FROM THE FOR­EST: THE CHRIST­MAS TREE FARM

Ire­land faces a Christ­mas tree short­age in seven years’ time due to the ef­fects of the 2018 heat­wave

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - OUTDOORS - Sylvia Thomp­son

Christ­mas tree farmer Martin Kelle­her says the part of grow­ing Christ­mas trees he en­joys most is sell­ing them to the pub­lic. From De­cem­ber 1st to 23rd, the Kelle­hers’ Christ­mas Tree farm out­side Bran­nock­stown, Co Kil­dare will – like many other Ir­ish Christ­mas tree farms – of­fer peo­ple the chance to come and se­lect their own tree and have it cut down on the spot to bring home.

The Kelle­hers bring a horse and some sheep and goats in pens for the chil­dren to see on their visit.

“When we send Christ­mas trees off to gar­den cen­tres for sale, we don’t get any feed­back but when peo­ple come here, I can show them the dif­fer­ent types of Christ­mas trees, which makes my job more en­joy­able. Some peo­ple spend a cou­ple of hours walk­ing through the Christ­mas trees and then they call us and we’ll go up and cut down the tree they want,” he says.

Martin Kelle­her has been grow­ing Christ­mas trees full time on the 50-acre farm since the late 1980s. His fa­ther, De­nis Kelle­her – a re­tired pro­fes­sor of forestry from Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Dublin – first bought the land in the 1970s and started grow­ing Christ­mas trees one acre at a time. Dar­ragh Kelle­her, Martin’s el­dest son cur­rently also works on the Christ­mas tree farm.

Ini­tially, the Kelle­hers grew No­ble Fir, a dark green va­ri­ety of fir tree that orig­i­nates in the west coast of the United States. Now, as tastes have changed, Martin Kelle­her grows more Nord­mann Fir, a va­ri­ety which orig­i­nates in the moun­tain­ous re­gions of Turkey and Ge­or­gia. Some Ir­ish Christ­mas tree grow­ers also grow and sell Nor­way Spruce and Lodgepole Pine. La­sio Carpa and Korean Fir are more un­usual species of Christ­mas trees also grown in Ire­land.

“Ire­land is a very suit­able coun­try for grow­ing Christ­mas trees with our mild win­ters although this year, we lost about 90 per cent of our newly planted trees in the drought which will mean we’ll have a short­age in about seven years,” ex­plains Kelle­her.

Christ­mas trees are grown from seed in lit­tle pots for the first year after which they are planted in an out­door nurs­ery for an­other two years. Then, they are moved to their per­ma­nent plot where they con­tinue to grow for an­other four to seven years.

The trees are planted in March, pruned in July and cut­ting starts in No­vem­ber. They are sprayed just after they have been sown to stop weeds ger­mi­nat­ing and again in Oc­to­ber to kill the nearby grass, net­tles, docks and this­tles.

“Whole­salers look for per­fectly straight trees, and we mark out the ones for cut­ting ac­cord­ing to their size. The Nord­mann Fir are bushier than the No­ble Fir but the No­ble lasts longer, smells bet­ter and has stronger branches. We also sell fo­liage for wreaths – es­pe­cially from the No­ble Fir be­cause it holds its nee­dles and smells bet­ter,” ex­plains Martin Kelle­her.

Once in­doors, Christ­mas trees should be placed on a stand with wa­ter in a cool part of the house, away from di­rect heat.

The tra­di­tion of bring­ing ever­green trees in­doors in win­ter time pre-dates the birth of Christ. But the prac­tice of dec­o­rat­ing Christ­mas trees started in 16th cen­tury Ger­many. Martin Luther is cred­ited with il­lu­mi­nat­ing a Christ­mas tree with can­dles to cel­e­brate God’s glory re­flected in the stars.

The tra­di­tion of bring­ing Christ­mas trees in­doors in this part of the world dates back to Vic­to­rian times when Prince Al­bert, Ger­man-born hus­band of Queen Vic­to­ria, brought the tra­di­tion to Eng­land.

Wide­spread

In Ire­land, it wasn’t un­til the 1940s that bring­ing ever­green trees in­doors at Christ­mas time be­came wide­spread. Un­til the 1970s, the tops of Nor­way Spruce trees – cut off when the trees were felled for tim­ber – were brought in­doors as dec­o­ra­tions. As the tra­di­tion grew, these smaller trees – which shed their nee­dles – were re­placed first by No­ble Fir and lat­terly by Nord­mann Fir.

A few years ago, a Cana­dian study com­pared the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of real Christ­mas trees com­pared with ar­ti­fi­cial ones. And while ar­ti­fi­cial trees scored poorly be­cause they are made of oil-based plas­tics and met­als, are man­u­fac­tured in Asia and then trans­ported to Europe for sale and are not re­cy­clable, keep­ing one for 20 years gave it a com­pa­ra­ble car­bon foot­print to buy­ing a real Christ­mas tree ev­ery year for 20 years.

De­nis and Martin Kelle­her are adamant that real Christ­mas trees are not only nicer to have but a bet­ter choice for en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons. “I get up­set when peo­ple say plas­tic trees are bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause the plas­tic in them will end up in the ocean and take 200-300 years to break down. Whereas this en­tire 50 acres of Christ­mas trees is a car­bon sink as it stands, and as we cut down trees, we re­place them,” says Martin Kelle­her.

De­nis Kelle­her says that real Christ­mas trees take car­bon out of the at­mos­phere and at the end of their life, they are turned back into mulch. As a found­ing mem­ber of the Ir­ish Christ­mas Tree Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion he adds, “you wouldn’t give your dearly beloved a bunch of ar­ti­fi­cial flow­ers for their birth­day so it isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate to use ar­ti­fi­cial Christ­mas trees at Christ­mas time.”

Choose and cut your own Christ­mas tree

Slade Val­ley Christ­mas Tree Farm, Brit­tas, Co Dublin 087-9250064 Kelle­her’s Christ­mas Tree Farm,

Bran­nock­stown, Co Kil­dare 045-483822/087 2453795 Gal­way Christ­mas Trees, Gloves East, Athenry, Co Gal­way 087-2672386 Whee­lock Christ­mas Trees,

Money­hore, En­nis­cor­thy, Co Wex­ford 086-2629034 Wick­low Way Christ­mas Tree Farm,

Old­bridge, Round­wood, Co Wick­low 01-9081129

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: DARA MAC DONAILL

Above: De­nis L Kelle­her on Kelle­her’s Christ­mas Tree Farm, and (be­low) Martin Kelle­her.

If you find it mo­not­o­nous to buy your Christ­mas tree from your lo­cal su­per­store or gar­den cen­tre ev­ery De­cem­ber, con­sider vis­it­ing a Christ­mas tree farm to se­lect a tree from hun­dreds of oth­ers grown es­pe­cially for the fes­tive sea­son.See­ing the Christ­mas trees grow­ing out­doors adds a mag­i­cal touch to the Christ­mas prepa­ra­tions. And chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence of choos­ing their very own Christ­mas tree and see­ing it cut down in front of them.Here are some Christ­mas tree farms where you can go to buy Christ­mas Trees straight from the for­est.

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