by Tamara Scully
Triple Creek Farm and Nursery has 9,000 Christmas trees, planted on 10 acres, in inventory. The first block of trees was planted in 2004, and the farm opened for choose-and-cut Christmas tree sales in 2009. Owners Jim and Cheryl Mangine are active members of the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association.
Today, the farm thrives with repeat customers visiting each holiday season, both from the local area, as well as from New York City, located about an hour away. These loyal customers have been generating new customers via positive word-of-mouth reviews.
The nursery part of the farm specializes in evergreens. Green Giant Arborvitae and Blue Spruce are the primary evergreens the farm grows, used in privacy screens. They also offer specimen evergreens, such as weeping, columnar and dwarf varieties of trees. They offer planting services, which are very much in demand.
The farm part refers to the choose-and-cut Christmas trees. Over 2,000 Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir and Concolor Firs are currently available in sizes from six to nine feet, as are live container-grown Christmas trees up to five feet tall. The farm now offers a selection of trees to suit almost anyone’s Christmas tree needs.
Visitors looking to select a tree are treated to hot apple cider, Christmas music and warm cheer inside the rustic and very charming Christmas Shop.
“It feels like Christmas should feel,” Cheryl said of the shop, which although it is not the economic profit center, brings a unique touch to the customer experience.
Cheryl’s large hand-painted wood cutouts, available for family photos, are designed from vintage holiday postcards. The cutouts, complete with an old-fashioned Christmas greeting, add to the charm and atmosphere of the farm. Visitors line up to stick their faces in the cutout area, and take a photo. Many use these photos for their Christmas cards.
“They are really old sayings. People don’t talk like that anymore,” she said of the greetings.
The Christmas tree shopping experience is a community one at Triple Creek Farm and Nursery. Aside from locally crafted gifts available at the Christmas Shop, local businesses (such as a local winery) and non-profits are an integral part of the Christmas tree season at the nursery.
Each season, the Mangines invite local non-profit organizations specializing in animal rescue and rehabilitation to visit the farm. Typically a rescue animal will be on-hand to greet visitors, while educational materials and information about the non-profit are made available. Craft projects are sometimes offered in conjunction with the non-profit event. A portion of the farm’s proceeds from their tree sales that day is donated to the organization.
Because the farm is on flat ground, the Mangines are able to readily welcome customers with special mobility needs, to assist them in getting out to the field to select their tree, and to assist as needed in cutting it down and preparing it for the trip home.
Friendly service, unique artistic crafts, community events and fun activities for the family keep customers coming back year after year.
The healthy, attractive trees are the basis of the farm’s success. Christmas is the busy season, but keeping the trees healthy requires a year-round effort. Keeping out poison ivy, discouraging pests, and being on the alert for signs of disease require vigilance. Shearing and shaping the trees, and treating them as needed for various issues, takes time and labor.
Mowing and maintaining the tree fields is a labor-intensive process, which lasts all growing-season long. They mow each block of trees once per month, to keep the competition from grass and weeds manageable, and allow the trees to thrive.
“It’s just so labor intensive,” to properly address the needs of the trees, Jim said.
Trees are sheared in the beginning of August, to retain that pleasing Christmas-tree shape desired by customers. They anticipate how many trees are going to be sold, and which blocks are ready for sale, and shear those from August-October. The rest of the trees are sheared from January through March.
Bear, deer, crows, rodents and insects can all cause damage to the trees. Drought has been a major concern this season, and the farm lost over 40 percent of its spring-planted seedlings. The bear have proven to like the Concolor Firs.
Unfortunately, they are knocking out the tops of the tall eight and nine foot trees. The glacial soils at Triple Creek Farm and Nursery, which is near the base of the Kittatiny Ridge, is well-suited for the Concolor Firs. This variety of fir can be very hard to grow in areas where the soil is not well drained.
“I don’t have to do any mitigation for pest or disease,” Jim said of the Concolor Firs.
While the Mangines try to use as few chemical inputs as possible, the trees won’t sell if they aren’t green, healthy and attractive. After investing years to grow a tree to size, treating a tree in need is an added expense, but a necessary undertaking.
The popular Douglas Firs have several disease issues, which need to be controlled via chemical spraying, and require diligence. The Blue Spruce are now being attacked by a fungus, causing rust issues. In recent years, more pest and disease concerns have plagued growers in the region.
“There seems to be an issue with everything,” Jim said. “There are a lot less small growers like myself than there used to be.”
The initial cost of land, the high resale value of farmland in the region, and the amount of work required to grow the crop has reduced the number of small Christmas tree growers in New Jersey. Despite the challenges, the Mangines are proud to be successful growers and active in the industry. They take joy from building a repeat customer base, and have seen their sales grow year-to-year.
by Tamara Scully