Enterprise transforms saplings for festivities

19:11, Nov 18 2012
The Christmas Tree Farm
SHAPING UP: Kevin Clarke wields the machete to shape a specimen. The Christmas Tree Farm is on Tuhikaramea Rd, Hamilton.

Christmas isn't just a family affair for the Clarkes, it's also their livelihood. Kashka Tunstall investigates.

On the main drag to Temple View, near the glittering lights of the Mormon temple during the holiday season, a new mum-and-dad business has cropped up on the roadside.

Kevin and Vanessa Clarke will open The Christmas Tree Farm on Tuhikaramea Rd today and, after years of planning and waiting, will finally get to see if their venture into the Christmas tree business pays off.

Kevin Clarke operates his own digger contracting business, Vanessa works for local government and the couple also run the 88-hectare dry stock farm they live on.

But they decided to do a little more.

Two years ago the Clarkes set aside plots on the farm to plant 4000 Christmas tree saplings, figuring they needed to utilise more of the land.


They had read in the Waikato Times that Kevin Ormsby's Avalon Dr Christmas tree farm was closing. Each Christmas it sold about 4000 trees and Ormsby was concerned there would be a big gap in the market once he was gone.

The Clarkes agreed - and decided to fill it.

So, in July 2010, The Christmas Tree Farm was planted. Knowing it takes 2 years for the planted saplings to grow to full maturity, the couple sat back and waited.

Well, maybe they didn't sit back.

There's a lot to growing a healthy and shapely Christmas tree: handworked development, pruning, nutrient management and general maintenance all adds up.

Kevin Clarke spends six hours every weekend just mowing in between the rows.

And because the first 4000 trees weren't enough to look after, the couple, roping in friends and family to lend a hand, planted two new sections with saplings for the next two seasons.

Now 1200 trees dot along the landscape of their farm.

"It's all a learning curve for us because it's new and growing trees is a little bit outside my square . . . the challenge is doing the right thing and having people telling you you're doing the right thing," Kevin Clarke says.

‘There's certainly a right and wrong way to plant them and we've learnt the hard way, and the quick way."

"I'm definitely not the gardener," Vanessa Clarke freely admits.

They have had some help from people in the community, getting advice from other Christmas tree farms and the Tokoroa nursery from which they sourced their saplings.

"We've rung a few people that specialise in horticulture . . . and Google is always good," Vanessa Clarke says.

Social media has been a big help, too.

"We've watched 'How to shape a tree' on YouTube quite a few times."

All the trees are hand shorn with a machete blade and each tree shaped with half a dozen strokes every six months.

The Clarkes also decided to minimise any negative sprays or chemicals.

"I'm sure people have wondered since the day the trees were first planted initially on the roadside what they would be," Vanessa Clarke says.

"It wasn't until Kevin started shaping them a year ago, and now that the sign has gone up, that people are starting to realise."

Now the waiting is over.

The first week of December is traditionally when selling begins but the farm opens at lunchtime today for people to tag their tree and decide when they want to take it home.

There's two different schools of thought, the Clarkes say.

Those keen on maintaining traditions set the tree up 12 days before Christmas. The festive types like to indulge in the spirit of the holiday as long as possible, from December 1 to December 31.

The Clarkes themselves are big on Christmas. They are enjoying the constant aroma of pine. Choosing a tree makes it a real family occasion.

"You come out collectively as a family and just the deliberation over picking a tree . . . well, I'm sure there's been a few divorces," Vanessa Clarke says.

"People can be really particular and then some just don't care."

The Clarkes have picked their tree already. They've had their eye on one for a while and friends and family who have helping with planting will be paid in kind with a tree of their own.

Customers can negotiate a tree price from $40 up, depending on height, shape and density.

"We're a little apprehensive, excited and hoping we've met everyone's expectations of what they want from a Christmas tree," Vanessa Clarke says. kashka.tunstall@waikatotimes.co.nz