calibration.

The American worker is ingenious. The Christmas tree industry being relatively new and with a lot of small growers many chores are accomplished manually and with ingenuity. Grower’s workshops are apt to contain all kinds of devices both large and small that are not commercially available. Not being overly mechanically oriented myself, the only claim I can make is saddlebags for the racks on the trucks to hold the chain saws, gas and oil made out of tires cut in half. I do not get many compliments but don’t care because it does work for me.