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Checking in with Ontario Christmas tree growers

Checking in with Ontario Christmas tree growers

Tree farmers have implemented COVID protocols for families cutting trees

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer
Farms.com

As Ontario families are travelling to Christmas tree farms across the province in search of the perfect centerpiece for the holiday season, Farms.com connected with two Christmas tree growers for updates on this year’s selection.

“Our trees are looking excellent this year,” Erika Wintersinger, farm manager at Wintersinger’s Tree Farm in Hillsburgh, Ont., told Farms.com. “We were fortunate to get more rain this year than in previous summers. The rain helps the trees retain more moisture, which helps reduce needle shedding when people bring them into the house.”

A routine tree maintenance program also contributed to the trees’ condition.

Aside from “day to day” work on the farm, no unexpected issues needed addressing, Wintersinger said.

“There’s always weeds that need to be looked after between the rows to ensure they don’t take over the new seedlings, and we manually prune every tree we have on the (91-acre) farm,” she said. “But outside of that, there wasn’t anything significant we had to take care of.”

Some trees families will bring into their homes this Christmas have been growing for almost a decade or more.

Spruces can take anywhere from six to eight years before the trees are ready for harvest while firs take between 12 and 16 years to bring to market, Wintersinger said.

“The firs also need specialized care because they’re not native to Ontario,” she said. “We have to monitor soil conditions closely and there’s added special pruning we do because they tend to grow narrow, so we want to make sure they fill out as they grow.”

To ensure the safety of guests when they come to the farm, Wintersinger’s Tree Farm has implemented COVID-related measures.

One protocol, for example, is families are required to make 90-minute reservations for tree cutting and asked to come with members of their social bubbles to help the farm keep track of the families who enter the farm.

Staff must wear masks at all times, visitors are asked to wear them indoors or where physical distancing can’t be maintained and additional cleaning of saws and wagons are taking place.

“It’s a very unusual year but we’re doing everything we can to monitor the different areas of the farm,” Wintersinger said.

The trees on another Ontario Christmas tree farm are looking good too.

Staff at Thomas Tree Farm in North Gower, Ont. took extra care of the trees this year to compensate for weather challenges, said Christine Thomas, co-owner of the farm.

“It was a very dry season in the Ottawa region this year,” she told Farms.com. “We had to do a lot of hand watering (across 35 acres) but everything else went really well and the trees look great.”

Like Wintersinger’s farm, Thomas had to make changes to the farm to accommodate families during the pandemic.

Aside from masks, signage and extra cleaning measures, some things required investment commitments and construction.

“We had to build another path and road this summer,” Thomas said. “We need to have one-way traffic, but we can’t have people walking where the wagons are going so we had to build a new road out to the trees.

“We even had to build barriers on the wagons that look like cubicles so families who do come onto the wagons can be properly distanced.”

Thomas Tree Farm opened to the public for the 2020 season on Nov. 21.

Customers have been respectful of the farm’s rules, Thomas said.

“People were great about following our rules and we actually got a lot of good feedback about how seriously we’re taking (COVID) and that we’re putting measures in place to keep everyone safe,” she said.

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