Kennebunk tree growers Diane and her husband, David Brandt, are busy year round cultivating the crop of fir trees on their 70-acre farm. But their labor of love is only truly appreciated one month of the year: in December, when customers come in search of the perfect Christmas tree.<br /><br />

The wreaths and garland have been made, the Christmas decorations put on display and 160 gallons of apple cider has been delivered to be mulled on the old wood parlor stove in the gift shop. Holmes Tree Farm is officially open for is short monthlong 2010 season. <br /><br />

Q: How long have you been in business?

A: Officially, since 1982. We planted our first tree seedlings in the spring of 1983, but it takes eight years before they grow large enough to harvest (a height of 7 to 9 feet). In 1987 we began building our customer base by selling the fresh cut trees of another reputable tree nursery until we could harvest our own. 

Q: How many trees are available now?

A: We have 28,000 to 29,000 trees planted. 

Q: What is your busiest season?

A: Most people think it is during our selling season, but it is actually from April through September when we are busy caring for the trees. 

Q: What is involved in the growing process?

A: When we first started out, we grew all of our trees from seed, transplanting them into a bed after two years and then into the field when they got about 18 inches tall (another two years later). But now that our business is bigger, we buy the transplants directly from a Christmas tree nursery. We make at least six visits to each of our nearly 30,000 trees in a season to fertilize them, check them for insects or disease and for weed control. Every one of them must be pruned and sheared every summer to give them that classic Christmas tree look.

Q: What type of trees do you sell?

A: Our most popular tree, by far, is the Balsam fir. That is the fragrant one that everyone associates with Christmas. We also sell Fraser firs and a few blue spruces. We used to sell Scotch pines and white pines but found that those are not in high a demand here in Maine. Those varieties are more popular in southern states.

Q: What sizes are available?

A: Everything from table-top trees to 14-feet and higher. 

Q: Do folks cut their own trees down or do you do that for them?

A: We have a selection of various sized pre-cut trees on the main lot or folks can cut their own. They select those from whatever fields we have open on that day. We give them a hand saw and tell them they can cut any size they want, but they are responsible for getting it back to the baler, where we wrap it for free and tie it to their car. Purchases are paid for in our gift shop, where everyone gets a free cup of hot mulled cider. 

Q: What do you recommend customers do to maintain a healthy tree?

A: Get it in water within a hour or so of cutting it. After that, the sap seals off the tree’s capillaries and it can’t drink water. If it’s been a few hours, we recommend that you make a fresh cut of about a 1/2-inch off the trunk bottom before placing it in your tree stand. Once it is in there, make sure you water it daily. Some trees can drink up to a gallon of water per day. If you forget and it dries out, you’ll have to repeat the process of cutting more off the bottom to unseal the capillaries. Your tree will also last longer if you keep it in a cooler room of your house, away from wood stoves or other heat sources. 

Q: Any truth to the old practice of putting sugar in the water to “feed” the tree.

A: No. You should never put sugar in the water. It will clog the capillaries. 

Q: What other types of goods or services does your business offer?

A: We sell wreaths in several different sizes, both decorated and undecorated, as well as kissing balls, garland, Christmas decorations and tree stands in our gift shop. And Santa is here to visit with the kids on Saturdays and Sundays. He takes their letters, hands out candy canes and has his picture taken with them. So parents should bring their cameras. We also have a vendor here who sells hot dogs, hamburgers, hot sausages, chips, coffee and soft drinks on the weekends. 

Q: What are your operating hours?

A: Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or at dusk, from the Friday after Thanksgiving until 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve day. 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: My husband and I love the outdoors and being able to work the land. But the thing that gives me the most pleasure is interacting with our customers. Some of them are third generation families coming here as part of their Christmas tradition. This part of the job it fun. It’s like throwing a giant, month-long Christmas party. People are walking through the trees, singing Christmas carols and having fun.

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: [email protected]