February 26, 2024

Let’s Go Find a Tree!

Three Christmas tree farms to explore this December
By Brighid Driscoll | Dec. 2, 2023

The Christmas tree is a tradition that has stood the test of time.

Long before becoming a symbol of Christmas, evergreens were used to celebrate the winter season or to ward homes against evil and illness; Egyptians, Romans, and Druids all had versions of this practice. The origins of the contemporary Christmas tree trace back to 16th-century Germany, but it wasn’t until the 1840s, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were shown with the royal family gathered around their Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News, that Christmas trees became a fixture of the holiday. The tradition quickly took hold all over Europe and, eventually, beyond.

Here in northern Michigan we may not be surrounded by royals, but we are surrounded by local Christmas tree farms. Northern Express caught up with a few farm owners to get the scoop on when to buy your tree, which one to pick, and how to keep it looking beautiful all December long.

Robinson Family Christmas Tree Farm, Traverse City

After friends gave them some encouragement, Darrel Robinson and his wife began Christmas tree farming in the late 1980s. “We had no idea what it would turn into,” he says. “At first, we started planting a few trees and realized pretty fast that we had to plant more and keep going.”

The family soon bought more acreage for their Traverse City farm to expand, and today they grow around 14,000 trees. The farm offers a wide selection of U-cut and pre-cut trees, with several varieties including Frasier, Canaan, concolor, balsam, and blue spruce.

“I like the concolor fir,” says Robinson. “They’re a longer needle with a slightly blue color to it, and they have a citrusy fragrance.”

While the trees can keep up with demand at the farm, wreaths are sold quickly. The Robinson farm also offers tree drilling and various goodies to take home, like candles, mugs, and an annual ornament.

Trees and decorations aren’t the only attractions at the farm. A decade ago, Robinson incorporated a petting zoo to make visits to the farm even more fun for little ones. “We’re pet friendly. We have goats, a horse, a donkey, chickens, and ducks. It’s really fun for the kids to feed them carrots and apples. We also have a Tot Lot set up with lots of toys to play with, and it’s also where we keep our little trees. We wanted to emphasize the family friendliness,” Robinson tells us.

Post-Christmas tree shopping, warm up in a heated pole barn with a cup of hot chocolate and a homemade chocolate chip cookie. “My wife makes the cookies every year, and we usually have quite a gathering in the barn,” Robinson says.

Robinson Family Christmas Tree Farm is now open every Monday through Thursday from noon to 7pm and every Friday through Sunday from 9am to 7pm. Find the farm at 6777 Herkner Rd in Traverse City.

Bosma’s Christmas Tree Farm, Harbor Springs

Bosma’s Christmas Tree Farm has been run by brothers Jay and Les Bosma—and before that, their father and grandfather—for so long that Jay’s wife, Debbie, can’t recall when it all got started.

“We don’t know the exact time, but we think the farm has been in business for 70 years or so. My husband and his brothers’ grandpa started it, and their father continued it. Now Jay and Les have it,” she says.

Every year, the brothers handplant 1,500 to 2,000 trees. Christmas trees typically take six to 10 years to reach maturity, depending on the species, local growing conditions, and desired height. Seedlings undergo several years of cultivation before being transplanted to the farm, but variables like soil quality, climate, and proper care all affect growth. The brothers shape the trees during summer to keep them looking good and ready to sell later in the year.

The Bosma’s season began in November, and their trees have been selling like hotcakes. (Don’t worry—you’ll be able to find several fir varieties at the farm and a few blue spruces left for purchase.) Debbie suggests that those planning on shopping for a Christmas tree should try to buy one by early December to ensure that needles are still intact for Christmas Day, as the Christmas tree lifecycle is truly a practice in patience.

She recommends that once you get your tree home, keep it well watered. A tree can seal up in as little as a few hours and stop drinking water if proper care isn’t taken soon after cutting. Also, make sure your tree stand has a water reservoir and check the tree’s water levels daily to keep it happy and healthy. A final pro tip: Keep your tree away from a heat source, as that will dry it out even faster.

Bosma’s Christmas Tree Farm is open from 10am to 5pm on Mondays and 9am to 5pm the rest of the week. Find them at 3133 South Pleasantview Rd in Harbor Springs.

Schmuckal Tree Farms, Kingsley

Dick Schmuckal began the family Christmas tree farm in Kinglsey with his brothers. “Our operation has always been a hobby farm,” he explains, albeit a large hobby. “At one point, we were in the top 10 percent of Christmas tree farms, acreage-wise. That first year, we planted 150,000 trees. It was hard work! We were getting into the Christmas tree business. We had trees going all the way up through Williamsburg.”

Indeed, there was a time when the family owned 13 Christmas tree farm locations. Today the operation has scaled back, with Schmuckal’s nephews running a tree lot in Traverse City and Schmuckal helming the Kingsley farm. Frasier firs are the trees primarily grown and sold at the farm due to their classic look, smell, and the fact their branches are strong enough to support ornaments. Also, they’re hardy if taken care of properly.

“I had one lady tell me she kept her Frasier up till Easter,” Schmuckal says.

What started as a hobby has brought Schmuckal a lot of joy over the years. This past July, he was inducted into the Michigan Christmas Tree Association Growers Hall of Fame. “Christmas tree farmers, I don’t want to say they’re special, but we get to do something special because we get to produce the centerpiece for the most festive holiday of the season,” he says.

Schmuckal adds that seeing the generations of families who have come to buy trees through the years is something he always looks forward to come November and December.

“I love to hear the kids out there calling out, ‘Hey, Dad, I found a nice one!’ And afterward, we give out popcorn balls. There are kids I’ve seen every year who are adults with their own kids now. That warms my heart. And in some cases, I get a hug every year.”

Visit Schmuckal Tree Farm Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. Find them at 5719 Schneider Rd in Kingsley.

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