Christmas tree, O Christmas tree...

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 10:42 16/12/2013
Marion and Annette Bunckenburg load their Christmas tree into their car, with Garry Willcocks, the owner of the Christmas tree farm, lending a hand.
Fairfax NZ

LOADED WITH CHRISTMAS: Marion and Annette Bunckenburg load their Christmas tree into their car, with Garry Willcocks, the owner of the Christmas tree farm, lending a hand.

Garry Willcocks, the owner of the Christmas tree farm near Ashhurst in Manawatu.
Fairfax NZ
CHRISTMAS TREES: Garry Willcocks, the owner of the Christmas tree farm near Ashhurst in Manawatu.

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The sound of Garry Willcocks' chainsaw breaks the rural silence.

It's flat out at this time of year, as people select and cut down, then take away their Christmas pine tree from his and wife Lynn's farm near Ashhurst in Manawatu.

They use hand saws, but some find it hard to cut down a tree with a hand saw, and Willcocks comes out with chainsaw in-hand to help.

He wants people to find the tree that's perfect for them.

"We've only been here for a year. Most of the trees people take are 3 years old. So they were planted by the previous owner. But whenever there is a gap when people take a tree I replant it. So there are always Christmas trees coming on."

He says that while people take only the tree, the roots that are left rot down and he doesn't have to dig them out.

"I shape the trees about three times a year with a machete. I cut the sides and they branch out. When the branches are cut, about three shoots form."

Because of the good spring growing conditions, the heat and rain, the trees shot away in September, Willcocks says.

"I grow pinus radiata, and get the seedlings from Nelson - I am originally from there - and the nursery man suggested this variety. So I am growing those."

He sprays around the tree to keep the grass down, and the spacing is about 2 metres between trees.

A hooter by the gate tells Willcocks someone is there, with their $20, to select a tree. Younger trees are painted, so most people know not to choose them.

Then once a tree is cut some people face getting it into their car.

We watch as two women put down the front seat and Willcocks feeds a tree through their small car, then another tree goes in.

The top of the larger tree has to be folded in the car before the boot is closed.

Some people bring a trailer or large 4-wheel drive.

Willcocks says that on a busy night, there may be 15 people who come for a tree.

"There was one woman who came and put tinsel on four trees to help her choose one. It took her most of the morning, but she did get one."

Willcocks works during the day and sells Christmas trees most evenings.

He sells about 300 a year.

"It's a flat rate and people can pick the tree they want. Some are bigger, some people want a more open tree. It all depends and they can choose what they want.

"This is a very hectic time for me.

"I am flat out. It pays the rates and a bit more. If only the trees were in demand year round."

Gary Teague from Turflands at Whakarongo has trees in the ground. After people choose one, his staff cut it down and the customer takes it away.

He says they're open only some hours each week and at weekends, but they have been flat out.

Three or 4-year-old trees are the most popular, Teague says.

Christmas trees are generally in age groups, he says. They have a circuit in which trees are planted. Some have been planted this winter and they are only half a metre high. The idea is to have trees each December, when they're open for Christmas tree sales.

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Teague says he gets his trees from a nursery.

Once planted, they are trimmed several times in their three-year lifespan to encourage them to bush out. It's those pruned trees many buyers chase.

"People look for the perfect Christmas tree. I have had people here looking for four hours."

They come as individuals, to find a tree for their business, and families come, letting the kids pick a tree.

"The trees do look smaller in the paddock. We have orange stakes that are 2.4 metres high - the height of a [modern] ceiling. But some people want higher trees for their business, or if they have a higher stud."

Trees are priced between $20 and $60, depending on their height and form.

He says trees last best if the bottom centimetre is cut off to stop a sap plug forming, and they are put in water immediately afterwards.

- Manawatu Standard

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