The Christmas spirit is alive and well at the Ayers-Kreh Christmas Tree Farm, located at 1531 Ayers Orchard Road, Stuart.
Co-owned by Richard Kreh and Robert “Rob” Ayers, the first trees were planted in 1979 on the land that was originally owned by Bruce Ayers, whose family had the land for more than 100 years.
Learning was among the primary reasons to start the tree farm, according to its current owners.
“We decided that we would teach our children the physical aspect of the work ethic. Having worked on a dairy farm myself as a teenager, I knew how important it was to get your hands dirty and to sweat,” Kreh said.
Six years after the first seedlings were planted, the first batch of trees were sold.
“From 1985 or ’86, we’ve been selling trees continuously except for, I think, one COVID year and then one short inventory year. We didn’t have enough trees. We had to let them catch up,” he said.
Kreh also chose Christmas trees because of his background. A retired Senior Research Associate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in its Forestry Department, Kreh said he “fell in love with the concept of growing trees.
“The crops we deal with in forestry are tree species that come to market, at the very earliest at 15 to 20 years. Well, Christmas trees are a snap of the finger in foresters’ timeframe,” he said.
While there are dozens of types of Christmas trees, Ayers-Kreh sells seven different varieties. The only species that is native to Patrick County, mostly in the mountains, is the White Pine.
All the other species are called exotics that grow in different climates, environments, and soils.
“It’s very difficult to produce some of these exotics. We have high failure rates because they’re not adapted to this climate and these soils, so they struggle,” he said.
On the 30-acres devoted to tree production, 15,000 to 20,000 trees are in various stages of growth.
“To produce a Christmas tree, they just don’t grow in that beautiful pyramidal shape. They must be trimmed and shaped, mowed around, sprayed, they must be catered, and developed into a Christmas tree,” he said.
Kreh said the three most important aspects of choosing a Christmas tree are shape, color, and smell.
“It has to be a nice, pyramidal shape, and there are different hues of green. If they have a smell to them, that’s very attractive. We have some species here that look beautiful, but have” no odor, he said.
Ayers said when people first pick a tree, they tend to stick with that type throughout the years.
“People get all the different kinds. They only come out and get White Pines or they only get” another specific type, he said.
Kreh said the tree choices are flexible among some customers, while others are less so. “It’s just human nature,” he added.
While most people choose trees within a relatively similar height range, Kreh said there are some outliers.
“Some people come and they’re very proud to tell us that they have a cathedral ceiling and would like to get an 18-footer or a 20-foot tree. I think the tallest tree we’ve sold for homes is 20-22 feet,” he said.
If allowed to fully grow to their mature height, the trees could grow to be around 80 to 90 feet.
Kreh-Ayers is a choose and cut Christmas tree farm, not a wholesale farm.
When people arrive, they are given a saw with a tag tied to it before going to the tree field.
“We have wagons with tractors that take them out for those that don’t want to walk or have some handicap. And little kids, you’ll never find a little kid that doesn’t want to ride a trailer on a tractor,” he said.
Once found, customers cut their tree down and tie the tag to the bottom, tearing off the matching number from the tag. The felled trees are brought to the edge of the field for the farm workers to haul them to the processing area.
“If you have this whole parking lot full of cars, you know, 50 to 100 people, things get confusing. Unless they have that ticket, you can’t tell one (tree) from the other,” he said.
Kreh said trees are brought to a processing area where they are prepared for travel. It first goes through a shaker that helps remove loose debris and pine needles.
“After it’s shaken, it goes to a baler. We hook the tree onto the baler, we pull it through this diaphragm, and it compresses it. Just like a tobacco wrapping machine, it has twine that wraps around the tree, compresses it” so the trees are smaller, he said.
The trees are then measured, with the height written on the ticket.
Customers “take the tree, and we offer hot chocolate up at the house and we got wreaths and other things. They look at the chickens” and the other farm animals, Ayers said.
Kreh said the most disheartening thing is almost every year some people don’t find a tree they like.
“I think the deal is they’re overwhelmed, and they can’t make a decision. They get so frustrated,” he said.
He estimates the farm sells between 500 and 700 trees a year and sees anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people.
Ayers said it’s rare to see a single person. Mostly couples and families visit.
“We’ll have three carloads come just for one tree because it’s just a big event,” he said.
Kreh said some also come to the farm for a family experience.
“Since 1986, we have enjoyed the presence of families who are on the third generation,” he said, adding some customers have been coming to the farm for more than 30 years.
The farm will be open Dec. 10-11, and potentially the weekend after, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information, go to Faceboom.com/Ayers-KrehChristmasTreeFarm, or contact the farm at email@example.com.