Editor note: Next week, we’ll be starting our Christmas gift-maker interview series. Watch this space.
Do you get a real Christmas tree? Curious about giving one a go in place of the plastic alternatives? Ever wondered just where that tree comes from, how it is grown and what on earth those growers do for the non-festive time of year?
The Canberra region has its very own Christmas tree growers in Megan and Neil Cooper from St Nicholas Christmas Trees. With this being their 15th year supplying beautifully shaped Christmas trees to the people of Canberra and the surrounding regions, and with just six weeks to go until Christmas, you can guess that they’re fairly busy right about now.
“We have over 40,000 trees in the ground at any one time as we plant 10,000 per year to ensure an ongoing supply – all of these need shaping and pruning,” said Megan Cooper from St Nicholas Christmas Trees.
“The trees are all shaped individually by hand at least three times before they are cut down, as this gives them their thickness, fullness and great shape. This pruning and shaping occurs all year round,” Megan continued.
Megan and her husband Neil have a property located at Bungonia near Goulburn. It has been in the family for five generations dating back to 1920, and the Christmas tree growing has developed from original plantings to prevent erosion and provide shelter for the sheep. The trees are all the species Pinus Radiata – the same as you see in the timber plantations in and around Canberra.
“There are so many great reasons to have a real Christmas tree over an artificial one. They are renewable, real, have a great smell, can be used as mulch on the garden when you’re finished with them, they are environmentally friendlier than plastic or carbon and provide great Landcare benefits whilst growing,” said Megan.
So how do the trees make it from the ground to being decorated for Christmas? Megan says Neil operates the farm on weekends and holidays, taking the trees as early as 2 ½ years old, with the majority being cut at age three, with some going to age four. They cut any remaining trees down to waste, leaving the block fallow for a year, and then replant the year after.
So what do they do when it’s not Christmas?
“Neil is a qualified forester who works for the ACT Parks and Conservation Service during the week. We also run sheep and cattle on the farm and I also have a full time job too. Christmas trees need attention all year round as we plant in winter, fertilise, spray weeds. Plus the pruning and shaping. There is never nothing to do!”
Megan says most of their trees are sold to the wholesale market in Sydney as well as into the Canberra market at the Old Bus Depot Markets. All trees are cut in the evening the night before and loaded onto large trucks and trailers where they are taken to the markets for the following day’s sales.
And if you’re wondering how you can make your real Christmas tree last longer when you get it home, Megan says the most important thing is water, water and water, and a fresh cut across the base. She says a person’s tree should have a thin slice taken off the base when it’s taken home as the sap seals over fairly quickly. The tree should then be placed in water and this has to be kept full and well above the cut base – it will take up a lot of water at first but then slow down after 24 hours.
“A well-kept tree will last well over four weeks, and we have had some stay fresh for over seven weeks,” Megan concluded.
St Nicholas Christmas Trees start at $60 for trees up to six foot, and then $70 for seven foot and so on. They will be at the Old Bus Depot Markets from Sunday 29 November, then for the Christmas markets there on Saturdays and Sundays 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th December.
For more information on the trees and their care once you get them home, visit www.stnicholaschristmastrees.com.au
For more information on the markets visit www.obdm.com.au